Police Interviewing: Considerations from Ron Iddles, Former Senior Homicide Investigator and Current Secretary of VIC Police Association

Ron Iddles, Secretary of the Police Association Victoria

Ron Iddles spent over 25 years in homicide Victoria. He has arrested 95 per cent of suspects from approximately 300 murder investigations he has conducted. He has testified in at least 150 murder trials and seen only three acquittals. His proven reputation has impacted victims, perpetrators and the justice system. I was given the absolute privilege of asking Mr Iddles, now Secretary of the Victorian Police Association, his thoughts on police interviewing.

According to Ron, the ABC of approaching a homicide investigation is:

  • A = Assume nothing
  • B = Believe nothing
  • C = Check everything

Interviewing witnesses provides the opportunity to gather important information about a crime. People can be influenced by leading questions and the development of false memories. Ron says that witnesses should give a free narrative account. Interviewers must give witnesses the opportunity to use their memory, based on the six senses, by putting them back into the environment. He provides an example, “I want you to visualise you are sitting in the lane way as described. You told me you saw a man getting bashed. This is your story so take as long as you like. Tell me what you see. Close your eyes if you wish.”

Ron says, “Let them tell the story. From the account you can expand it. ‘So you saw the man had a bar? Describe the bar to me. What was the man wearing?’” He continues by saying, “All questions should be open. Police can contaminate the mind by being suggestive or forcing choice.” He provides an example, “’Was his hair brown or black?’ The man’s hair might have been blonde but the interviewer has now forced the witness to make a choice.” Mr Iddles stresses the importance of giving witnesses sufficient time. “Tell them it may take an hour. If you do not do this they will edit the information they give you. And interview in an appropriate place.”

Face-to-face interviews generally have a predetermined set of topics or questions guiding the interview. They tend to ask specific questions about each of the items in the predetermined set of questions, controlling the flow of information and doing much of the thinking and talking. “Good interviews must allow suspects, victims and witnesses to give their account first,” Ron says. He gives an example, “’I intend to interview about the death of Bill Smith, tell me about that.’ Your face-to-face interview to some extent is controlled by what the suspect tells you. If they say, ‘I did not do it,’ or ‘I cannot tell you anything’ you then must say, ‘Well now I want you to tell me where you were between 8 am and 6 pm.’ Cover the period of the crime. Get them committed to a story. Once you do that you put the evidence to them. ‘So you told me you were in Smith Street, Collingwood, at 9 am. Is that so? See, I have some CCTV footage which shows you in Glenroy at that time. How can you explain that?’ You want suspects, victims and witness doing the talking.”

Detective Ron Iddles and Tom Peck interviewing Shane Bond over the suspected murder of Elisabeth Membrey

Asked what he perceived to be reasons behind witnesses being reluctant and what initial actions interviewers could take to address this, Ron says, “Witnesses may be fearful and be concerned for their welfare. Interviewers only have a couple of minutes to make a good impression. Trust is a massive influence. You can gain trust by the way you dress, act, and speak. Build rapport. Select interviewers who will connect with the witness.” In regards to hostile witnesses, Mr Iddles says, “A hostile witness is normally a witness who has made a statement and for whatever reason does not want to testify or they change their version on the witnes stand. Most times it can come down the manner in which police have dealt with them. Occasssionally it could be a result of having been threatened and if that is the case, then witness protection must be considered.”

Balancing sensitivity towards victims and witnesses as well as simultaneously obtaining essential evidence can be an issue. Ron says, “The wellbeing of the victims and witnesses is number one at all times. Build a trust relationship. Listen, be genuinely understanding and empathetic, and be prepared to give something of yourself to make it personal.”

Asked to compare his general considerations regarding police interviewing prior to commencing his career to his understanding today, Mr Iddles says, “Before training it was basic. Just question and answer. No structure. Now it is about structure, their account, listening and understanding, and having good communication skills. Interviewing is just a conversation.” Asked to consider hindrances and valuable tools in police interviewing, Ron says, “A hindrance would be lack of preparation. Most police do not prepare properly for interviews. I have travelled, been trained, and permitted to experiment within the confines of the law.”

Ron says, “At all times, operate within the law. Do not be overbearing. Do not override a person’s operating mind. And do not be threatening.” He concludes by suggesting some basic principles for police interviewers, based on PEACE:

  • P = Planning. When and where are you going to do the interview? Who are you interviewing? Understand their background – know a bit about them.
  • E = Engage and explain. Let them know what you are doing.
  • A = Obtain a free narrative account.
  • C = Challenge – When an account is contradictory to the evidence, provide the facts
  • E = Evaluate what you have been told. What do you need to do now? Evaluate your own performance.

Have Your Say! Daniel’s Law: A Public Sex Offender Registry

Bruce and Denise Morcombe haven’t always been household names. They were once an average hard-working couple enjoying a peaceful life with their sons Dean, Bradley and Daniel in Palmwoods, a small country town on the Sunshine Coast. In December 2003, the boys were enjoying their school holidays. Bradley and Daniel were looking forward to flying to Melbourne to visit their grandparents after their 14th birthday. On Sunday 7th December Daniel waited for a bus to take him to the Sunshine Plaza for a haircut and Christmas shopping. He never returned.

daniel morcombe
Daniel Morcombe

The Morcombe’s relentlessly pursued answers, working collaboratively with QLD Police and the public. The Daniel Morcombe Foundation was established in 2005 to maintain public attention on Daniel’s disappearance, educate children about personal safety and keeping safe, and assisting child victims of crime. Bruce and Denise pushed for an inquest which would revise the evidence the police had received. Their determination was rewarded and a coronial inquest was held in October 2010. On 13 March 2014, Brett Peter Cowan was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, indecent dealing with a child under the age of 16, and interfering with a corpse. He will be eligible for parole in August 2031.

Brett Cowan is a serial sex predator with a chilling history of abusing children. In 1989, Cowan received a two-year sentence for indecent dealing. He had been doing community service at a playground when he enticed a seven-year-old boy into the toilets and molested him. On 28 September 1993, he raped a six-year-old boy and left him for dead in an abandoned car situated outside a caravan park where he was living with his girlfriend. Cowan was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and was granted parole after four-and-a-half years. He relocated to the Sunshine Coast with his Aunt and Uncle, who were Pastors at the Woombye Christian Outreach Centre, as it was then known. He married in 1999, had a son, and settled in Beerwah. He would go on to father another 3 children to 2 more women.

Brett Cowan

On 7 December 2003, Daniel was waiting for a bus under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass. The bus he was supposed to catch had broken down just down the road. Daniel hailed the replacement bus but it continued due to being behind schedule and it being an unofficial stop. Cowan stood a distance behind Daniel, who was gone by the time the second bus came a few minutes later.

To say the Morcombe’s are fighters would be an understatement. Though they may have won their fight for answers and a successful conviction for Daniel’s murder, their battle to protect Australian children is ongoing. They now face the challenge of seeing their bill, Daniel’s Law, come to pass in the NT. Based on Megan’s Law in the US, successful passing of the bill would make the NT the first Australian jurisdiction to legislate a publicly accessible website featuring a photo of offenders, their location, and offence details. A draft of Daniel’s Law was read in the NT parliament on 15th September 2014. It has not been without opposition.

Some experts have voiced concern regarding the identification of victims. Bruce acknowledges this as a legitimate argument and says, “Daniel’s Law takes into account the risk of victims being identified. For instance, if the victim’s identity will be obvious due to living in a small community then the panel can decide not to publicly register the offender or include only a general location.” Daniel’s Law states that the panel must decide against publishing offender details if it will cause harm to the victim that outweighs any benefits to other victims or the public. Bruce continues by saying, “Denise and I have met a number of child sexual assault survivors. Almost all of them would have no problem with being identified. They believe that public awareness of the offender’s details would be a significant deterrent in reoffending and help prevent would-be offenders from venturing down that path. They want the public to be warned about such people.”

Another argument against Daniel’s Law is that Megan’s Law has failed to provide evidence that a public sex offender registry reduces sex offending. Asked his response to this argument Bruce says, “It’s a valid point but the factors which contribute to sex offending must be considered. Megan’s Law has been around for 20 years. Our society has changed significantly since then. More public awareness of such crimes against children has resulted in an increase of reporting incidences of sexual abuse. It’s not a statistic that one is able to quantify.” He acknowledges that most child sexual assault is committed by people who are known to the child. He says, “An example of how Daniel’s Law could assist in this situation is by informing single parents of their would-be partner’s history.” He continues by emphasising that in a modern world the goal posts have moved. He holds grave concerns for children falling prey to online predators. “It would shock most Australian’s to learn the number of sex offenders preying upon children online. Doesn’t it make sense to use online tools to combat the issue?”

Asked whether a public sex offender registry would have changed the way he and Denise raised their boys Bruce says, “Yes, it would have been a very useful tool had it have been available. Palmwoods was, and still is a small, safe community. It wasn’t until after Daniel’s disappearance that we became aware of an evil underbelly that exists everywhere. As responsible parents we would have educated our children about potential personal safety issues. Identifying serious sex offenders on a website to children makes it real. We don’t wish to scare anyone, especially children, but it will help them appreciate that they need to observe those basic safety messages. For instance, travelling with a friend if possible or telling someone where you are going and what time you will be home. And as always Recognise, React and Report anything suspicious.”

Bruce and Denise Morcombe with Attorney-General and Minister for Justice John Elferink

Daniel’s Law would:

  • List violent sex offenders on a publically accessible website
  • Identify these people by name and alias
  • Show a current photo of them
  • Provide the general geographical area they live in (not the actual street address)
  • Identify in broad general terms their history of offending

Background Points of Note:

  • Child victim’s of sexual assault will not be identified
  • Suggestions of increased vigilantism is not supported by statistics
  • Educating parents and children about potential risks is being responsible
  • Using the internet and online technology is the modern way we communicate today
  • Providing an increased deterrent to future predators makes common sense

The passing of Daniel’s Law will allow the public to be aware of depraved, opportunistic offenders like Brett Cowan and has the potential to change would-be outcomes for children.

Do you think a public sex offender website is a good thing for Australia? If you wish to have your say, please visit the Daniel Morcombe Foundation website using the link below and vote YES or NO, and help by sharing. All responses will be forwarded to the NT parliament before the second reading of Daniel’s Law in the coming months.



Innocence Lost: The Story of Susie Gilmore – By Zara Butt

The coastal town of Busselton is 220 kilometres south west of Perth, Western Australia. It is globally recognized for its beauty, fresh air, clear sparkling water, remarkable wildlife, local produce, and charming villages nearby. Busselton provides an idyllic atmosphere to raise children and takes pride in having one of the lowest crime rates. For Susie Gilmore it is where her worst nightmare began – a nightmare which raises the question of whether closure, by its generally accepted definition, is possible.

In 1967 Susie was a 15 year old girl living in Busselton. She lived with her parents and was the youngest of two brothers and five sisters. She and her friend went to the shop for a milkshake. They parted ways at their usual spot, an equal distance from both their homes. Susie was so close to home that she could see her front door when a car pulled up and a man asked for directions. Upon approaching the car to assist, she was suddenly grabbed and forced inside. Her friend heard the scream but thought she had imagined it when she went back to investigate and saw nothing.

Susie was taken by three men to an old abandoned scout camp in Lesmurdie, 21 kilometres from Perth. Michael Otley, Jock Dempsey and David Bush held Susie captive, used her as a sex slave and planned to kill her so their identities would remain unknown to the police. Asked what thoughts and feelings she had during her ordeal Susie says, “I didn’t think I was going to survive. I thought I was living my last days on earth and wished they would just kill me rather than prolong my misery.” Her mind and body shut down. Susie continued by saying, “The ‘here and now’ was absolutely terrifying and unbearable so my mind went elsewhere.” It was this that enabled her to consider the possibility of survival.

On the tenth day, Otley released her. He told her to follow him to the bathroom, where he turned the shower on and left the water running, pretending she was having a shower. He then snuck her to the back door where he allowed her to escape. Asked why she thought he did that Susie says, “He said to me he was already going down for kidnapping and rape. He didn’t want to go down for murder as well.” Susie ran a couple of streets away. She banged on a couple’s door and told the lady who answered that she was the young girl from the paper. Susie says, “I must have looked absolutely awful. I hadn’t showered in ten days. I was full of adrenaline and had been completely traumatised.” The ladies husband called the police and the couple took her to the police station. One officer showed compassion and offered Susie something to eat and drink. Another officer accused her of being a runaway, “one of those girls”, and suggested she had been with her boyfriends. His poor treatment caused Susie to completely shut down. Her brother came to identify her and the police took her to Longmore Detention Centre (now Banksia Hill). Asked why they did that Susie says, “I still have no idea why! I was left there wondering what I had done wrong.”

Susie was able to give the police all three names. Otley was the first to be caught. He already had a criminal record and had been caught breaking into houses getting food. Bush was picked up over east. A relative of Dempsey’s, from the UK, recognised his name and informed police of his whereabouts. Susie says, “The justice system was so different back then. In court I was made to sit in the public gallery next to Bush’s mother. She told me she didn’t think badly of her son.” She continued by saying, “A detective showed a lot of compassion towards me. He said his heart broke for me and warned me that the lawyer would attempt to raise questions that scrutinised my character and mental state. He advised me to simply answer yes or no and I’ll get through it. I took his advice and afterwards he said I had done incredibly well.” All three men were found guilty. Otley was sentenced to 23 years, Dempsey nine and Bush five.

Asked how people responded to her ordeal Susie says, “I was in shock and very much alone. When I tried talking about it Mum responded with the expectation that I pretend as though nothing had happened. My sister’s didn’t acknowledge anything either. Dad didn’t say anything about it but my sister’s later told me it was because he felt guilty that he didn’t protect me.” She continued by saying, “My church and school treated me like damaged goods. I wasn’t allowed to get married in my church because I wasn’t a virgin. I was a bright student who enjoyed school but I left when other students continuously pointed and talking about me.” Susie stayed home for a couple of years before being offered a job at a bakery. “My boss was great,” Susie says. “I loved working there. I kept eating the jam donuts until one day he told me to start making them and I’d have to eat each one that wasn’t perfect. I haven’t eaten a jam donut since!” She enjoyed working out back, being unnoticed and feeding kittens in secret.

Susie is now 63, a mother of three, and lives in Bunbury with her partner, a folk musician. They met when Susie travelled to Adelaide after they had been chatting online for some time. Susie says he is her best friend. They enjoy a nice Moscato under the patio some evenings while he plays music. In recent years Susie has shared parts of her story with students at a Busselton school, encouraging them to be aware and make safe decisions. After her first talk, the students wrote letters to Susie, giving them to a teacher to pass on to her. The letters accumulated and after a few days the teacher put them in a box and sent them home with Susie’s son. Susie treasures these letters from young people who wrote about the personal impact her story has had on them. Susie says with fondness, “The students gave me hugs and told all their friends about me so the school invited me to talk to nine other classes!”

Asked what her thoughts and feelings are when she reflects upon her past and considers her future Susie says, “I have lost so much that I should have been able to enjoy back then. I grieve the loss of innocence so young and am quite bitter about it.” Regarding her future she says, “I take each day as it comes now as it is the only way I can survive. I live for today as the promise of tomorrow went when I was young and naive.” She says her PTSD gets to her at times and it’s in those moments that she needs to talk openly and honestly. When asked what she hopes for people to grasp from sharing her story she says, “People view legal proceedings as an avenue to get closure. The offenders may be sentenced to prison but the devastating effects in people’s lives remain.” She continues by saying, “Offenders serve their sentence and walk out free. Their victims don’t.”

Susie Gilmore
Susie Gilmore with her family

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).


ABC News. (2014, April 18). Lloyd Rayney Given Green Light to Continue Action Against Retrieved September 18, 2015, from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-17/lloyd-rayney-defamation-action-against-the-state-to-continue/5398614.

Bryson, J. (2015). Four coroners: The last Azaria Chamberlain inquest. The Monthly: Australian Politics, Society and Culture. Retrieved September 23, 2015, from http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2012/july/1354240697/john-bryson/four-coroners.

Chamberlain-Creighton, L. (2014, August 4). Phone interview.

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Closure Non-Existent: The Greenough Family Murders

When asked to consider someone that we love dearly, most of us have a face that immediately comes to mind. No words could ever express how priceless that person is. They touch our heart and bring value to our life in ways only they can. We have fond memories of them that we will always treasure.

Imagine that person is suddenly gone. Perhaps you feel numb and walk around in a daze, not thinking or feeling anything in particular. You know your life has changed forever. You would give anything to touch them one last time, to hear their voice, and tell them how much you love them. But you can’t.

Now consider how you might feel if the person you love was brutally murdered. Their death is on the front page of newspapers and people are watching it on the news as they eat their dinner, forming opinions and discussing the person you have lost and love so much. Most of us are fortunate that our thoughts and feelings after such an event will remain a hypothetical consideration. Evalyn Clow, however, has firsthand experience that has deeply affected her and her family.

On 21 February 1993, Evalyn’s sister, Karen MacKenzie, and her three children, Danny, 16, Amara, 7, and Katrina, 5, were brutally murdered by William (Bill) Mitchell in the rural town of Greenough, 400 km north of Perth. Mitchell had been abusing cannabis, alcohol and amphetamines throughout the day. Karen was at a friend’s place and rejected his advances. He later drove her home and left, only to return at 3:30 in the morning. Danny went out to investigate why the dog was barking and saw approaching headlights. He was confronted by Mitchell. Armed with an axe, Mitchell cleaved Danny’s head and continued to do so after knocking him to the ground. Leaving Danny to die, Mitchell continued to the house. Karen had fallen asleep watching TV on the floor in the lounge. He raped and sodomised Karen before, during and after death. Mitchell then turned his attention to Amara and Katrina who were asleep in their bedrooms. A judge ordered the gruesome details of their deaths to be kept from the public.

amara and katrina
Amara and Katrina Allan

Mitchell initially denied culpability but confessed after a failed suicide attempt. He pleaded guilty to four counts of wilful murder and four counts of sexual assault. He was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 20 years. Mitchell received this light sentence due to the influence of drugs and the remorse he showed in court, which was accepted as genuine by the judge.

Evalyn cannot speak highly enough of the work WA Police did to solve the case. She says, “There is no doubt in my mind that the scene they came across disturbed them greatly. I have great respect for all involved.” In a nearby river, divers recovered a blood-stained axe with hair still attached. Tyre tracks, shoe prints, pubic hair and fingerprints became crucial pieces of evidence, including fingerprints derived from some hand lotion, which Mitchell used as a lubricant.

Evalyn was 27 when the murders occurred. She received a call from her younger brother saying that a woman and her three kids had been murdered in Greenough. She tried calling Karen numerous times, only to receive the busy signal or have her calls ring out. Worried, she rang the police, only to have growing concern when they were unable to reassure her that it wasn’t Karen and the kids. Her husband, Graeme, eventually spoke to the police and Evalyn watched with dread as his eyes filled with tears. She says, “I just lost it! I kept saying no, no, no, it’s not!” She had sold some horses the week before and was going to use the money to fund a family visit to see Karen and the kids. Evalyn says, “I feel I have let Karen down by not visiting her before she died and being there when she needed me most.”

Danny MacKenzie

Evalyn says she was a “basket case” for the first three years after the murders. She was taking anti-depressants and had been diagnosed with PTSD and Manic Depression. She frequently thought she had seen Danny when she was out shopping. “Danny was living in an unstable environment with my mother,” Evalyn says. “He adored his sisters. He was working and used his savings to move to WA so he could be with Karen and the girls.” Evalyn says Danny was a kind-hearted “rat bag”. Her voice cracking with emotion, she says, “He had gone back to school and was doing quite well. He was a bright kid.” She paused before saying, “They only enjoyed one Christmas together as a family.”

Evalyn and Karen grew up in a family with two brothers. Evalyn says, “It was just us girls against the world. We had an unstable upbringing. Mum was an alcoholic. Karen and I were sexually abused by some male family members.” Karen left home at the age of 14, pregnant with Danny, whom she raised for the first few years before leaving him in her mother’s care and moving to WA. Karen formed a relationship and had two girls, Amara and Katrina, however the relationship didn’t last. She decided to settle in Greenough and do her best with what she had to make a life for herself and her children. Evalyn says, “Mitchell destroyed the dignity of a single Mum doing the best with what she had. My sister had very little confidence. She was not perfect but she adored her kids and was doing the best she could with what she had, trying to establish a good life for her family.”

Karen MacKenzie

Evalyn, her husband Graeme, her mother and younger brother sorted through Karen’s house. “The girl’s adoration for their Mum was evident in writings and pictures they had given her,” Evalyn says. “As we were cleaning the house it was obvious what occurred.” She describes sitting on the lounge room floor, looking around thinking about what needed to be done and suddenly realising that she was sitting on a dark patch of blood where her sister had been raped, sodomised and hacked to death. They found Karen’s diaries and poetry, which gave insights into her depression and the repercussions of child sexual abuse in her adult years.

Evalyn believes the word closure has been defined by those who live in ignorant bliss. Since the murders, it has been a continuous battle just to survive life. She has not slept properly since the event. At the time of being interviewed she had been awake since 1:30 am and had just returned home from work. She longs for a normality that most take for granted. Evalyn says, “We often ask ourselves when Mitchell’s crimes will stop impacting our life. When will it end?” Her family has been forced to endure pain beyond comprehension and be left with a daily existence that entails emotional exhaustion, various moods, stresses, and a lingering possibility of Mitchell one day being granted parole. She is unable to see or touch people she loves dearly, her kids have been deprived of growing up with their cousins, and she can only wonder what Karen’s kids would have done with their lives. She says, “There are good days and bad days. Anniversaries and birthday’s are especially hard. Katrina would have been 28 recently, on 26 October.” She and Graeme have been through some very testing times that would have destroyed most marriages. A particularly testing time came in 2013 when Mitchell was first eligible for parole. Evalyn was trying to keep Mitchell in jail, maintain family life and fulfil a high-pressured job. Evalyn says, “Graeme is my rock. I love him so much.”

Evalyn believes she is a much stronger person as a result of Mitchell’s crimes. “I accepted mistreatment from people when I was a child,” she says. “I have recognised my own strength through what has happened. I love to encourage people and help them to be proactive and positive in situations that are beyond their control. The past is irrelevant when it comes to making something of our lives and ourselves.” A turning point in her life was in 1996 and she came to the realisation that Mitchell had not only destroyed Karen’s life but was destroying her own. At this point she vowed to dedicate her life to preventing Mitchell from being granted parole. He was rejected when he became eligible for parole in 2013 and will be reconsidered in 2016. Evalyn says, “He will be reconsidered every three years and can start applying up to a year before.” He is detained in Bunbury Prison, a minimum security facility 180 km south of Perth.

Through victim-offender mediation, Evalyn requested a meeting with Mitchell. In 2010 he agreed to a visit. She says, “There was a storm the night before. I stood on the beach with the wind in my face and asked Karen for the strength to say what I had to without showing weakness.” She continued, “His everyday appearance amazed me. You wouldn’t imagine an average looking person to have done what he did.” While the occupants of the room couldn’t see out, the guards standing outside could see in. “Mitchell was looking down and breathing nervously. He instantly looked up when I thanked him,” Evalyn says. “I looked him in the eye and said I wasn’t there to ask him why but to tell him who Karen was as we were growing up and how important she was to me.” Mitchell apologised and said that he was a changed person who had done everything right in prison. Evalyn says, “He has no reason not to appear as a changed person. People want to kill him for what he’s done. He’s protected. He has psychological assistance, food, clothing, and opportunities to be educated. My family and I are left with nothing. We struggle to make ends meet.” After the meeting, she found the acting prison boss’ demeanour to be offensive. She says, “He greeted the mediators and ignored me when I was introduced.” The prison informed the mediators that they didn’t want the meeting to occur. “He gave no consideration to me and just asked how Mitchell was,” Evalyn says.

Evalyn wishes the public were made aware of the details of how the girls died, especially Amara. She believes this would greatly assist in keeping Mitchell behind bars when he is reconsidered for parole every three years as the public outcry would be great. “How can you do that to a 7 year old child?” she asks. “Some people say ‘he’s done his time’. Mitchell is 44, young enough to start a relationship, father children and create a life for himself while my family has been stripped of one? Where is the justice for Karen and the kids?” When asked why she believes some hold this opinion she says, “They think his substance abuse had a lot to do with what he did. He was out on parole after been imprisoned for attacking female armed with a knife and rope,” she says. Around the time of the murders he had 14 other charges including burglary and assault. “If he was of unsound mind at the time, how is it he could think to take an axe and dispose of it afterwards? How could he have made his way to Karen’s isolated property? Would he have been able to testify in detail about what he did?” Evalyn wonders why someone can be sentenced for longer than 20 years, which Mitchell received, when they have killed one person and not four.

If she had one last chance to see Karen, Danny, Amara and Katrina just one more time Evalyn says, “I will just hug them, tell them how special they are to me and that I love them.” She says she talks to them often and finds peace in knowing they are aware of her thoughts and feelings for them but it would mean so much to be able to physically touch them and say it to their face. Evalyn hopes this article will inspire others to keep fighting, not give up, believe in themselves and keep going with life regardless of the good and bad.