Blackened Tanner by Ron Irwin


The principles of natural justice are based on three core rules.

The hearing rule provides the right to a fair hearing. When conducting an investigation, it is important that the person being complained against is advised of the allegations in as much detail as possible and given the opportunity to reply to them before any decision is made.

The bias rule requires that no-one be judge in his or her own case and that investigators and decision-makers act without bias or perception of bias in all procedures; where a person has preconceived opinions, a vested interest or personal or family involvement, they should not investigate the matter.

And the evidence rule provides that decisions must be based on logical proof and evidence, not on mere speculation.

When I set out to look at the cases involving Denis Tanner, I discovered that these principles of natural justice had all been ignored.

This is the beginning of Ron Irwin’s first chapter in his book Blackened Tanner.

Like Denis Tanner, the subject of the book, Ron Irwin had been a police officer in the Victorian police service.  He writes of a man who was identified as a murderer at an inquest into the death of his sister in law- but because there was insufficient evidence to put him to trial, was never given the opportunity to refute the claims made against him.

Denis Tanner and his family had to continue living within a community where he was seen as someone who had literally got away with the murder.

Irwin makes it clear there was something rotten in the state of Victoria, especially within the legal processes and their dealings with Denis Tanner.


Nice Girl. (Keli Lane Again)


Nice Girl was written by Rachael Jane Chin, who attended every day of the criminal trial against convicted “childkiller” Keli Lane.

Chin starts her book by saying,

While this book is written in a highly narrative style and some scenes have been fictionalised, all details including dates, names and events have been drawn directly from the transcript of the coronial inquest into the suspected death of Tegan between 2004 and 2006, news clippings, press releases, first-hand observation of Keli Lane’s 2009 arraignment, first-hand observations of ever day of the 2010 murder trial and each day’s transcript”

While that approach makes the book very readable, that “highly narrative style” and “fictionalised” scenes, effectively makes the book appear to me more like a novelisation of events than a straight objective account.

But then, I have to wonder how an objective account of this case could be told. What IS the truth ? And does anyone apart from Keli Lane have any idea what really happened to her new-born daughter Tegan?

First the basic KNOWN facts.

Between the ages of 17 and 24, Lane had two abortions and gave birth three times, all without the knowledge of her family and friends.

Only in the case of the first abortion did anyone close to her know, and that was her then boyfriend, the father of the unborn child.

A second pregnancy was also terminated.

Her third pregnancy went to term, and she gave birth to her first child, unknown to any friend or family member, after competing in a water polo final on that same day. Arrangements were quickly made for the baby’s adoption, and after a few days Lane returned home to her unknowing family. Her time in hospital coincided with her 20th birthday and her absence doesn’t seem to have caused any concern.

Her fifth pregnancy and the birth of her third child followed a similar path, with the baby being given up for adoption straight after the birth.

It was what happened with her fourth pregnancy and  the birth of her second child  that came back to haunt Lane, resulting in her murder conviction and an 18 year jail sentence. She left hospital with her baby girl (Tegan) who was never seen again. Keli claimed the baby had been given to Tegan’s natural father, but neither father or child have ever been found despite years of searching.

It was only during the adoption process for the third child that anyone realised there was a baby missing, and steps were started to investigate why.

A lot of the problems Lane faced  arose out of the lies she told over the years, trying to keep her family and friends unaware of the many pregnancies. That history of lies made everything she claimed about the fate of Tegan harder to believe, and it seems to those lies are the only “evidence” that led to her being convicted. The prosecution cleverly managed to include three charges of perjury, related to these lies, alongside the murder charge – a tactic that likely helped sway the jury on the more serious matter.

I remember when this case was a major news story, and while I didn’t know the detail, I was always doubtful of a charge of murder when the “victim” has never been proven to have been murdered, and could possibly still be alive.

Lane’s complicated, confusing story makes it hard to know for sure what actually happened but since learning more about the case through the ABC TV series Exposed (see previous two posts) and other sources, I’ve found more reason to doubt any justification of a conviction “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Consider the following:

  1. The judge presiding over the murder case said he wasn’t convinced the Crown had proven its case against Lane and “before he despatched the jury, he went as far as to suggest that a guilty verdict would be wrong” (see pdf at link below).
  2. Lane adopted out babies 1 and 3, so why would she turn to murder when it came to the child inbetween?
  3. Lane was offered immunity from prosecution if she revealed “the truth” about Tegan’s fate, but she stuck with the story she’s already told, despite the possible (later realised) outcome.
  4. Investigating police didn’t think they had a strong enough case to take it to court. “The detective who led the police investigation …reveal[ed] she was ‘shocked’ when Lane was found guilty” *.
  5. The prosecutor, who has prosecuted some of Australia’s most notorious criminals had also succeeded in some prominent cases that were later overturned. **  This perhaps shows how court cases can be a more of a contest between the skills of competing lawyers than a genuine assessment of evidence.
  6. Transgressing legal restrictions in his opening address, that prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, presented a hypothetical account of how Keli murdered Tegan and disposed of her body near the construction site for the Olympic Park (being prepared for the upcoming 2000 Olympics). There was no evidence at all for that scenario, it was a fiction created by a Department of Community Services employee who had helped create the case. Tedeschi was ordered to withdraw that inadmissible account from the record of his opening address – but despite the judge’s advice, the jury had already heard it and couldn’t un-hear it. Because the account was withdrawn under instruction, Tedeschi now refuses to discuss his decision to use that tactic, because the story is no longer part of the official record.

Apart from the underhanded tactic mentioned in point 6 above, Tedeschi’s opening also targeted Lane’s moral character, to make up for the lack of actual evidence for a murder.

Rachael Jane Chin makes the following observation in her account of the trial, that Tedeschi’s opening address, rather than focusing on actual evidence of a murder, set out to portray Keli Lane as “a drunken slut”.

Chin notes that:

Between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four, Keli is known to have slept with four different guys…  If this number makes Keli a slut, then the average girl feels like she is being called a slut too. Also, despite the carefully picked jury, many are concerned that the fact she had pregnancies terminated is being used as evidence in a murder trial.

As Keli’s barrister Keith Chapple says in his opening address, maybe the only difference between Keli and the young men that she slept with, who people may not be so quick to judge, is that Keli can fall pregnant and have babies while they can’t”

This book, while mostly balanced in its reporting, finally seems to submit to the findings at the murder trial, concluding Keli Lane was a child-killer; probably putting far too much trust in a highly flawed legal system. The book is an excellent resource, but tells only part of the story.

I can’t recommend the Exposed series on ABC  highly enough. A lot more of the story (as the title suggests) is exposed within those three episodes especially the shortcomings of the court system.


See here for a pdf of a Women’s Weekly article about Keli Lane’s case



Further to Mark Tedesci’s record as a prosecutor.

** Tim Anderson and the Hilton Hotel bombing; Gordon Wood being found guilty for the murder of Caroline Burn.

I didn’t know much about the Tim Anderson case apart from it being the subject of a Roaring Jack song in the early 90s. I have a book about the Hilton bombing still on my to-be-read list.

The Gordon Wood case is another one I recall from the news. Another case that sounded dodgy from the little I’d heard about it. Basically Wood had been accused of throwing his girlfriend from The Gap, the cliff at the southern entrance to Sydney harbour, a favoured site for suicides. The accusation was that he’d literally “picked up his girlfriend and thrown her, spear-like, over the edge”. In my view, the strength require to do that always seemed to be beyond believability.

The reason for this claim was that Burn’s body was a significant distance from the bottom of the cliff. To me it always seemed more likely that she had jumped away from the cliff – a much more rational reason than giving Wood the strength to lift and launch her a considerable distance outwards. (see here for documentary and transcript

Keli Lane TV series part three.

I posted the first two parts of this TV series a few days ago. I think this part is perhaps the most important. The YouTube video I originally posted is no longer available. Hopefully access to this episode isd still available via ABC Iview.

One of the (many) disturbing things about this case shown in the video is the response from then Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, related to Lane’s sexual activity.

Nicholas Cowdery QC told the program he believed Lane was not a threat to the general community because there was no risk she would harm other children.

“She seemed to be a bit of a risk to the virile young male portion of the community,” Mr Cowdery said.

“That’s not grounds for putting her in prison, of course.”

A day or two after the episode was screened he felt the need to come out with an apology for the highly inappropriate comment. If that was the kind of juvenile, schoolboy sniggering going on in the mind of one of the highest legal representatives in the State… ?
Need I say more, apart from mentioning the revulsion I felt at seeing the expression on his face when he made the comment?

A related aspect of the case, associated with prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, will be addressed in an upcoming post about the book Nice Girl.

I’ve had questions about Cowdery’s attitudes to other cases I’ve seen addressed in recent documentaries, and wonder why he was so confident that Keli Lane had such a strong murder case to answer, while the case against Chis Dawson, suspected of the murder of his wife Lyn, wasn’t strong enough.


Keli Lane

I’ve been watching an excellent series on ABC TV about the Keli Lane case.

Lane was convicted of murdering her new born baby, Tegan, and so far has served around half of her 18 year sentence.

Lane was found guilty despite there has never been any proof that her baby daughter was killed. It was a case built entirely on circumstantial evidence combined with an overdose of presumption.

nice-girl.jpgI have a book about the case on order (see left), but wanted to post the following link because I’m not sure how long the ABC will have access to the programme through their “iview”.
I’m also unsure about the accessibility of the video outside of Australia.

Keli Lane has always maintained that she handed over the newborn to the baby’s natural father soon after the birth. That man has never come forward and police efforts to find him failed. However, as the TV series reveals those efforts were possibly not as exhaustive as they ought to have been.

See also: an article written by Dr Xanthé Mallett, a forensic anthropologist and criminologist.

When the Bough Breaks, by Matthew Benns

when-the-bough-breaksI found this book in a charity shop, costing only 50 cents. I’m not sure that I would have bothered with it if it hadn’t been so cheap. At that stage I wasn’t really interested in “true crime”.

After buying it I moved onto other books and left this one untouched on my book shelves. And then about a week ago I saw a short documentary related to the case being advertised on TV.

I recorded the doco for future viewing and put this book at the top of my reading list.

Kathleen Folbigg and her husband Craig seemed to be the unluckiest of parents. Over the years, their four infant children each succumbed to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). But was it bad luck, a dark quirk of fate – or something more sinister?

Eventually Folbigg was investigated and convicted for the murder of her children.

When the Bough Breaks is a fascinating account of the events, making Kathleen Folbigg’s guilt seem certain. But I can’t help holding onto a degree of scepticism. It’s easy to be swayed one way or the other by a single version of events and the angle from which that version is presented.

I recall too well the many accounts of an earlier case, where Lindy Chamberlain was imprisoned for the murder of her daughter Azaria after a prolonged trial by media, with most newspapers publishing all manner of wild accusations against Chamberlain and her husband. It took a few years before the powers that be acknowledged their mistake and Chamberlain was freed.

The case against Folbigg, while compelling, was entirely circumstantial, based on things like this:

  1. Her four infant children all died under very similar “unexplained” circumstances.
  2. Folbigg was the last person to see those children alive, and was the one to discover their lifeless bodies very soon after death (some were still warm).
  3. Her diaries had entries expressing strong “hints” of her guilt.
  4. Paediatric “experts” were adamant that the odds of losing four infants in the same way to natural causes would be about a trillion to one.  *

As a contrast to Folbigg’s case and the evidence against her, in particular the “expert” opinion, a similar case in Britain, around the same time, had a completely different result. The case of Trupti Patel receives a brief mention in the last chapter of When the Bough Breaks. She was acquitted after being tried for the murder of three infant children.

Basic details can be found here:

Considering the expert claims about the astronomical odds against Folbigg losing four infants to natural causes, the following excerpt of the article about Patel’s case is very interesting. In particular note the statements I’ve emphasised with bold type.

The case, which was heard at Reading crown court, was one of a number of famous court cases in Britain in which mothers who reported more than one cot death were accused of murder. It was one of a number of cases in which evidence was given by Roy Meadow, a controversial pediatrician whose testimony helped to convict Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, and Donna Anthony of murdering their babies. Meadow’s claim that the likelihood of two babies dying from natural causes in the same family was one in 73 million prompted the Royal Statistical Society to write a letter of complaint to the Lord Chancellor, stating that the figure had “no statistical basis”; other experts said that when genetic and environmental factors were taken into account, the figure was closer to one in 200

Taking into account what I’ve read in Matthew Benns’ book as well as the information contained in the following video, one thing that I’m very sure about is that our justice system is susceptible to serious error. The result of a trial seems too reliant on which side presents the most appealing case – whether the Prosecution or the Defence put on the better, more convincing show to sway a jury’s perception of the case at hand.

Faced with expert opinion expressing the astronomical odds against the chance of four similar “unexplained”  natural infant deaths in one family , how could a jury ignore the likelihood of homicide?

But as the Royal Statistical Society said regarding the similar Patel case, the stated figure of 73 million to one had “no statistical basis” (see quote above), and yet the figures suggested regarding the Folbigg case were even more extreme (trillion to one). *

Which expert opinion should a jury believe, and do they really get exposed to plausible alternatives? I recall from the Chamberlain case, that an “expert” had identified a blood spray in the Chamberlain’s car, proving that their daughter had been murdered in the car. What conclusion could a jury make when faced with evidence like that? And yet, later the spray pattern was “…found to be a ‘sound deadener’ sprayed on during the manufacture of the car” and NOT blood.  **

In the Folbigg case, police spent years trying to build up a case against her, including overseas trips to consult with amenable experts. But how long in comparison did the defence have to build their case? The video below shows that alternative expert opinion is available, but to what extent were those views presented (if at all) in Folbigg’s trial?

With the case of the diary entries, while Folbigg’s statement seemed to be self-incriminating,  they don’t necessarily express a categorical “confession” of criminal guilt – they could equally express feelings of self-condemnation about her perceived failings as a mother who had already experienced the death of multiple infants. But presented selectively, could the possibility of  ambiguity be hidden?

A major contributor of evidence for the prosecution was Craig Folbigg, Kathy’s husband and father of the dead infants.

Difficulties in their marriage (particularly as parents) can be seen in Kathy’s diary.

I can’t even trust or depend on him to look after [Laura] properly. He refuses to bother to learn anything about her. He doesn’t pat attention when feeding her, hasn’t changed a nappy, doesn’t do washing or ironing, only washes up once in a while. His life continues as normal. Work, come home and I look after him. He doesn’t even cook tea every now and then unless I ask him to. And then it is begrudgingly.

Craig’s testimony against his wife was given at a time when she had walked away from the marriage. He withdrew his accusations and suspicions when she returned to him, then when the relationship failed again he returned to his original story, once again incriminating his wife.

From what I’ve read and seen it’s easy to believe that Folbigg was responsible for the deaths of her children, but I find there are also things that make me question or even doubt that conclusion.

Overall, who can really know whether or not Folbigg is guilty and rightfully convicted?

Only she and God know for certain.




*   [Detective] Ryan spent two years collecting evidence and assembling a case that he believed would result in Kathleen Folbigg’s murder conviction. On April 19, 2001, police arrested her at her home, took her into custody, and charged her with four counts of murder. At her hearing, prosecutors claimed that she had deliberately smothered her children to death, and they produced the diary as the most incriminating evidence. They also presented a statement from forensic pathologist Janice Ophoven who said that the chances of all four children dying of SIDS “were a trillion to one.”



“Professor Cameron and Dr Jones concluded that the blood spray pattern found under the dashboard of the Chamberlain’s car could have been produced by a cut in a small artery.

“Subsequently, Joy Kuhl’s forensic report claimed to have found evidence of foetal haemoglobin in stains on the front seat of the Chamberlains’ 1977 Torana hatchback (foetal haemoglobin is present in infants six months and younger).

“She claimed to have identified foetal blood in 22 areas of the car, including the camera bag, floor, towel, console and scissors.”

There was so much conflicting evidence from witnesses and experts who both disputed and supported the Crown’s scenario and who questioned Joy Kuhl’s testing.

“The questionable nature of the forensic science evidence in the Chamberlain trial, and the weight given to it, raised concerns about such procedures and about expert testimony in criminal cases,” Ms Brown told the AFP recruits.

“The foetal haemoglobin in the Chamberlains’ car was later found to be a ‘sound deadener’ sprayed on during the manufacture of the car.”

Confessions of a Serial Alibi by Asia McClain Chapman

serialI really wish that I could write something that would do justice to this book and encourage others to read it. Preferably they would read it after familiarising themselves with the background of the case in which Asia McClain (now Chapman) features as an alibi witness.

I came to his book after listening to the Serial and Undisclosed podcasts, and after reading Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry.

Clearly most people wouldn’t want to go to such preparatory lengths before reading a 240 page book, so here is the basic background.

On January 13 1999 Hae Min Lee, a student of Woodlawn High School in Maryland was reported as missing. On February 9th her partially buried body was discovered.

Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was charged with her murder and convicted on the evidence of a witness who claimed he’d helped Syed dispose of the body, backed by cell-phone records that placed him at the burial site a few hours after Hae’s disappearance.

But all was not as it seemed.

The witness’s story changed significantly every time he told it. His most recent version now claims the burial took place several hours after the phone records allegedly placed them at the burial site.
Additionally, the phone data placing Syed’s phone at the site at the previously claimed time of the burial relates to an incoming call, and the phone company’s cover sheet clearly stated that incoming calls could not be used to identify a phone’s location. By some “quirk of fate” the prosecuting attorneys failed to include the cover sheet when providing the defence attorney with the phone records, leaving them in the dark about that disqualifying statement.

There is far more to this story than can be told in detail in a few paragraphs in a blog post, a few more of the issues are mentioned on my other blog here

Asia McClain Chapman’s book looks at another significant problem with the case against Syed. He actually had an alibi for the time the prosecutors claimed he was killing Hae.
Asia McClain was that alibi witness. She saw him in the public library and spoke to him for about 20 minutes at the same time the prosecution claim he was committing the crime. However, for reasons unknown, her offer of that alibi was ignored by Syed’s defence team and she was never called upon to give her evidence at the trial.

McClain had no particular allegiance to Syed. Both he and Hae Min Lee were classmates she didn’t know well, at best they were friends of friends. Her interest was in allowing the truth to be found, and in telling what she knew to help that process. She didn’t get that opportunity at the original trial.  When Adnan was found guilty, she assumed justice had been done and put the situation behind her.

Or so she thought…

Years later she was approached to give evidence at an appeal hearing. Due to concerns about the issue being raised again, and a suspicion that Syed’s defence team could exploit her to free a guilty man, she sought legal advice. Unfortunately she spoke to Kevin Urick, the prosecutor at the original trial and his advice led her to reject the defence team’s requests.

Because of Kevin Urick I saw Adnan as being 100 percent guilty and deserving of a lengthy prison stay I didn’t want to contribute to some sleazy underhanded attempt to get a convicted murderer out of prison.

Unfortunately for Urick, through the Serial podcast, McClain became aware that at the appeal hearing, he misrepresented her and their conversation, giving false information about her original offer to be an alibi witness and why she had declined to give that evidence at the appeal.

It’s a funny thing to find out through the grapevine that another person has misspoken about your words and intentions. It’s another thing to find out through a podcast simultaneously with millions of other people. From the moment I heard Urick’s post conviction testimony I felt I had been taken advantage of. In my entire life I can’t recall ever feeling so duped and foolish.


I know that when Kevin Urick gave that testimony he had no idea that it would be featured in an internationally-known podcast. However, in life such as in court, that’s like saying that a dirt bag who rapes a woman at a public concert has no idea that other people are videotaping it. That my friends is the power of God. Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truthful lips endue forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”

When I think about Urick I feel so violated and shameful in the sense that my only faults were being naïve and trusting him.


It made me sick to my stomach to know a conversation with me had been discussed without my knowledge or consent, that a falsehood had been seen as fact. Not to mention the idea of that falsehood being used as the basis for denying Adnan’s appeal. Hell, anyone’s appeal. We [Asia and her husband] agreed that we needed to make ourselves available to do whatever was needed to set the wrong right.

Above I’ve probably featured too many quotes from the book, but I think those quotes demonstrate a significant aspect of this case – the prosecution’s tactic of falsifying and misrepresenting  evidence to obtain a desired result. Their desire to win at all costs – even the cost of the truth and justice. Getting A result (the only result they’d counted on) was more important to them than getting the RIGHT result.

The above experience with Urick wasn’t the last experience of this type for the author. When she eventually had her day in court to present her testimony to another appeal,  she was again subjected to a similar disregard for the truth by the prosecutor at that court, Thiru Vignarajah (then Deputy Attorney General of Maryland); having her good character attacked and suffering all kinds of accusations about her motives for providing an alibi for Syed.

It might be said in the prosecutor’s defence that it was his job to challenge her and her testimony in court, however, according to McClain Chapman, his personal attacks continued in the media long after his job in court had been done.

…he continues to slander my character and lie about my motivations both in court and via any press conference awarded to him.

Up to the time of publishing the book, Asia McClain Chapman has maintained an uncertainty about the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed. All along she claims her only desire is to tell the truth and to allow the legal process to make that determination according to the evidence.

However, I’m not so sure that her experience has given her any confidence that the legal process is capable of doing that with justice, and that is perhaps the most important thing about this book. It’s not just about the story of Asia McClain and her part in the story of one particular criminal case, it’s an expose of serious problems in the US justice system.

In our country there is supposed to be equal justice for all under the Constitution. Unfortunately, the system is so broken that many prosecutors only care about winning and not whether a defendant is truly guilty or innocent.

The court case at which Asian McClain Chapman was finally able to present her testimony led to the overturning of the conviction against Adnan Syed and the granting of a retrial. However, until that takes place he remains incarcerated in the same way a suspect denied bail would remain behind bars.

Not unexpectedly there has been appeal against that decision, so the legal processes grind on as slowly as ever.

It’s been two years since Serial subject Adnan Syed was granted a new trial, but his case will remain in limbo – and he’ll remain in prison – for another year.

This week, Maryland’s highest court agreed to hear the State’s appeal, which seeks to reinstate Syed’s conviction in 2000 for the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

Full story here: