Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

A Cry in the Night Part 3 Of 3

Fight for Freedom

The fight for freedom was to be a long and arduous process that would take nearly six years. From the moment the jury's verdict had been handed down, the battle had begun. It was to be fought on three major fronts: the popular, the scientific and the legal, by people from all walks of life outraged at the injustice that had been done.

The popular movement to enlighten the Australian public of the truth about the Azaria Chamberlain case had begun as far back as October 1982, before the opening of the trial. Mr. L Williams began placing advertisements in Adelaide's Sunday Mail blaming the Northern Territory Government for Azaria's death because of its insistence on supporting a policy that allowed wild dingoes to roam in family camping grounds. He continued to run these advertisements until September 1985, costing him $5000.00 in personal funds. His last advertisement claimed that by convicting Lindy Chamberlain of murdering Azaria, the Northern Territory Government had been acquitted along with the dingo.

The "Free Lindy Campaign" would come to appear to be the most well organised public rallying effort ever to be seen in Australia. In fact, it was mostly due to the spontaneous efforts of individuals who had risen to the cause, drawing with them thousands of new supporters. At its base were men and women who gave tirelessly to the cause of justice and the Chamberlains. People such as Veronica Flanigan who went from door to door in her village, 120 kilometres southwest of Sydney, gathering names for a petition. Mrs. J Edwards spent hours in Perth central mall handing out leaflets urging people to write to parliamentarians about the case. In Melbourne supporters stood on street corners, collecting signatures, twelve hours a day. A group of Brisbane women organised the mailing of masses of letters to politicians and newspapers. A schoolteacher traveled from Victoria to Darwin to set up vigil with placards outside Parliament to protest 'bush justice'. The efforts of all of these people resulted in the gathering of the largest number of signatures on a petition for a private person in Australia's history, numbering in excess of 130,000.

Every means possible was used to keep the Azaria Chamberlain case alive in the minds of the Australian public, meetings were organised all over the country, thousands of letters were written to newspapers and politicians, leaflets and flyers were written, printed and distributed, letter-box drops were organised, bumper stickers and t-shirts were printed. A pre-recorded information service was established to enable supporters to gain up-to-the-minute information. Hundreds of thousands of books, booklets and pamphlets covering various aspects of the case were distributed all over the country. In an effort to co-ordinate all of these individual activities, a newsletter was created. By January 1988, fourteen issues had been published. It covered detailed reports of every aspect of the case and the results of all legal proceedings, as they became available.

After the High Court's decision to uphold the jury's verdict, the Lowes, Wests and Whittakers were now free to air their opinions about the case and the verdict. They attended rallies all over Australia wrote letters and appeared on television, in an attempt to educate people about Lindy's innocence. On 11 November 1985 they wrote and signed the following statement which appeared in the Northern Territory News:

We the undersigned, who were present at Ayers Rock camping ground, the night Azaria Chamberlain disappeared, know that Mrs Chamberlain had no opportunity to commit the alleged homicide for which she is now unjustly serving a life sentence in Berrimah Jail, Darwin.

Though we were all Crown witnesses at the trial, we feel that insufficient weight was given to our evidence and all of our evidence was not elicited.

We demand, therefore, that there be an unfettered Judicial Review of this terrible miscarriage of justice.

They were not the only witnesses to travel throughout the country, at great personal inconvenience and without any remuneration. Kevin Childs, reporter for the Melbourne Age, reported that a total of fourteen of the twenty-eight non-forensic Crown witnesses believed that justice had been denied and a judicial inquiry was the only solution.

It was through the tireless and unwavering support and actions of these people that an inquiry into the Chamberlain case was finally opened. The public outcry had become so loud that politicians could no longer ignore the facts, and action was at last taken.

Stuart Tipple believed that the defence had lost the case because it had not been able to oppose the Crown's forensic evidence strongly enough. He knew that it was this forensic evidence that he would need to investigate in order to succeed in obtaining an inquiry. Even before the Chamberlain's appeals had been taken to the Federal and High Courts, Tipple had begun to plan their attack on the scientific front. The defence teams resources were limited and expert opinion would not come cheaply.

The offer from Les Smith, a scientist employed by the Sanitarium Health Food Company and friend of Lindy and Michael, to begin an examination of the so-called 'Arterial spray' was the beginning of this new wave of attack. Smith was not a highly trained forensic scientist or academic. He held a diploma in Applied Science from Avondale College in Cooranbong where the Sanitarium factory was located.

Les Smith
Les Smith

Smith tirelessly and painstakingly reviewed the Crown's entire forensic evidence item by item. With single-minded dedication he applied the principles of scientific method to every hypothesis, testing each one thoroughly and recording all results in the minutest detail and taking photographs.

Armed with trial transcripts and photographs of the plate with the spray pattern, alleged by the Crown to be an arterial spray of Azaria's blood, Smith began his work. The fact that there were two panels from two cars of the same make with a spray pattern suggested to Smith that they might have been the result of the manufacturing process. In all he examined forty cars, five of which had the spray pattern in the same place. His examination of the five panels revealed that the spraying of sound deadener into the wheel arch caused the spray pattern. A small hole in the panel had allowed the sound deadener to be sprayed onto the panel under pressure. On all five of the panels, including the one removed from the Chamberlains' car, the angle of the spray was the same and each had the drainage hole through which the sound deadener passed through.

A chemical analysis of the material sprayed onto the wheel arch and the under-dash panel revealed that they were of the same material. The composition of the spray matched a product, Dufix HN 1081, a sand-filled sound-deadener used by General Motors. The fact that Kuhl had described in her notes the appearance of sand in the spray on the Chamberlains' car, lead Smith to conclude that the spray in their car was also sound-deadener and not blood. This was further confirmed when Smith, with Tipple, went to the High Court building to view the plate from the Chamberlains car. As the High Court Appeal was imminent, they had to examine the plate there, using a small microscope, which gave a 25 times magnification. Smith could easily see that the spray pattern was identical to the other five and had paint spots matching the colour of the car. The problem now was to determine how Kuhl obtained a positive reaction to foetal blood from a scraping of the spray in the Chamberlains' car. A chemical analysis of the under-dash spray in the Chamberlains' car was needed, but it would be nearly two years before this would occur.

The next item on Tipple's list was the Crown's evidence regarding Azaria's clothing. The testimony of Crown witnesses such as Chaikin, Cocks, Sims and Cameron was that canids tore cloth and could not cut it. Smith began in December 1983 to conduct experiments to determine whether canids could produce damage that fulfilled the characteristics of cutting as described by the Crown's expert witnesses.

Photos of fiber evidence damaged by government testing
Photos of fiber evidence damaged by government testing

The most accessible canid for these experiments was Smith's family pet Susie, a Kelpie/Border Collie cross. Smith fed Susie meat wrapped in a towelling material, through which she bit a hole then ate the contents. This process was continued for several months. Smith found that while dogs did tear fabric, they cut it as well. The dog-damaged material revealed all of the criteria, of tufts, shearing without distorting the fabric base and the fibres of a yarn being left in an even plane, laid down by the Crown scientists.

The fact that the criteria used by the Crown scientists for distinguishing scissor cuts from canid damage proved to be common to both, Smith needed to identify characteristics which were found in the one but not the other. By carefully observing the dog's behaviour, he was able to determine which biting action resulted in which type of damage. Smith's observation that on a number of occasions the dog, when making a hole, swallowed the centre portion of material, coincided with the hole in the arm of Azaria's jumpsuit. Microscopic examination of the fabric revealed that dog cuts often left a tuft on the severance edge attached by one or two unsheared fibres. He was to have great difficulty reproducing this phenomenon with scissors.

When Smith was finally able to examine Azaria's jumpsuit in September 1984, he found that the various types of damage in the jumpsuit were all matched by canid damage, whereas scissor damage only matched some of them. The similarities between the damage on Azaria's jumpsuit and the fabric used in his dog experiments were so apparent that Smith found it unbelievable that the Crown experts had ever made the assumption that scissors had been responsible for the damage to Azaria's clothing.

During his experiments, Smith had worked closely with two colleagues, Dr Roland Bernett and Mr Ken Chapman, who had observed the experiments and supervised the photography and written reports. Both were highly qualified scientists in their respective fields of microbiology and chemistry and added further credibility to Smith's work.

The final item on the Crown's list of forensic evidence, that Smith was to re-evaluate, were the animal hairs found on Azaria's clothing. Finding a specialist in animal hair identification turned out to be a much easier task than he had anticipated. Through a search at the Newcastle University Library, he found a book The Identification of Mammalian Hair. One of the authors, Hans Brunner, was quickly located in the Melbourne phone directory by Ken Chapman.

Hans Brunner, a senior technical officer with the Department of Conservation in Victoria, had developed a system for identifying mammalian hair which was widely used all over Australia and overseas because of the accuracy of his techniques. When he viewed the hairs, found on Azaria's jumpsuit, at the High Court in September 1984 while Smith examined the jumpsuit itself. For Brunner, the identification of the various hairs on the two plates was quick and exact. Using a microscope he identified three canid guard hairs, one human hair and one unidentified fibre on the first plate, and three canid guard hairs and one human hair on the second. His vast experience told him that the canid hairs were definitely from a dingo.

When Brunner made his report to Tipple, he informed the solicitor that when he had first heard of the Chamberlain case, he had offered his assistance to the Northern Territory Police, who told him that they would not require his services.

The remaining area of contention in the Crown's case was the scientific evidence given by Kuhl that she had found foetal haemoglobin in the Chamberlain's car. It was this area, described by Barker as being the most vital element of the Crown's case, which would require the most thorough examination if Tipple were to be successful in gaining an inquiry. He was assisted in the re-examination of this evidence by Boettcher along with Mrs Julie Fry, a medical laboratory technician with the Western Australian Department of Agriculture, Dr Geoff Madigan, Head of the Science Department at Avondale College and his colleague, Dr Bob Hosken, a biochemist.

Mrs Julie Fry had taken an interest in the evidence given by the Crown during the trial. She had not been happy with the fact that Kuhl had concluded that human blood had been proven to be present simply on the basis of faint reactions from the orthotolidine tests. In her opinion, these tests, especially when conducted on invisible stains as Kuhl had done, only revealed peroxidase-like activity, which can be achieved from many substances such as milk and vegetables as well as blood. Without further testing it was impossible to conclude the presence of human blood. Tipple wanted to investigate her claims further and gave the job to Madigan and Hosken.

During the course of his investigations, Hosken discovered in a standard textbook, the warning that traces of heavy metals, especially copper, can stimulate peroxidase activity similar to that of blood. This inspired him to carry out further experiments of his own. Using an orthotolidine solution he tested a number of different substances. With milk, he found that it gave coloration indistinguishable from blood. His tests with a sample of laboratory copper oxide gave him startling results. The reaction was fast and a brilliant blue, the classic blood reaction.

In his report Hosken concluded that Kuhl's results showing widespread peroxidase activity was most likely due to the fact that the Chamberlains had lived in Mt Isa where there was extensive copper mining. The car would most likely have been covered in particles of copper dust, which would explain Kuhl's test results.

Joy Kuhl
Joy Kuhl

To further confirm these findings, Madigan arranged to have samples of copper ore from the Mt Isa mines sent down and tested. They needed an experienced forensic biologist to undertake the tests so they contacted Dr Andrew Scott, who had given evidence in both inquests and for the Crown at the trial. He conducted orthotolidine tests on the copper ore using the same techniques employed by Kuhl.

Professor Barry Boettcher visited Mt Isa with his wife in May 1986, just as the Royal Commission Inquiry was opening, to perform a random survey in the area using the orthotolidine tests. Taking with him orthotolidine solution, he tested samples of dust taken from a house key, the wall of their flat, from their yard, the door handle of a car, from a Daihatsu van, gravel in the Mt Isa mines car park, a new chamois cloth after cleaning a Mt Isa car and dust from the roadside. Each one gave an immediate positive reaction indistinguishable from the classic reaction of blood.

Professor Barry Boettcher
Professor Barry Boettcher

Boettcher's commitment to the Chamberlain case had begun after the trial. His outrage at the injustice done to the Chamberlains and his commitment to see it corrected, sent him all over Australia and overseas, putting his own career on hold and his reputation on the line. By visiting the company, Behringwerke in Germany which produced the anti-serum used by Kuhl, in July 1983, Boettcher was able to confirm that he had used the same batch as Kuhl, batch number 2456, thereby validating his criticisms of Kuhl's results. He received from them a signed statement to the effect that Behringwerke could not guarantee that the anti-foetal haemoglobin antiserum would react only with foetal haemoglobin, as non-specific reactions could occur when testing denatured adult haemoglobin. 'Therefore, it is not suitable on its own for the identification of foetal/infant blood and adult blood.' While at the German factory's laboratory, a test (numbered 767) was carried out, using Boettcher's blood, which confirmed that the antiserum batch 2456 was bi-specific and reacted immunologically with adult haemoglobin.

By the time the Royal Commission was established in April 1986, Tipple with his band of scientists and experts, had succeeded in compiling enough evidence to completely tear down the Crown's case against the Chamberlains. It had been a long and gruelling journey, requiring the enormous self-sacrifice and dedication of many scientists at all levels of academic standing, without whose effort an inquiry could never have been called.

Stuart Tipple who worked tirelessly for many years on behalf of the Chamberlains led the legal front of the Chamberlain's fight for freedom. His ability to understand the forensic evidence was of enormous benefit to the Chamberlains who may very well have been lost without him.

His first step after the trial was to submit his appeal application to the Federal court. In order to secure Lindy's release from prison on bail, Tipple submitted to the Federal Court a report by Dr Frederick Smith, the Berrimah prison psychologist, stating that he believed that Lindy presented no threat to her baby. Justice Fox and Justice Northup accepted his assurance but Justice Lockhart did not. Bail was set at $300 pending an appeal to the Federal Court.

On 29 April 1983, Justice Jenkinson, Justice Bowen and Justice Forster handed down the unanimous decision to uphold the verdict of the jury. The reasons stated for this decision was that there was no evidence to support the dingo story whereas the evidence of the Crown was acceptable and it was reasonable that the jury came to a guilty verdict based on the evidence presented at the trial. They acknowledged that there was little investigation into canid action on fabric and determined that while it was possible for more than one reaction to be found during the testing of blood, this would be unlikely in the hands of a scientist of Joy Kuhl's experience.

Immediately following the denial of the appeal, Lindy was imprisoned in New South Wales. Tipple immediately applied for bail, pending the Chamberlains' appeal to The High Court. The Northern Territory government strongly opposed the application. The application for bail was presented to the High Court and was refused on 2 May 1983. The reason given by Justice Brennan was that it was unlikely that the appeal would succeed in overturning the guilty verdict.

Lindy was returned to Berrimah prison where she would spend two years and nine months before she was released by the Northern Territory government. The Northern Territory's harsh treatment of Lindy was further witnessed when in July 1983, Reagan suffered a severe injury to his eye and was hospitalised. Tipple requested an immediate temporary release on compassionate grounds. The Northern Territory government delayed the process by requiring further representations, then disallowed the request on the grounds that the reasons were insufficient. They took the same hard line when the Chamberlains applied for legal aide for their High Court appeal and denied them that avenue of financial support. The Seventh Day Adventist Church volunteered to cover these legal costs.

Michael and children visiting Lindy in prison
Michael and children visiting Lindy in prison

The High Court rejected the Chamberlains' appeal on 22 February 1984. Two of the judges upheld the legal principle that the accused are presumed innocent and felt that it was not a safe verdict. Two more of the judges upheld the jury's verdict but with reservations about some of the Crown's forensic evidence. Justice Brennan, who had ruled against the bail application, was the only judge to uphold the jury's verdict without rejecting a single item in the Crown's case. The 3-2 split decision was a public declaration of the existence of legal doubt. The High Court judges were restricted by Australian law to examining the correctness of the legal process only and not matters of fact so no new evidence could be presented.

On 26 March 1984, Tipple made the first application to the Northern Territory government for Lindy's release on licence. To support the application, Tipple submitted Smith's psychological examination report, which showed that Lindy was emotionally stable and not a threat to her children or society. Tipple argued that infanticide, as usually defined, deserved and generally received clemency. The Northern Territory government did not accept these arguments and disallowed the application later in the year.

Later in the same month, Brian Martin, the Northern Territory Solicitor-General, met with Tipple to discuss the release on licence proposal. He told Tipple that as long as the Chamberlain support groups maintained their pressure on the Federal and Northern Territory governments, or that legal action was threatened or television appearances by and on behalf of the Chamberlains continued, the Northern Territory government would not help Lindy. Whereas, if she admitted her guilt and stopped their pursuit of justification they might be granted a pardon. Tipple told him these terms were unacceptable.

In November 1984, Kahlia's foster family, with whom she had lived since Lindy's return to Berrimah prison, were being relocated away from Cooranbong. Tipple applied again for Lindy's release on licence. He argued that her incarceration was hurting the family unit and it was becoming difficult for Michael to keep the children together. The Northern Territory Cabinet decided that this was the lot of criminals and found no extenuating circumstance for treating Lindy as a special case. The application was once again refused.

On 12 November 1985, the Northern Territory rejected Tipple's application for an inquiry into the Chamberlains' case, despite the fact that new forensic evidence was brought forward which seriously questioned the evidence that had resulted in their convictions.

Faced with the prospect of another Christmas without their mother, the children's nanny suggested that they write a letter to the Prime Minister. Reagan sent his letter to Mr Tuxworth, the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Mr Hawke, the Prime Minister of Australia, and Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

He wrote:

"We need mummy at home, so does Kahlia need a mummy. Can you make them let my mum come home to me?"

Aidan sent his to Tuxworth and Hawke. It read:

"I cannot understand why you are keeping our mummy in jail when I know she did not kill my baby sister Azaria. My mummy loved baby just as we all did and I was with mummy and talking to her the whole time. I miss my mum and Kahlia, Reagan and dad do too. Is there nothing you can do to help me?"

The letters were published in newspapers all over Australia. Although Marshall Perron said in an interview that there was a response in the mail, none of the recipients bothered to reply to the boys.

On 2 February 1986, a baby's matinee jacket was found at the base of Ayers Rock, only metres from where Azaria's jumpsuit and other clothing were found. It had been discovered, partially buried in sand, when police found the partially eaten remains of a man who had been missing for two days. Police believed he had fallen from the top of Ayers Rock. Three days later Lindy was able to identify it as being the one that Azaria had been wearing on the night of her death.

Matinee jacket
Matinee jacket

Mysteriously, on 7 February 1986, the Northern Territory government reversed its decision of only two months previous and released Lindy because she had "suffered enough." The decision to hold an inquiry was also announced, although Lindy would not return to prison, no matter what the outcome of the inquiry.

 

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