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.


Australian Heist by James Phelps

Australian heistAustralian Heist is partially “local” history.

In 1862 a gang of bushrangers held up the gold escort travelling from the gold fields of Forbes to the town of Orange, stealing a large amount of gold and banknotes; the largest single robbery in Australian history.

The gang hid among the Eugowra rocks, after partially blocking the nearby road with an overturned bullock dray. As the poorly guarded gold escort diverted closer to the rocks to avoid the obstacle, the bushrangers opened fire on the coach, wounding two of the police guards, before escaping with its gold and money.

They were led by Frank Gardiner.  His accomplices are assumed to have included Ben Hall, John Gilbert and John O’Meally. Gardiner “retired” from his life of crime after the robbery, but was soon replaced, and perhaps surpassed, in Australian bushranger mythology by those three, whose criminal exploits extended over a wide territory including the towns of Forbes, Bathurst, Carcoar, Lambing Flats (now Young) Murrumburrah, and Jugiong.

After covering the robbery itself and the ensuing trial of the few gang members who were apprehended,  Phelps continues with a highly abridged account of the survivors, including the Hall/Gilbert gang and its changing membership. The book culminates with the fate of Frank Gardiner and rumours about his share of the stolen treasure.

Hall and Gilbert Graves

Ben Hall’s grave at Forbes and  John Gilbert’s grave at Binalong. (photos by Onesimus)

Phelp’s book comes across as a semi-fictionalised account of a true story. He draws on historical documents about the event , in particular accounts of trials that followed the robbery, but clearly uses his imagination to recreate interaction between the participants during parts of the story where there would be no record of their conversations or their specific actions. He acknowledges this in the Author’s note preceding the story, by saying:

I have also used and recreated historically accurate dialogue based on court transcripts and police reports where available. Some details and scenes have, however, been re-imagined, with  a deliberately modern spin.

While that approach is probably intended to make the story more compelling, it raises questions about what is truth and what has been assumed. That question regularly came to mind as I was reading.  The “deliberately modern spin” didn’t work for me, at times created a jarring anachronistic effect.

One day I hope to read a more authoritative, historical account of the Eugowra robbery that will hopefully help me to distinguish the line between history and Phelps’ embellishments. 

Some time ago I read Game, a fictional look at the latter part of Ben Hall’s life. That was also based on historical accounts, but made no claim to be a historical record. However, I found Game had a more convincing authenticity of the period it depicted

I have a slight personal connection to this story. It was during a short trip around the territory of these bushrangers that the possibility of moving from Sydney started to develop as an option, and eventually Gloria and I moved to an area associated with this story.

The following songs portray some of the Hall/Gilbert mythology.

I met Jason and Chloe Roweth many years ago when they performed at a folk club near my then Sydney home. The last time I had contact with them they were living in a town near to my current home, in the region once frequented by the Hall/Gilbert gang.


Someone Else’s Daughter, Julia Sheppard

I could wish it was someone else’s daughter, but I can’t can I? They would then have to go through what we’re going through. (Garry Lynch, Anita’s father)

someone-else-s-daughterI have now read two books and seen two documentaries* about Anita Cobby’s murder,  and the effect it had on individuals close to her and wider Australian society.

I’ve seen there is a  third book available, but I’m not sure what more it could offer that wasn’t covered in Mark Morri’s Remembering Anita, or in this one.

Written by a journalist who followed the case closely, and developed a good relationship with Anita Cobby’s family, Someone Else’s Daughter gives a wider perspective to the story of Anita Cobby.

Sheppard looks at most aspects of the case, apart from the effects on Anita’s husband John. That isn’t surprising considering John shut himself off from the wider world and did what he could to avoid everything to do with the investigation and subsequent publicity surrounding his wife’s murder.

There is a brief mention of him at the beginning of the book, but some of the details given differ from those in John’s account of events. Sheppard says John was driving to Wollongong to see some friends when he heard on the radio about the discovery a woman’s body that he suspected could be that of his missing wife.

John’s own account, as reported in Mark Morri’s book, Remembering Anita, is that he was driving in the opposite direction, to the central coast where he and Anita had planned to meet up with John’s sister.

Sheppard also states that there was no chance of Anita getting back with John after they had separated, however John’s side of the story is that in the following week they had been planning on looking at a house where they could reconcile and resume their marriage.

These discrepancies could probably be attributed to the fact that John’s withdrawal into himself after the murder, also removed his opportunity to contribute to the inevitable narrative others would create without him.

Sheppard’s wider examination of this case gives the reader details of the police and how the case took a personal toll on some of them, putting strain on their marriages and even leading to the end of the career of at least one as they struggled to cope with what they’d witnessed. She also heads into territory that Morri avoided:  details of the five perpetrators and their background.

She writes about the dysfunction of their families and how the lives of the men who were ultimately convicted of the crime, had already shown a disregard for the law. One of them, John Travers,  had already boasted to others of violent rapes of men, women and animals , and in the case of the latter he had already violently killed the victim afterwards with a knife.

He was the only one of the five to plead guilty at trial. The others all claimed personal innocence and pointed the finger of blame at the other four. To me, the fact that three of that four were brothers – willing to throw their siblings “under the bus” – adds an even more unpalatable aspect to an already repugnant situation.

Sheppard doesn’t back away from reporting some of the brutal aspects of what Anita Cobby endured prior to her murder. But I suspect a lot has been held back (many years ago I heard rumours of some things that hadn’t been made known to the public). But who would want to imagine what she was subjected to? Any select descriptions or list of facts would be inadequate to convey the reality  – and would any of us really want to know more ?


* I posted the better of the documentaries earlier on my blog. The other one is available on YouTube, but while it was interesting, I found it’s more graphic re-enactments of the crime a little unsavoury.


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