WAPOL’s Model of Forensic Investigation in Consideration of the Chamberlain Case


The Chamberlain Case

On 17 August 1980, Lindy Chamberlain became the centre of one of the most controversial cases for Australian media, law and politics (Linder, 2012). She was 32-years-old, a wife to Michael and mother to Aidan, six, Reagan, four, and Azaria, nine-weeks (Creighton, 2015). The family were camping at Uluru when Azaria was taken from the tent and killed by a dingo (Creighton, 2015). The first inquiry ruled as such however the decision was overturned and on 29 October 1982, a second inquiry resulted in a trial and Lindy being sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Azaria (Creighton, 2015; Linder, 2012). A series of failed appeals followed as well as the birth of another daughter, Kahlia, soon after Lindy was imprisoned (Linder, 2012). Ultimately, Lindy was completely exonerated by a Royal Commission and the Australian public were forced to consider the fallibility of their justice system (Creighton, 2015; Linder, 2012). New precedents and changes were implemented in law and forensic science as a direct result of the Chamberlain case (Linder, 2012). The failure of investigators and prosecutors to consider evidence contrary to their own assumptions makes the case an important cautionary tale to consider (Linder, 2012). Despite significant advances in forensic skills and techniques since the Chamberlain case, investigations remain susceptible to failure due to issues such as human bias, lack of skill and prejudice (Creighton, 2015). There are many risks and benefits to the various models for forensic investigation across the world. The following essay is a critique of the Western Australia Police (WAPOL) model for crime scene and forensic investigation in consideration of the Chamberlain case.

The Importance of Accurately Gathering Physical Evidence

It is critically important that investigators accurately gather, assess and interpret reliable forensic evidence from a crime scene (Rebelius, 2011; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC], 2009). As a definition, forensics concerns the use of science or technology in the investigation and formation of evidence in legal proceedings. Saferstein (2015) defines physical evidence as any article that verifies a crime has occurred or can prove an association between crime and victims or perpetrators. Securing a crime area is critically important for a number of reasons including establishing the scope of the crime area, verifying accounts and establishing connection between individuals and locations (Saferstein, 2015). The advantages of accurately collecting physical evidence are numerous as its inability to lie means it cannot be questioned (Saferstein, 2015). Forensic examination procedures and methodology is highly regarded by the court as physical evidence itself is impartial (Saferstein, 2015). After initial valuation, the state of the crime scene must be recorded in an organised and systematic fashion as it supplies enduring documentation of the condition and physical evidence (Saferstein, 2015).

The Chamberlain case is an example of how significant items were seemingly unimportant but were exceedingly significant later in the investigation. Investigators into the Chamberlain case demonstrated their inadequacy and inexperience by failing to accurately collect and preserve evidence (Lewis, 2001; Morling, 1987). For instance, arguments whether Azaria’s jumpsuit was purposely hidden and folded would not have occurred had it have been photographed when and where it was discovered (Lewis, 2001). Ms Chamberlain-Creighton says police declined forensically relevant items the family offered as they found them whilst unpacking and accepted others (Vowles, 2010). An officer the Chamberlain’s never saw again collected a space blanket which showed obvious paw prints however at the trial they were not visible (Vowles, 2010). The Prosecution denied the existence of two-gallon Styrofoam water containers which the Defence argued should have been forensically examined for blood as they were situated on the floor of the passenger side of the car, where it was alleged Lindy sat and killed Azaria (Vowles, 2010). The Defence also highlighted the Prosecution’s failure to acknowledge the dingo prints found outside the tent, the blood on the mattress and carry cot inside the tent, and the tracking of a dingo and impressions of a knitted garment in the sand (Creighton, 2015). There was inadequate maintenance of reports and contrary to the existing guidelines, samples were disposed of without being photographed (Lewis, 2001).

Forensic Science: Crime Scene to Trial

Saferstein (2015) states that forensic science commences at the crime scene and emphasises that investigators must accurately recognise and preserve physical evidence to ensure laboratory procedures and techniques can scientifically interpret. The Chamberlain case demonstrates a deficiency in accountability, as made evident by the assumption of facts and scientists working beyond their expertise (Lewis, 2001). There was lack of attention regarding the influence of the Queensland heat and dust from the nearby copper plant when the Chamberlain’s car was confiscated a year after the event (Lewis, 2001). Dr Joy Kuhl conducted experiments on the supposed foetal blood which was actually Dufix 101, a substance applied during manufacture (Vowles, 2010). Her testimony and scientific interpretation held much weight despite demonstrating replica samples during the trial as the originals had been destroyed (Vowles, 2010). Dr Tony Raymond was chief scientist for the Forensic Services Group with New South Wales Police and principal scientific consultant to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Chamberlain Convictions (Vowles, 2010). His analysis of the assumed foetal blood exposed Dr Kuhl’s inexperience as he proved that the crossover electrophoresis method used generated misleading results (Vowles, 2010). It is apparent that Dr Kuhl was oblivious to the time differentiation between examining for copper and blood is mere seconds (Vowles, 2010). To Lindy’s detriment, cross-referencing and inspection by the Defence was unfeasible as the New South Wales Forensic Laboratory did not retain photographs or slides and the presumed blood had been depleted during analysis (Creighton, 2015; Vowles, 2010).

The use of laboratory crime scene scientists can be advantageous in forensic investigation as they offer knowledge of current methods and superior technical and scientific skills (Saferstein, 2015). It can be said that the use of Dr Kuhl’s limited investigative experience depleted laboratory resources (Saferstein, 2015). The lack of collection, documentation, development, security, recording, and preservation of evidence in the Chamberlain case fails to meet WAPOL’s standards, policies and procedures (Step Forward, 2015; Vowles, 2010). However the Dante Arthurs case raised public question of WAPOL’s ability to continuously achieve their targets (Step Forward, 2015). On 17 November 2007, Arthurs pleaded guilty and received a life sentence for murder and unlawful detention of Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia Shu, being eligible for parole after 13 years (Hayward, 2007). It was considered by many that Sofia’s death may have been prevented had Arthurs been securely convicted in 2003 for the sexual assault of another eight-year-old girl (Cox, 2009). Police failed to test Arthurs’ shorts, which had traces of the victim’s blood, and they were considered forceful during interviews, the bulk of which was deemed inadmissible by a Supreme Court judge (Cox, 2009). However the Corruption and Crime Commission established that any indication the actions might have impeded Sofia’s demise, less than three years later, was no further than hearsay and the assessment to not have Arthurs’ clothing forensically examined was tremendously adverse but was an honest oversight which failed to demonstrate misconduct (Cox, 2009). Whilst police interviewing was not considered as misconduct under the Corruption and Crime Commission Act, they had clearly failed to engage in police regulations (Cox, 2009).

The WAPOL Model

WAPOL works to a model of crime scene investigation intended to distinguish, preserve and offer the finest feasible evidence in a method that is liable and assists the investigation and the jurisdictive conclusion (Step Forward, 2015). From beginning to end of an investigation, WAPOL forensic investigators aim to demonstrate absolute integrity by gathering evidence in a manner which does not cause any to be overlooked, destroyed, contaminated to ensure it is admissible in court and best serves the investigative and judicial process (Step Forward, 2015). Principles of conduct, behaviour and practices that are expected of everyone in WAPOL include a professional contribution to police prosecutions in gathering, analysing and presenting evidence (Step Forward, 2015). Successful maintenance internally and administratively allows evidence to be continuously preserved, as evidenced by the thorough processing of information regarding each item on to the Forensic Exhibition Matrix (Step Forward, 2015). Such information includes a distinctive IMS property number, exhibit identifier, identity of the collector, time and date it was discovered and gathered, present site, anticipated distribution, forensic deliberations, and outcomes of examination (Step Forward, 2015). Investigators are assigned extraordinary powers to individually and collectively enact the purposes of their position which includes constructing valuations on evidentiary and related matters (Step Forward, 2015). However this ensues after consultation with a superintendent and is subject to the chain of command, the hierarchical order by which WAPOL exerts and assigns authority and influence from uppermost executive to officers across various working levels (Step Forward, 2015; The Law Dictionary, 2015). By design, directives flow downward beside the chain of command and culpability flows upward (The Law Dictionary, 2015).

WAPOL Values Questioned: The Case of Lloyd Rayney

There is stark contrast between the investigative performance in the Chamberlain case and the values upheld by WAPOL which include honesty, empathy, respect, openness, fairness, and accountability (Step Forward, 2015). However it has been suggested that the Lloyd Rayney case is a recent example of WAPOL’s inability to continuously reflect their values. A former barrister, Mr Rayney was acquitted in 2012 of murdering his wife Corryn, which he has always denied any involvement (ABC, 2014). He launched legal action in 2008 due to a damaged reputation and career after police named him as the prime suspect (ABC News, 2014). He is currently cooperating with a cold case review into Corryn’s murder which has identified new investigative opportunities as a result of significant advances in technology (Powell & Menagh, 2015). Mr Rayney doubts the investigation is independent due to the mateship between officers causing a conflict of interest (Powell & Menagh, 2015; Young, 2015). WAPOL Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan emphasises that it is an objective, fresh investigation with no preconceived ideas regarding the case direction (Young, 2015). He states that the new investigative team includes 13 investigators from Western Australia, an investigator from Queensland, a detective inspector from New South Wales and forensic experts from overseas who all report directly to him (Powell & Menagh, 2015; Young, 2015). Justice Chaney states that comprehensive admission of evidence is required in order for an unbiased hearing and Mr Rayney must be provided with the evidence which implicates him as the prime suspect of Ms Rayney’s murder (Menagh, 2015). This highlights similarities to the Chamberlain case as the Defence were unaware of what evidence the Prosecution had prior to trial and were therefore denied the opportunity to cross-reference and adequately prepare arguments (Creighton, 2015.

WAPOL and Collective Accountability

The initial police officers from Alice Springs were removed from the Chamberlain case due to their steadfast convictions that a dingo was to blame for Azaria’s death (Creighton, 2015). In Western Australia, sworn police officers and external exerts such as pathologists, forensic specialists and scientists are involved in each state of an investigation until its conclusion (Kassin, Dror & Kukucka, 2013; Pepper, 2010). Whilst collective accountability for providing sophisticated scientific, technical and investigative resources is an advantage, the considerable resources, comprehensive procedures and frequent communication required results in questionable management ability. In 2009, the Scientific Investigation Strategy in the Forensic Division was implemented and is considered to be a scientifically robust managerial approach to detection, recovery and examination of forensic evidence (Western Australia Police, 2010). Based on numerous comprehensive reviews and reinforced by quality assurance, specifications, supervision and training, it is foundational for ensuring continuous progression, cooperation and investigative integration (Western Australia Police, 2010). Within the three streams of evidence retrieval and investigation, analysis and intelligence are eight urgent areas including forefront forensic awareness, initial response, frontline and forensic cooperation, forensic division internal methodical procedures, innovation, science synchronisation and alliances (Western Australia Police, 2010). Quality assurance is a key factor upon which future forensic activity should be based (Western Australia Police, 2010). Alliance with National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accreditation criterions will significantly ensure a rigorous method of governance that supports systematic reliability with the establishment of superior services and products (Western Australia Police, 2010). Standardisation includes practices, methods and aptitudes that are in accordance with established agency, nationwide principles and practices (Western Australia Police, 2010). Preparing police officer’s with a superior degree of preparation and instruction is one of several imperative considerations in providing a proficient and standardised forensic model (Western Australia Police, 2010). Affiliation with recognized training criterions results in advanced levels of qualification as well as attainment of the essential proficiencies to assume the purposes of a forensic position (Western Australia Police, 2010).

Changes to Forensic Science

There have been important changes to forensic science as a result of the Royal Commission into the Chamberlain case. At the time, scientific proficiency and aptitude varied significantly across Australia (Vowles, 2010). The Senior Managers of Australia and New Zealand Forensic Laboratories (SMANZFL) formed and consists of a group of directors, both scientific and police, from all forensic science associations (Vowles, 2010). Their function is to promote leadership and pursue superiority in the forensic sciences by incorporating endeavors towards benchmarks and specifications (Vowles, 2010). Expert advisory groups consisting of chief personnel were formed below SMANZFL and concentrate on matters including biology, chemistry, toxicology, and crime scene firearm efforts (Vowles, 2010). Dr Raymond states that the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) was founded consequently by Mr John Phillips, Lindy’s trial defence lawyer, and is focused on matters concerning forensic sciences including quality, research, training, education, standards, and standardisation (Vowles, 2010).

Why the Chamberlain Case is Important to Consider

On 12 June 2012, Ms Elizabeth Morris found that Azaria Chamberlain perished at Uluru on 17 August 1980 and the cause of her demise was as the consequence of being taken and killed by a dingo (Erickson, 2012). Her Honour accepted proof in relation to dingo associated wounds and deaths after the date of Azaria’s death (Erickson, 2012). Bryson (2015) states that the Chamberlain case is the first in Australian history which has observed a juror and the trial judge demonstrate against the outcome, as well as a senior prosecutor who declared his victory as his millstone. There are many Australian’s who are encouraged, inspired, confronted and challenged by the story of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton. The events of 17 August 1980 forced the Australian public to acknowledge their justice system is fallible and question how inconsistent forensic evidence can wrongfully convict an innocent mother for the murder of her beautiful baby girl. Despite significant advances in forensic skills and techniques since the Chamberlain case, investigations remain susceptible to failure due to issues such as human bias, lack of skill and prejudice (Creighton, 2015). The Chamberlain case demonstrates a deficiency in accountability, as made evident by the assumption of facts and scientists working beyond their expertise. There are many risks and benefits to the various models for forensic investigation across the world. There have been important changes to forensic science as a result of the Royal Commission into the Chamberlain case. There is stark contrast between the investigative performance in the Chamberlain case and the values upheld by WAPOL which include honesty, empathy, respect, openness, fairness, and accountability (Step Forward, 2015). The WAPOL model of investigation has been considered as one of the best in the world and their ability to successfully bring many offenders to account is testament to this. Ms Chamberlain-Creighton reveals her belief that there is a better climate amongst the Australian public that the criminal justice system can get it wrong (Chamberlain-Creighton, 2014). She cautions that bias misconstrues the truth and highlights the pressures upon police from the public to solve crime can result in their pursuit of the wrong person (Chamberlain-Creighton, 2014). When asked what advice she would give to a student pursuing a career in the criminal justice system she states it is important to keep an open mind to all directions, remember that it involves the lives of real people and one must not become so involved with individuals that they are unable to see the evidence (Chamberlain-Creighton, 2014).


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