Justice

Losing evidence is a poor start  4 August 2006

There are many disturbing factors from the ABC’s Australian Story on Phillip Walsham’s death.

Mr Walsham’s body was found beneath the pedestrian overpass near Stirling Railway Station in 1998 and in May this year, three men were convicted of his murder.*

Quite obviously, Australian Story’s coverage was skewed in favour of the defendants who have been sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 10 years. However, it was presented under the umbrella of the program. It was presented as ‘an Australian story’ not so much as objective journalism.

In other words, it wasn’t Four Corners or the 7.30 Report providing a biased version of events.

The disturbing thing for me was the depiction of the WA Police and the Department of Public Prosecutions as incompetent or just plain careless.

Examples of evidence disappearing – whether by incompetence, accident or design – is a disgrace. The case has been going for eight years; the sentenced weren’t originally charged with Mr Walsham’s death; and a number of other reasons could account for the missing or lost material. But there should be no excuses.

The first copper who got to the scene of the deceased’s demise didn’t have film in his camera.

Good start!

I have long believed that the WA Police rely too heavily on Crime Stoppers to get a result and, as depicted in these three episodes of Australian Story and recent cases involving Messrs Mallard, Christie, Button and Beamish, they – and the justice system which supported them – have an ordinary record.

If eastern States law enforcement wasn’t equally challenged either through corruption allegations and other nasty stories, WA would look a laughing stock.

WA can safely be included in the group that includes the Federal Department which didn’t receive information about possible terrorist suspect Willie Brigitte until Monday morning (or was it Tuesday after a long weekend?), despite it being sent to them by French authorities the previous Friday night.

While Australia’s espionage team was probably having a barbecue, because it was the weekend and that’s what we do in Australia, Willie was quietly slipping out of town.

Gives you confidence in the system doesn’t it?

There is a quandary here. While I think WA Police officers are underpaid, I also think they have to improve their performance.

Their job is to protect people and catch crooks but they also have to look a bit laterally when doing it.

Our police have advertised that ‘you will get caught’ if you commit a burglary. They fail to say that DNA samples are a mile behind in being processed.

In the case of the three men found guilty of Mr Walsham’s murder, the justice system may indeed have got it right but there seems to be enough doubt thrown up in Australian Story’s depiction of events which will give them a slightly more sympathetic case on appeal.

Irrespective of the answer, losing evidence is just not on.

It’s hard to finish a crossword if you have lost the clues.

POSTED LATER

*“Australian Story covers the climax of a murder case that has divided the community and challenged the justice system. The case first featured on the program last year in a three-part program called Beyond Reasonable Doubt. After eight years, one inquest and two trials, three young men were convicted in Western Australia last year of the murder of Phillip Walsham. There it might have ended, but for the efforts of Mirella Scaramella, the girlfriend of one of the convicted men, Sam Fazzari. She was determined to fight the verdict and with the help of a group of prominent QCs – most of them working pro bono – an appeal was launched earlier this year. Last week the WA Court of Appeal overturned the men’s convictions on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a guilty verdict. But the Appeal Court’s decision has generated fresh controversy and divided opinion in the WA community” (From plot summary Beyond Reasonable Doubt part 3, IMDb website)

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