Originally published by New Matilda on November 26, 2015
The move, labelled ‘disrespectful’, has upset the Bowraville families who have already waited a quarter of a century for justice. Amy McQuire reports.
The families of three Aboriginal children murdered on a small NSW mission more than two decades ago have again been left disappointed, after the NSW Attorney-General told them by text message that a long-awaited report which could clear the pathway to justice has been delayed yet again.
The families of Colleen Walker, Evelyn Greenup, and Clinton Speedy-Duroux – who were aged 16, 4, and 16 respectively at the time they went missing – have been waiting since May for a report by Justice James Wood that could clear a legal barrier preventing the man accused of killing the children to be put back on the stand.
Representatives of two of the families told New Matilda that it was another “letdown” in a tragic saga that has stretched on for 25 years. The injustice has strangled the families of the Bowraville children who have been protesting for the past two decades for justice for their murdered children.
Colleen, Evelyn, and Clinton all disappeared within a six-month period between late 1990 to early 1991, on the same stretch of road on Bowraville mission.
There has only ever been one person accused of the crimes – a non-Indigenous man who hung around the mission at the time. Thanks to a bungled police investigation, underpinned by a racism that has since been acknowledged by the NSW Police force, the man has never been convicted.
A second investigation, headed by high-profile homicide detective Gary Jubelin over a number of years, helped unravel the past mistakes.
The accused man was acquitted of both Clinton and Evelyn’s murders, but has never been charged over Colleen’s death. Her body has never been found, although some of her clothing and belongings were recovered from a nearby river.
In 2006 the families campaigned to have the state’s double jeopardy laws overturned – a potential world first – in order to get the man back on the stand using “fresh and compelling” evidence tendered in one trial but ruled inadmissible in the other.
Despite the victory, that application was knocked back by two previous Attorneys-General over a legal argument around the use of the terms ‘adduced’ and ‘admissible’, which has never been tested in NSW courts.
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Last November, after a series of protests from the families, the NSW Parliament delivered the long-awaited recommendations of an inquiry into the family response to the murders.
The inquiry went a lot further than was expected with many MLAs, including Liberal MP David Clarke, breaking down in tears in Parliament calling for justice for the families of Clinton, Evelyn and Colleen.
The report handed down two recommendations around double jeopardy laws specifically designed to clear the way for the families to take the accused back to court.
After waiting six months for a response from government, a key supporter of the families – Greens MLA David Shoebridge – introduced a private member’s bill to implement the recommendations.
new matilda, gabrielle upton
NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton.
It occurred in the same week NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton announced the state government would accept all the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry’s report, and announced a review into the double jeopardy principle to be headed Justice James Wood.
The deadline for the review was November, and Ms Upton’s office had a date to meet with members of the families on Friday to show them the report. For the families it signified hope – a last shot at long-delayed justice.
But earlier this week the families were given news that there was another setback. A representative of Clinton’s family – Leonie Duroux – received a voicemail, and then a text, informing her that the meeting would be set back to a date around Christmas.
The explanation was that the report has to first go to cabinet.
But the families feel that this is just another letdown in a long, drawn-out process.
“To have it delivered the week before Christmas… it’s not good enough,” Ms Duroux told New Matilda.
“Christmas time is when Parliament wants to get rid of things… for us its not a good time. We would rather people just be up front.”
When Leonie informed Clinton’s father Thomas of the news, she said she could hear the disappointment down the phone.
“I know from our family’s point of view… when I told Thomas he just sort of went ‘aww’… so for 25 years he’s been building himself up and being let down. Being let down again is not fair. I felt like crying when I was talking to him.”
Evelyn’s brother Lucas Craig Walker told New Matilda it was disappointing.
“We were meant to get a response by now and we’ve waited so long for this. It just feels like another letdown basically. It feels like they are going to keep us waiting and waiting. How long do we have to wait before we get a response,” he said.
“It feels like we’re taking another step backwards.”
Walker said it was also irresponsible to do it by text.
“We could have had a representative of the Attorney-General come along and explain to us what happened, instead of finding out via text message. Especially when it’s so important to us. In a text message, we can’t ask questions, we can’t get a better explanation.”
“It’s like it’s just another work day for them but to us it’s reality. It’s our life. We live with this every day.”
Greens MLA David Shoebridge was savage in a media released on Wednesday.
“After a quarter of a century of disrespect how on earth could the Attorney-General think that it is acceptable to cancel a crucial meeting with the families of three murdered children by text message from a staffer,” he asked.
“Justice Wood’s report is a crucial step in the families’ quarter of a century struggle to receive justice for their children, and many had made plans to attend the meeting this week.”
He said the families should know the contents of the report before it went to cabinet.
“Over the past 12 months MPs from every political party have rallied around the families so it is almost incomprehensible to see the Attorney’s office being so disrespectful.
“The cabinet can only properly consider Justice Wood’s report if it has had direct input from those most impacted, namely the families of the children who were murdered and who are relying on a positive response from the government to obtain justice.”