In the name of justice?

Posted: June 1, 2014 in Ranting
eastman

David Eastman ( Photo: Graham Tidy)

For almost as long as I have lived in Canberra, there has been the Winchester-Eastman saga. Colin Winchester was an Assistant Commissioner in the Australian Federal Police. In 1989 he was murdered. In 1995 David Eastman was tried and found guilty of the murder, sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. There were repeated appeals and all sorts of stunts by Eastman, all of which failed. Until he had a victory with the Courts in 2012 ordering a review of the whole case. And now the final verdict has come down.

While the presiding Judge stated he was ‘fairly certain’ Eastman had killed Winchester, that is not ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ and after 18 years, Winchester has had the conviction quashed and he has been released. Police have made it quite clear that they believe he was guilty, warning that they consider Eastman to still be a danger.

So how did the original verdict come to be overturned? Quite simply, it was because both the original investigation and the prosecution were a mess of cut corners, shoddy tactics, less-than stellar forensic evidence and in short, a complete balls up. Forensic technology and procedures have greatly improved since then but Eastman has already been tried and if he was in truth guilty, in the eyes of the law he isn’t – because of colossal screw ups by those we rely on to do things correctly.

Lindy-Chamberlain

Lindy Chamberlain

This is hardly the first time we have seen such a mess. Plenty of us recall the Lindy Chamberlain affair. During a family camp in 1980 a dingo took her baby from their tent. This seemed so unlikely to many of us that it was easy to fall into the camp of those quite sure Chamberlain had done the deed. An inquest and investigation came up with all sorts of material making her seem a vile child-killer and Chamberlain was found guilty and sent to prison. Except this was another colossal screw up.

The original investigation was conducted by local police more used to breaking up a drunken fight outside a pub than a detailed and sensitive matter that this was. Eight years later the conviction was quashed. But it took until 2012 and a fourth inquest before the entire matter was finally put to rest. And the outcome was a finding that a dingo had indeed taken baby Azaria from the campsite in 1980 and had caused her death. And that the original investigation was a farcical mess.

So there are two significant examples of law if not going rogue, at least making a bloody great mess. In one case an innocent was wrongfully found guilty of murdering her child. In the other a murder conviction was overturned simply because of the shoddy manner in which the original investigation was conducted, even though plenty of people in the system seem to have no doubt that Eastman was in fact guilty. We shall probably never know the real story in the Winchester murder and any role or otherwise Eastman had in it. An innocent woman was not just wrongfully found guilty and imprisoned, her whole life became a trial by media based on that crap investigation with most people quite sure she had done it.

If we are going to see justice then it should go without saying that police MUST undertake investigations and other works in a correct manner. When justice is denied due to them not investigating properly, then innocents suffer and the guilty may walk free. But it is not just in the big cases these things can be corrupted by dodgy actions. When I was trying to get help for someone I thought was having a psychotic episode, police insisted on taking my details but assuring me of anonymity. But this was used to con their way into the house on the pretence of a ‘welfare check’ but was in fact a means to arrest him for something else.

At that time I had no idea of the full extent of that individual’s violent past. I lodged an immediate complaint about the way police had behaved in that instance. The court released the man on bail. However the Federal Police were quite happy to provide that individual with documentation stating I had been a complainant against him. So I lodged an even more furious complaint only for it to be nothing but a white wash. Yes, I could have taken it further to the Ombudsman but did not see the point. And now the real dramas started. The individual on bail was now convinced I was working with the police against him. Threats started including a death threat. Blackmail attempts. But there was no point going to the police about things as I was only going to be protected if that individual was thrown into prison on the spot and not released. And what of the others who believed his rubbish and were similarly threatening me. The local lockup would have been stuffed to the seams with people.

My life was made a living hell for about 18 months. The individual was then sentenced to prison for 18 years, the sentence then cut in half on appeal, for aggravated burglary involving use of a firearm. This after repeated past incarcerations for crimes of violence against others. The police knew damned well what they were dealing with yet they quite happily hung me out to dry in a half-arsed attempt to get him. And why? Because, just as in the Eastman and Chamberlain cases, they had an end in mind but were not terribly worried about how they got there or who was harmed along the way. And frankly did what I believe to have been nothing less than a cover-up in response to a formal complaint, knowing that I did not have any actual evidence to prove otherwise.

Incidentally it was only when I received documents under Freedom of Information (police informed me I could only obtain details of my alleged complaint by lodging an FOI request) did I discover that in response to my complaint this blog was being monitored with posts being placed on file.

It is a basic human right to expect justice. And I do not like the prospect of investigations being hamstrung to the point of police not being able to actually do anything. But at the same time they know the systems they operate in, how an investigation should be conducted. If we cannot rely on police to act in defensible manner and protect the rights of the innocent or properly investigate on behalf of the deceased or otherwise injured, then just how just is our justice system?

Over to you – any thoughts on this?

Ross sig

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