Saturday, May 31, 2014

David Eastman inquiry recommends murder conviction be quashed

The Eastman inquiry has recommended David Eastman’s conviction for the infamous 1989 assassination of ACT police chief Colin Stanley Winchester be quashed.

The extraordinary finding could have the convicted murderer freed after almost 19 years behind bars, should it be followed by the ACT Supreme Court.

If Eastman walks, it will be despite the inquiry's judge saying he is “fairly certain” the former Treasury official killed Mr Winchester.

The inquiry's report finally arrived late on Friday afternoon, after six months, thousands of pages of documents, a conveyor belt of now ageing witnesses, and countless hours of public hearings.

Its recommendations are jaw-dropping.

They could potentially clear Eastman of shooting Mr Winchester, then an Assistant Federal Police Commissioner, twice at close range outside his neighbour's Canberra home late one summer night in 1989.

Inquiry head Acting Justice Brian Martin used the 447-page report to ultimately recommend Eastman’s conviction be quashed, saying a retrial would now neither be feasible nor fair.

Despite the recommendations, Acting Justice Martin said he still thought Eastman was likely to be guilty of the murder.

“While I am fairly certain the applicant is guilty of the murder of the deceased, a nagging doubt remains,” the judge wrote. “Regardless of my view of the case and the applicant’s guilt, the substantial miscarriage of justice suffered by the applicant should not be allowed to stand uncorrected.”

The enormity of his findings may take time to be fully realised.

The cold-blooded killing of Mr Winchester shocked the nation, sparking a lengthy manhunt, and leaving an indelible mark on the minds of Canberrans.

Mr Winchester is the highest ranking police officer ever to be assassinated, and the AFP famously described his death as the "end of innocence" in Australia.

Eastman, a disgruntled public servant trying to avoid an assault charge, quickly became a suspect in the killing and was arrested and taken to trial in 1995, following a lengthy investigation.

The ACT Government, police and prosecutors have remained tight-lipped about the inquiry’s findings so far, saying the matter is before the Supreme Court, which will decide on the next course of action.

Acting Justice Martin said a “substantial miscarriage of justice” had occurred, pointing chiefly to the unreliable gunshot residue analysis used to link Eastman to the scene.

“As a consequence of the substantial miscarriage of justice, the applicant has been in custody for almost 19 years,” Acting Justice Martin wrote.

Eastman, the judge said, was denied a fair chance of acquittal, and did not receive a fair trial.

He said his guilt had been decided on “deeply flawed” forensic evidence, in a trial where Eastman had been denied procedural fairness because of incomplete disclosure by the prosecution of all relevant material to the accused’s defence team.

The work of the case’s key forensic expert, Robert Collins Barnes, was significantly undermined during the inquiry; its credibility and reliability repeatedly savaged.

Barnes, now struggling in a battle with cancer, conceded some of his evidence had been misleading, and the inquiry heard he destroyed crucial exhibits, and failed to write reports for his most important results.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Liesl Chapman, SC, described his mixing up of results from the crime scene and Eastman’s car by saying: "For a forensic scientist, it doesn't get any worse than that.”

The supposedly independent expert was also covertly recorded professing himself to be a “police witness”, and resisting efforts to have his work reviewed.

“If we don't put a brake on these turkeys ... I mean, we don't want these bastards putting that sort of stuff in writing," Mr Barnes told detectives in 1994.

Barnes was subject to an internal disciplinary investigation in Victoria at the time, and his work was later audited following concerns stemming from his evidence in a separate case.

The Eastman inquiry’s report lies with the ACT Supreme Court, where a full bench will decide on a way forward. The court can only use Acting Justice Martin’s report to aid them in their decision.

ACT Attorney General Simon Corbell said the report was "comprehensive and considered", but it would be up to the court what orders were made.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Jon White, also declined to comment on the report, saying his office needed time to work through the detail.

The AFP also remained tight-lipped, saying it would be inappropriate to comment while the report was before the ACT Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the AFP lost a last-hour attempt to delay publication of the report on Friday afternoon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Disgusting Qld. Police Behaviour‏ towards elderly driver

<i>Email from a member of the public</i>

This incident didn't happen to me but to my elderly parents.

My father is 69 years old. He was driving along with my 65 year old mother. When they came to a red light they stopped and an unmarked police car stopped next to them. When the light changed my dad drove off knowing he had to merge and did so safely in front of the unmarked police car.

The car followed my parents for maybe 30 seconds before turning their lights on and signaling for my father to pull over. There was a male police officer and a female police officer. The male approached my father's car on the drivers side and was extremely abrupt and rude, accusing my father of speeding. My father denied this saying that he most definitely did not speed. The male police officer proceeded to tell my father that he was going 80 km/h in a 60 km/h zone. This was incorrect as the entire road is 80 km/h the whole way.

Again my father denied that he was speeding. My father asked for the male officer to give him his name twice and both times the officer refused.  My mother who was sitting in the passenger seat leant over and assured the officer that my father had not been speeding. The officer replied by telling my mother to shut up and sit back in her seat.

My mother is a petite lady and was quite shaken after being spoken to in such a manner. Again the male police officer was telling my father he had been speeding and indicated that he had "everything he needed" to give my father a ticket. My father, at this point somewhat offended on my mother's behalf asked if this had anything to do with him taking off faster than the police car at the traffic light, to which the male officer became quite irate to the point the female officer, who had stayed by the police car, called out for the male officer to just leave it and to 'let's go'.

After a few threatening words to the effect of the male police officer watching my dad from now on, he finally went back to his police car and they sped off.

As you can imagine when I was told by my mother what had happened I was absolutely disgusted with the way my parents had been treated. This is how the police chooses to conduct themselves? It is no wonder that no one trusts the police to do the right thing anymore. I myself have had bad experiences too where I was belittled and made to feel like I wasn't even a worthy human being for them to treat right.

The QLD Police force has to start looking at who they give the badge to because I think the power goes to some officers' heads and they treat us civilians almost like cattle to be pushed around and intimidated. Something needs to be done!

<i>Via email</i>

Thursday, May 1, 2014

NSW: Elijah Holcombe not a threat when shot by police: coroner

A mentally ill university student who was shot and killed by a police officer did not brandish a knife threateningly before being shot as the officer claimed but was the victim of a "hasty and precipitous" act by an officer who was not properly trained, a coroner had found.

Elijah Holcombe, 24, died after being shot once in the chest by Senior Constable Andrew Rich in an Armidale laneway on June 2, 2009.

Mr Holcombe was suffering from a mental health breakdown characterised by episodes of paranoia and delusions when Senior Constable Rich and Senior Constable Greg Dufty were asked to find him and a car he had taken from his father the day before.

When the plain-clothes police officer, Constable Rich, found and then chased Mr Holcombe, the victim grabbed a bread knife from a cafe and ran into a laneway.

The officer said he told Mr Holcombe to drop the knife and then fired a single, fatal shot.

Constable Rich said he was acting in self-defence, as the young man had come towards him brandishing the knife.

But, on Thursday, NSW Coroner Mary Jerram rejected the claim that the young man had been acting aggressively.

"Most of those who witnessed the incident said they saw behaviour [by Elijah] that was passive or non-aggressive throughout," Ms Jerram said.  "Those who saw the bread knife said it was dangling limply from his hand."

Ms Jerram said Constable Rich's decision to chase Elijah after first speaking to him a few streets from where the shooting occurred, was based on "spurious and spontaneous" reasons.

The officer should have called his station which would no doubt have made him aware of the broad warning to police that Elijah was "extremely scared of police".

Instead, the officer decided at this point, without cause, that he needed to arrest Elijah, claiming later that, after observing the young man's demeanour, he was concerned for his safety and that of others.  "Elijah's demeanour was not a basis for depriving him of his liberty," Ms Jerram said.

"It is clear that police have not been properly trained in how to deal with people who are suffering from a mental illness.

"Rich had participated in a one-hour lecture as a trainee officer and later a couple of online tutorials."

She acknowledged that NSW Police was in the process of rolling out a full-day workshop on dealing with the mentally ill.

Speaking outside court, Elijah's father Jeremy Holcombe and his lawyer called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to reconsider its previous decision not to lay any charges in relation to the matter.

"It has been five years since we lost our beautiful son, brother and friend," said Mr Holcombe, choking back tears.  "The allegation that Elijah had to be destroyed in order to protect the safety of another person had never been accepted by those who knew him best."

Mr Holcombe said that Senior Constable Rich had consistently refused to repeat his allegation, that Elijah had threatened him, under oath and with the potential for cross-examination.

"We have always maintained that Senior Constable Rich is entitled to the presumptions of innocence but we ask 'what about Elijah's right?'" Mr Holcombe said.

"We were unable to protect Elijah from harm but we remain committed to protecting his reputation.  "We must once again respectfully ask the NSW DPP to reconsider this matter for criminal proceedings."