Bowraville’s heartbreak

The main street of Bowraville mission in northern NSW. CREDIT: Chris Graham

March 12, 2013, Tracker Magazine

NATIONAL: From 1990-1991, three Aboriginal children disappeared from the same street on Bowraville mission, on NSW’s mid north coast. There has only ever been one man accused of the three murders, but flaws in the original police investigation and the criminal justice system have meant he has never been convicted. Now NSW Attorney General Greg Smith has decided against a re-trial for the man, after two decades of strong campaigning by the victims’ families. But it has only re-opened the deep wounds of their relatives, who still feel the pain as if it were yesterday, writes AMY MCQUIRE.

The storm clouds roll over Gumbaynggirr Road on the Bowraville mission.

It used to be named Cemetery Road, perhaps a sad omen of what would later eventuate there.

Thomas Duroux lives right across from that street sign, in a busy house always full of children.

He is known locally as the “bush mechanic”, and when I’m given directions to his place, I’m told to look for the house with all the cars out the front, “like a car dealership”.

He’s a strong man – both emotionally and physically. He fixes cars because he likes to keep busy.

“I like to do as much as I can,” Mr Duroux tells Tracker.

“Sometimes if I’m sitting here… maybe the subject will come up and I’ll try and get off it because… I upset myself.

“A couple of the lads will come here and say ‘come on, you’ll be alright’. You just have to keep going.

“If one gives up, I think we’ll all give up.”

It’s been 23 years since Mr Duroux’s 16-year-old son Clinton Speedy-Duroux went missing from the mission.

His body was later found buried at Congarinni Road – near the marijuana crops of the person later accused of his murder.

That was the third murder in the space of five months from Cemetery Rd.

Previously, 16-year-old Colleen Walker and 4-year-old Evelyn Greenup had disappeared.

While Evelyn’s remains were discovered near Clinton’s resting place, Colleen has never been found.

Her clothes were fished out of the local Nambucca River, where they had been weighted down with rocks.

There has never been another alleged perpetrator targeted over the crimes.

A policeman investigating the case, for example, told ABC’s Four Corners, that he could “make a cop show out of this and it wouldn’t get to the first ad break because it’d all be over, because the summation is that quick. There’s no challenge to it”.

Despite disturbing similarities between the cases, that man has never been convicted, and he has only stood trial for Clinton and Evelyn’s murders.

That’s due to several factors – some of which were the institutionalised racism and police incompetence that skewered the original investigation and has had far-reaching consequences today.

For example, when Evelyn went missing, her parents were informed by police that she had probably gone walkabout.

The original detectives were not homicide detectives, had no experience in the area, and were originally investigating the local community over suspicion of child abuse.

To compound matters, police gave crucial evidence back to the accused, and failed to properly report and date a key witness statement – a truck driver who saw the accused standing over Clinton’s motionless body.

That evidence never went to court because of the failure of police to record the right date.

But that has not dimmed the determination of these families.

They have campaigned for two decades to have the man take the stand for all three murders in one trial.

In 1993, a Supreme Court judge ruled against linking the murders of Clinton and Evelyn, a fact that has always been considered a mistake by the families due to the fact key evidence was omitted from both trials, hindering the outcome.

Following the man’s acquittal at Evelyn’s trial in 2006, the families succeeded in having the double jeopardy laws overturned, an Australian, and potentially world-first.

The NSW Police then made an application calling on the state Director of Public Prosecutions to re-trial the man accused.

The families say the DPP ignored the requests.

Through law firm Allens Arthur Robinson, the families also lodged two requests with the former state Attorney General John Hatzistergos, who also decided against using his powers to apply for a re-trial of the accused man.

With the change of government, the families petitioned the new Attorney General Greg Smith, who had previously said he would consider a case.

That brought new storm clouds to Bowraville mission.

 

In late 2011, the deputy premier of New South Wales Andrew Stoner stood before a rally full of family members.

They gathered on a rainy morning outside Parliament House in Macquarie St, to hand Mr Stoner a petition urging Mr Smith to proceed with charges based on new “fresh and compelling evidence” (one piece of which was the truckdriver’s statement).

They had lodged the application five months before hand, and had not heard one peep from the Attorney General’s office.

As storm clouds threatened the umbrella-clad rally, Mr Stoner made a promise to those families, that he would personally take up the matter with the Attorney General, and deliver the news of his decision to the small, mid north-coast town himself.

For 18 months, those families waited for that decision, which finally was delivered in February this year.

But Mr Stoner was no where near the mission.

According to Leonie Duroux, who is related to Clinton through marriage and a prominent campaigner for the families, the news was delivered to her in a quick Friday afternoon phone call.

“Sadly and strategically, at 4:45 on a Friday afternoon we received advice from the Office of the NSW Attorney General via Mr Andrew Stoner that the NSW Attorney General had decided to form the view that there is not enough fresh and compelling evidence to proceed with these cases,” Ms Duroux said.

She did not believe the families’ legal representatives, or the officer in charge of the investigation had been informed formally at that point.

There were no calls to the families of the victims, and Ms Duroux has reason to believe some sections of the media were told before she was.

“We were informed by Mr Stoner that a media article was due for release on the weekend, therefore we have very good reason to believe that the media were advised of the decision prior to the families receiving the information,” she said in a statement.

“We feel strongly that this should have been a time for compassion, not spindoctoring.”

The Attorney General’s office told Ms Duroux that with the new “fresh and compelling” evidence submitted, there would be little chance of a conviction.

“All of the expert opinions we have obtained (over the past 15 years) clearly shows if all 3 cases were tried together there would be reasonable chance of conviction,” she said.

“We are disheartened that after 18 months of consideration we have been served with another shocking conclusion.”

Technically, under the legislation, the Attorney General could still change his mind, and successive applications could be made.

But Tracker understands it is highly unlikely that this will happen.

Gary Jubelin is a detective who has been intimately involved in the Bowraville case for the past 15 years.

He is viewed as a hero cop by the families, for his compassion and drive to deliver justice and correct the original police failings.

Thomas Duroux told Tracker that things would be different if there were “a thousand Gary Jubelins”.

Det Inspt Jubelin said that he is “aware the families and the Bowraville community feel they have been let down by the authorities”.

“The reality of it is something has gone wrong because a person has got away with murdering three children. This should not happen,” Det Inspt Jubelin told Tracker.

“The application rejected by the Attorney General comprised of all the evidence we had gathered over the past 20 years.

“The fact this application has been rejected means in all likelihood the matters will remain unsolved.

“We have no fresh lines of inquiry to pursue. If something new comes to light we will follow it up, but I don’t want to give the families false hope.”

“Shortcomings were identified in the original investigation and investigative opportunities were perhaps not fully explored, that’s why a full re-investigation was undertaken.

“During the re-investigation which has run for over 15 years we have attempted to obtain all available evidence and explore every investigative opportunity.”

” I am sorry for the families that we have not been able to find them justice.
“It does not sit well with me as a NSW Homicide Detective that a person responsible for murdering three children has not been called into account.”

“To say these three murders are not linked is to ignore the facts.

“Three children all known to each other living in the same street in a small country town were murdered over a 5 month period. Their bodies and or the clothing they were wearing at the time of their disappearance were all found in a similar location on the outskirts of town.

“These murders should have been solved”

 

It’s a sad, but perhaps not shocking, turn in the long legal saga that has choked these families.

Now the families are directing their efforts to securing a Royal Commission, so the full extent of the original police investigation can be uncovered.

Many of the families only found out key details of the investigation, like the fact the homicide detectives were investigating the community for child abuse, in a Four Corners program aired only a couple of years ago.

But it’s obvious that without a conviction, there will be little chance that they will be able to move on.

The pain is still raw and only justice can relieve it. Today, when members of the families are interviewed, they still struggle to hold back tears.

Anyone who says time can heal the pain has never sat in the same room as parents who have had their children ripped away from them, with no avenue for justice.

Clarice Greenup and her daughter Diane Greenup are the family spokespeople for Evelyn’s father Billy.

Billy can’t speak to outsiders about the pain he still feels for his missing daughter, but it is obvious that it has affected his life. And the pain spills over to his closest family.

About a week after he heard the news about the Attorney General’s decision, he made his way to the same street the accused lived in with his mother 20 years ago (the mother still lives in the same house).

“I couldn’t stop him,” his sister Clarice told Tracker.

“I had to follow him from the mission… he was halfway in the yard when I tried to pull him back.”

She says that he has never been able to find a way to deal with the pain of losing his oldest daughter.

“There is no justice. This man is getting on with his life. He’s got a family, he’s out there working… but we’re stuck here. We’re stuck back there when it happened,” she says.

“My brother doesn’t live. He just exists. He’s existing on alcohol and drugs. That to me is not living.”

Clarice told Tracker that the Attorney General’s decision had “gutted” her family.

“It’s just another door slammed in our faces. As if we don’t exist.

“Just because our kids aren’t here, doesn’t mean to say we’re not going to be here. We have to try and find justice for them. These sorts of things shouldn’t happen.

“… We’re the ones now who have to fight for them.”

Both Clarice and Dianne are adamant that there are two laws – one for black and one for white.

“You got a black law, and a white law, and that’s what it comes down to,” Clarice says.

“Because if this was a white family and a black man, he would have been in jail like that!

“Don’t tell me there are not two laws in this country. There are.”
Diane told Tracker that no one would ever be understand the pain her uncle feels over the loss of a child, and the denial of justice has compounded it.

“We’ve all lost someone,” she told Tracker.

“But we haven’t lost someone the way he lost his child. And that’s hard to deal with…

“We can say yes, we’ve lost her too, but she wasn’t our child. And he does blame himself because he didn’t fight hard to remove the three kids (from the house where Evelyn was last seen).

“He has a lot of blame on himself… a lot of regret for what he could have done.”

Billy is not the only one stuck re-living the horrors of that year his daughter went missing.

 

Muriel Craig is the mother of Colleen.

She tells Tracker from her home in Sawtell, about 20 minutes from Coffs Harbour, that she still has days where she expects her daughter to walk through the door.

“I don’t like to think the colour of my skin has got anything to do with it, but it does,” she says.

“We live in the white man’s way, but we’re still no better off.

“Over the years… we met politicians and lawyers and they gave us good advice, but now I feel as though I never achieved anything.

“Like I’m still back there when she went missing. I just did a circle, turned right around and went back.”

“…The police admitted they were wrong, but they’re not paying for the mistake,” Ms Craig says.

“It’s us.

“We’re the ones who have to suffer and live with it.

“They can go on with their lives, but for us, we’ve got to wake up every morning and realise what the police have done.”

Ms Craig is currently seeing a therapist to deal with her daughter’s death.

“I’m at my wits end now,” she told Tracker.

She has never been able to bury her daughter, a fact that bears heavily on her mind.

“In my mind, I sort of know what happened to her. But I don’t know where she is,” Ms Craig tells Tracker.

“A lot of people close to me have died, but I can’t bring myself to go to the funeral. It began about 15 or 10 years ago. I just got really down and I tried to go to one, but something just pulled me down and I couldn’t go.”

Ms Craig says the only way she will find some peace is if the accused goes to court.

“If I never find Colleen, it is something I’ll have to learn to accept… and I will because I won’t have a choice.

“But if we could just get him back to court, even for Evelyn and Clinton, that would be some satisfaction.

“It won’t be closure for me. But if we do get him back, if the Attorney General would just change his mind, or new evidence would come forward… at least we get him to court with the three of them together.”

Ms Craig believes that raising the reward from $250,000 to $1 million for information may lead to fresh evidence.

She cites the case of Daniel Morcombe in Queensland.

There is a sense of optimism in her words, despite the continual setbacks. She believes there are people on the mission who know what happened and she holds on to hope that fresh evidence will surface.

Thomas Duroux laughs at the thought of justice through the white man’s system when I ask him what he thinks of the word.

It’s a sad laughter, borne of frustration and hurt at a criminal justice system that has continually let him down.

But like the rest of the families, he doesn’t believe in quitting.

“You just have to keep going I suppose. If I gave up, the rest of the family here would give up.

That’s one thing I’ll never do,” he says.

“… Maybe if we got justice, we could put it all behind us.

“I’ve put it behind me a bit, but it’s still there. It’s never going to go away until something is done.

“And then it’s still going to be there anyway. Just the memories of him.

“It’ll still be there.”

But the rain clouds still cast their dark shadows over Bowraville mission.

*A protest march for the Bowraville families will be held at Hyde Park, Sydney to NSW Parliament House at 10:30 am on March 14th. Please contact the Tracker office for further details or see the Facebook Group “Justice for the Bowraville Children”.

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