TASMANIA’S Chief Magistrate Michael Hill has been formally requested to complete an inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of Tasmanian radiation physicist Bob Chappell who disappeared on Australia Day 2009.
The request has been lodged by Mrs Barbara Etter APM, the solicitor acting for Sue Neill-Fraser. Ms Neill-Fraser was convicted of murdering Mr Chappell in October 2010, and is now serving a 23-year sentence in Risdon Prison.
Ms Neill-Fraser continues to steadfastly maintain her innocence and is living through what for many people would be their worst nightmare.
Ms Neill-Fraser’s conviction was based entirely on a circumstantial case, with no body, no weapon, no forensic evidence linking her to the crime scene, no plausible motive, no admissions or confessions and no eyewitnesses to the actual crime.
There has never been a formal inquest into Mr Chappell’s death completed.
Under Section 27 of the Coroners Act 1995, the Chief Magistrate has the broad discretion to hold an inquest into the disappearance and death.
Ms Neill-Fraser’s daughter Sarah Bowles said her mother and family wanted an open and public investigation into all the circumstances of Bob Chappell’s death, not just those selected by police or prosecutors, and this could only occur through a coronial inquest.
An inquest is required to resolve the serious doubt and unease surrounding the case and to address the numerous unanswered questions, as well as to highlight important material that was either not disclosed by police nor drawn to the attention of the court at the trial.
Sue Neill-Fraser’s family announced the request to the Chief Magistrate for an inquest on Australia Day, marking the fourth anniversary of Bob Chappell’s death.
Mrs Bowles said, like her mother, the family required closure and wanted to know and understand the circumstances of Bob’s tragic death and his body’s resting place.
“My sister Emma and I were at primary school when our family moved in with Bob. He was a much respected and admired father figure to us and we are profoundly distressed that we do not know what happened to him,” Mrs Bowles said.
“There is a palpable and continuing sense of unease and disquiet in the community about the case and the soundness of our mother’s conviction.
“There are serious reservations regarding the thoroughness of the police investigation into Bob’s disappearance and death and it is in the public interest and in the interests of justice, to conduct a fair and impartial inquest.”
Mrs Bowles said since the trial, the family has become aware of further information relating to the death and subsequent investigation. This information was not made available to the family at the time of the trial and nor was it able to be presented at appeal hearings.
“This included information regarding other potential suspects, persons of interest and witnesses, and significant evidence that had been overlooked or ignored in the investigation.
“There are several critical witnesses who were not called to give evidence at the trial, who would be able to provide important information concerning the circumstances leading to Bob’s death and the subsequent police investigation.
“While the Coroner is unable to comment on the guilt or innocence of any person, mum and our family would welcome a probing and comprehensive public inquiry into Bob’s death.
“There are precedents for conducting an inquest, even following criminal proceedings and resulting convictions, such as the case of Lindy Chamberlain.
“We see this as very similar to Lindy Chamberlain’s situation, where a person has been convicted in a dubious circumstantial case – where prejudices and an inadequate investigation have resulted in a conviction that must be extremely dangerous and worrying for the Tasmanian community.
“The community must have confidence that any suspicious or violent death is investigated by police in a timely, thorough and objective manner. Like many people, we have some very serious doubts.”
“There is a great deal of rumour, suspicion and concern in the community regarding Bob’s death and it is clearly in the public interest to allay this by conducting a fair inquest.
“So we are respectfully asking the Chief Magistrate to conduct an open and public coronial investigation into Bob’s death as soon as possible.
“Particularly, anyone should come forward if they have information relating to grey dinghies seen in the vicinity of the Four Winds yacht or the rowing sheds on the Marieville Esplanade foreshore on the afternoon or evening of Australia Day, advice of any stolen dinghies or thefts from boats or from near the foreshore at that time, and information regarding any people or vehicles acting strangely in the vicinity that Australia Day.
“People should come forward even if they have already provided information as it appears some material may have been overlooked or ignored,” Mrs Bowles said.