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May 3, 2014

Searching for justice in Bowraville

Scales of justiceBy Kate Fitz-Gibbon

In 1990/91, over a five-month period, three children were murdered in the small town of Bowraville, New South Wales. The three children – Evelyn Greenup (4 years old), Colleen Walker (16 years old) and Clinton Speedy (16 years old) – were all members of the Aboriginal community and lived on the same street at the time of their deaths. There is no comparable case in Australia where three children, from three separate families living on the same street have been killed within such a short period of time.

Despite two police investigations (the latter being significantly more extensive than the first), two murder trials, a 2004 inquest, and a successful campaign to have the double jeopardy laws in NSW reformed, to date no one has been convicted for any of the three killings.

Within Bowraville, over 20-years of searching for justice has emotionally devastated the community and arguably created further strains between the Aboriginal community and the criminal justice system. However, while the case is both heinous and unique in the history of Australian violent crime, to date it has received little attention from members of the criminal justice system and the community beyond Bowraville.

Despite this lack of broader awareness surrounding the case, the law’s response to the Bowraville murders raises significant questions surrounding the achievability of justice for members of the Indigenous Australian community, the need for cultural sensitivity and awareness in police investigations, and the operation of double jeopardy laws post-reform in NSW. While these are just a few of the key issues that have presented significant barriers in the Bowraville case, they are also issues that are likely to impact in individual homicide cases more widely throughout Australia.

In a welcomed step forward, in November last year a Parliamentary Inquiry into the ‘Family response to the murders in Bowraville’ was established. Chaired by The Honourable David Clarke MLC, the Inquiry’s task is to ‘give the families the opportunity to appear before the committee and detail the impact the murders of these children have had on them and their community’.

This is the first Inquiry with this mandate to be established in NSW and while it represents an important step forward in terms of recognising the difficulties that the Bowraville family members have faced in their 20 year quest for justice – the Inquiry is also fraught with difficulty given its limited terms and arguably its inability to make recommendations for the case to progress through the criminal justice system. At this stage what the families need is action and justice.

This week, on Thursday 3rd May, the Law and Justice Committee held its first day of Public Hearings as part of the Inquiry. The six parliamentary members of the Committee travelled to Nambucca Shire Council in Macksville (NSW) to listen to evidence given by relevant stakeholders in the case and Bowraville community, including Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin (NSW Police Force).

Jubelin has led the reinvestigation into the murders since 1996; an investigation that was established in recognition of the failings of the original police response to the murders. The reinvestigation has led NSW police to conclude that the murders were linked and likely committed by a non-indigenous male living in the Bowraville community in the early 1990s. While the police have championed the cause and the strength of the evidence, the previous Attorney General’s interpretation of the laws of double jeopardy in NSW have prevented the case from proceeding back to Court of Appeal for reconsideration. Importantly, providing evidence to the Inquiry and in his capacity as lead of the investigation, Jubelin has the support of the Homicide Squad and NSW Police Force hierarchy in the pursuit for justice (as evidenced in the Commissioner signing off on his submission to the inquiry and Homicide Commander, Detective Superintendent Michael Willing, travelling to the public hearing to support him in giving his evidence).

When questioned during the Inquiry what is needed, if they could ask for anything, the answer from Jubelin was direct – the Bowraville families want their day in court. As Jubelin explained to the Committee, the three cases and the police evidence on each murder has never been heard together in a court of law. Highlighting disparities in the law’s response (and allocation of resources) to the infamous murders of serial killer Ivan Milat and that of the Bowraville killer, Jubelin has explained in various submissions on the case that the strength of the police investigation is in the similarities in the circumstances of each of the three deaths. For this reason, Jubelin expresses a strong belief that if a trial of all three murders were to be held, there would be ‘a reasonable likelihood of a conviction being recorded’.

While it is certainly not the role of the police to trial and convict, it is the role of the criminal justice system to provide fair and impartial opportunities for justice to be obtained.

Yesterday the Committee heard directly from the family members of the three victims in a closed hearing. Having listened to their experiences of failed justice and repetitive legal disappointments, it is argued that the Committee should return to Sydney with a drive to have the Inquiry Terms of Reference expanded. While listening to their stories is undoubtedly important, it will not be enough to pay lip service to the experiences of these three families; the Inquiry must have an impact.

The ultimate goal must be to open up the avenue for justice to be achieved in this case. And for those most intimately involved, justice equates to a criminal trial where the evidence for all three murders can be considered together and decided upon by a judge or jury.

To read the Parliament Inquiry Terms of Reference click here.

To access submissions made to the Parliament Inquiry in February 2014 click here.

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