NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton has decided to forgo a further review of evidence in a series of unsolved murders in the northern NSW township of Bowraville and has ordered the cases be sent directly to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, after a sustained editorial campaign by The Australian.
The murders of three Aboriginal children occurred more than 25 years ago over a six-month period and are suspected of being serial killings.
Sixteen-year-old daughter Colleen Walker went missing in September, 1990. Two other children, four-year-old Evelyn Greenup and 16-year-old Clinton Speedy-Duroux, disappeared from the town over the next five months.
The bodies of Evelyn and Clinton were found beside a road outside the town. Colleen’s clothes were found in a nearby river, but her body has not been found.
Bowraville resident Jay Hart had been charged over the deaths of Evelyn and Clinton, but was found not guilty of each after a judge ordered the cases be heard in separate trials.
Numerous calls to have the cases brought before the appeal court in the past have been rejected by previous attorneys-general, as well as the Director of Public Prosecutions.
However, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione sent a formal application to Ms Upton this week for the cases to be referred to the appeals court following the series of reports in The Australian, demonstrating the level of influence of newspaper media upon government and within the community.
If the previous acquittals of Mr Hart are overturned, the court can then order a new trial encompassing all three deaths.
The Australian brought a national focus on the unsolved murders in a series of news reports, features and a five-part podcast over the last month.
Editor-in-chief of The Australian, Paul Whittaker, said national crime reporter Dan Box had come up with the idea several months ago of doing an in-depth serial-style podcast investigation into the Bowraville murders.
“There is no doubt that our putting this largely unheralded story on the front page for several weeks, in conjunction with launching the in-depth podcast series examining all aspects of the murders, forced the state government’s hand in terms of addressing an historic injustice,” Mr Whittaker said.
“Until this week, state governments had refused to bow to public pressure for more than a decade and send this case to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal to seek a retrial of the main suspect.
“Our series also highlighted the serious failings of the criminal justice system in Australia when it comes to the treatment of crimes against indigenous people.
“These families now have a chance for justice after 25 years of frustration and disappointment. I am proud of the role The Australian has played in helping achieve that outcome.
“The Australian‘s podcast launched on May 4 and Dan’s storytelling across print, digital and podcast of the Bowraville serial murders has been a sensation with more than 162,000 plays of the five podcast episodes, with Bowraville the number one podcast in the country for most of that time.
“This is the future of journalism in telling compelling stories in different ways across many channels.”
NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said taking the matter to the Court of Criminal Appeal was the right thing to do.
“After careful consideration, I have decided that there should be no further delay in bringing this matter to court,” she said.
“The best and most transparent way to deal with this tragic case is to make an application for retrial to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal.
“The court must be satisfied that the evidence is fresh, compelling and that a retrial is in the interests of justice.
“As Attorney General I believe that it is in the interest of the families and in the wider public interest that the Court of Criminal Appeal rule on these questions. It will now be up to the court to do just that.”
For more news from NewsMediaWorks, click here.