ES­CAPE FROM DEATH ROW

Evil plot to frame Syd­ney ex­ec­u­tive for co­caine Pri­vate eyes lead res­cue from Sin­ga­pore noose

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - FRONT PAGE - By Natalie O’Brien

THE step­fa­ther of prom­i­nent Syd­ney jew­eller to the stars Am­ber Sceats has been res­cued from death row in Sin­ga­pore’s in­fa­mous Changi pri­son after be­ing framed for smug­gling co­caine. Phillip Ge­orge Sceats was locked up for 353 days be­fore a group of pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors proved he had been set-up. After a year-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion, re­porter Natalie O’Brien ex­clu­sively re­veals the story of a man be­trayed and how his or­deal was ig­nored by Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties.

IT is a night­mare that lasted 353 days. Stopped by cus­toms while on a dream hol­i­day and co­caine mys­te­ri­ously dis­cov­ered in your bag. Thrown into death row at an in­fa­mous pri­son. Left to rot, los­ing 20kg in weight as, one by one, your cell mates are led to the gal­lows, while your pleas you ‘ve been set up fall on deaf ears.

Phillip Ge­orge Sceats’ har­row­ing or­deal can fi­nally be re­vealed after a group of pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors — in­clud­ing former high­rank­ing Aus­tralian po­lice of­fi­cers from three states hired by his fam­ily — man­aged to con­vince the Sin­ga­pore au­thor­i­ties he had been set up.

Sceats is the step­fa­ther of prom­i­nent Aus­tralian jew­ellery de­signer to the stars Am­ber Sceats.

The Syd­ney busi­ness­man — who has three other daugh­ters with wife Jeanette — was ar­rested while tran­sit­ing through Changi Air­port on his way to a sur­prise hol­i­day or­gan­ised by his fam­ily to mark his 64th birth­day. He was en route to the re­sort is­land of Langkawi, where he was due to meet up with his wife of 34 years, who was in Hong Kong for busi­ness.

But in­stead of clear­ing cus­toms and check­ing into his air­port ho­tel to wait out the six hours be­fore his con­nect­ing flight, Sin­ga­pore au­thor­i­ties were wait­ing for him.

The cock­tails and palm trees of Langkawi would have to wait. Phil Ge­orge Sceats’ life as he knew it was about to im­plode and he would now lit­er­ally be in the fight for his life.

SUR­PRISE HOL­I­DAY

Hum­ble and hard­work­ing, Mr Sceats was sur­prised to learn his fam­ily had or­gan­ised a five-day get­away for him and wife Jeanette to cel­e­brate his birth­day.

Ev­ery­thing was or­gan­ised for him and paid for — his air­line tick­ets, a room at Changi Air­port’s Crowne Plaza where he could freshen up ahead of his con­nect­ing flight, and then five nights at the lux­u­ri­ous five-star St Regis Ho­tel on Langkawi. He was even treated to a

“VIP up­grade”.

On the morn­ing of March 6, 2018 Mr Sceats woke at his fam­ily’s plush Vau­cluse man­sion in Syd­ney’s ex­clu­sive east­ern sub­urbs packed his small suit­case with ev­ery­thing needed for a beachside hol­i­day — swim­mers, hat, loafers and snorkels. His flight wasn’t flight ‘til 7pm that evening, so he put the bag in his car boot and made the short 20 minute drive to his of­fice. Later that evening, after ar­riv­ing at the air­port and check­ing in, Mr Sceats shopped at the duty free stores buy­ing wine and pick­ing up a copy of the Fi­nan­cial Re­view news­pa­per to read on the plane.

His flight was to Sin­ga­pore, where he was to board a sec­ond flight from Sin­ga­pore onto Langkawi. The way the book­ing was struc­tured, Mr Sceats would have to clear im­mi­gra­tion in Sin­ga­pore, be­fore col­lect­ing his bag and clear­ing cus­toms.

His fam­ily knew it would be a long flight. so a room at the air­port’s ho­tel was booked for him, where he could rest be­fore board­ing his fi­nal leg.

LAU­REL AND HARDY

It was after mid­night when flight 242 touched down in Sin­ga­pore on March 7, 2018. Mr Sceats left the air­craft with the other pas­sen­gers, and headed to the Im­mi­gra­tion desk where he pre­sented his pass­port and was waved through. He was walk­ing to­wards the bag­gage carousels area when a num­ber of Sin­ga­porean of­fi­cials called him by name and asked him to come back.

Sur­prised, he stopped, and the of­fi­cials asked him to wait by their su­per­vi­sor’s desk. Mr Sceats then saw two plain clothes peo­ple run down some stairs and ap­proach him.

“They (Sin­ga­pore au­thor­i­ties) were look­ing for me when I came out of the plane but must have missed me or not realised it was me,” Mr Sceats told The Sun­day Tele­graph this week

“I no­ticed them as I came out. They looked like Lau­rel and Hardy one was short and fat and the other re­ally tall which was unusual … They had pen­cil thin mous­taches.

“I had gone through im­mi­gra­tion and the man at the desk had said ‘Have a good stay in Sin­ga­pore’ and then sud­denly I was called back and those same two men came run­ning down the stairs look­ing for me.”

After check­ing his name, the of­fi­cials asked Mr Sceats to ac­com­pany them to the bag­gage carousel and to point out his suit­case.

“They said ‘You have to come with us’. They asked me to show them my bag on the carousel but I said I can’t see it — it hadn’t come out yet,” he said.

“They thought I was do­ing some­thing dodgy. Then I saw

it come out and I pointed to it and the two men ran to the bag and grabbed it, and left me sit­ting by my­self. I could have just walked off.”

Mr Sceats was then taken to a bag screen­ing area and his suit­case put through an X-ray ma­chine. The au­thor­i­ties opened his bag and found two small bags con­tain­ing white pow­der, eas­ily lo­cated in the front pocket of the suit­case. Mr Sceats said it ap­peared to be an “am­a­teur­ish job” — if some­one was sup­posed to be hid­ing the drugs. “They were meant to be eas­ily found”, he said. “When they pulled me up and said there was co­caine in my bag, I thought some­one was play­ing a joke on me and it must be sugar.

“The bags were kind of stuck to the in­side of my bag (with mask­ing tape) and they were a bit like a neon sign.”

He was ar­rested, hand­cuffed, and taken away to Changi pri­son on re­mand while the pack­ets of white pow­der were tested.

SIX WORST MIN­UTES OF HIS LIFE

It would be an­other three days be­fore Mr Sceats would learn his fate.

It was now March 10 and 9.15am. Sit­ting in the Changi Pri­son com­plex, Clus­ter B2, In­ter­view Room No 6, Mr Sceats would learn those two pack­ets of white pow­der found in his suit­case had of­fi­cially tested pos­i­tive for co­caine.

He was to be charged with traf­fick­ing just short of 90 grams of co­caine.

The charge was read out in English, and Mr Sceats was asked to sign the bot­tom of the charge sheet say­ing he had been in­formed that, if con­victed, he was li­able to be pun­ished with the death penalty. In Sin­ga­pore cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is car­ried out by “long drop hang­ing”.

He would be­come the first Aus­tralian hanged for drug of­fences in Sin­ga­pore since Nguyen Tuong Van’s death in 2005.

The of­fi­cial charg­ing fin­ished at 9.21am. Mr Sceats then made a for­mal state­ment deny­ing any knowl­edge of the co­caine, and told au­thor­i­ties he had been framed.

His day in court would have to wait. He was now be­ing taken to the cells where pris­on­ers fac­ing cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment charges are held.

“In the first few days I was re­ally pissed off at how all this had hap­pened,” Mr

Sceats said.

“It was a ter­ri­ble night­mare. At first I thought this will sort it­self out quickly and jus­tice would pre­vail be­cause I didn’t do it.”

HOT­SHOT LAWYER

When Mr Sceats’ fam­ily back home learned of his ar­rest, they called one of Sin­ga­pore’s most high pro­file and suc­cess­ful lawyers, Amar­ick Gill.

While Mr Gill be­gan pour­ing over the ev­i­dence, Sin­ga­pore’s own nar­cotics in­ves­ti­ga­tors at the Sin­ga­pore Cen­tral Nar­cotics Bureau were also look­ing into the strange sit­u­a­tion — why would a 64-year-old wealthy busi­ness­man smug­gle co­caine from Aus­tralia into ei­ther Sin­ga­pore or Malaysia.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tors knew Aus­tralia was not a source coun­try for co­caine and that there is no money to be made smug­gling co­caine from Aus­tralia to any South-East Asian coun­try.

The es­ti­mated 90 grams hid­den in Mr Sceats’ suit­case would have cost an es­ti­mated $27,000 to $30,000 to buy in Syd­ney. It is worth less than half of that in Sin­ga­pore or Malaysia.

“The in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cer in Sin­ga­pore was smart,” Mr Sceats said.

“He knew it was a set up job. He knew no one would take it (co­caine) there (Sin­ga­pore). It was worth 10 times more in Aus­tralia. He knew that. “He gave me a liede­tec­tor test and I passed it

“He in­ter­viewed me for three or four days and noth­ing made sense.

“There were no phone calls con­nect­ing me to any­one. There was no money taken out to pay for it and there was no de­mand.

“I would have been the first per­son ever to smug­gle co­caine into Sin­ga­pore

(from Aus­tralia)”.

Urine tests came back neg­a­tive for co­caine but he did test pos­i­tive for methadone, for which he has had a long stand­ing pre­scrip­tion from his doc­tor.

Foren­sics ex­perts in Sin­ga­pore dusted the two pack­ets of drugs for fin­ger­prints and DNA. There were no fin­ger­prints.

There was only a tiny trace of his DNA on the outer sur­face of one packet — most likely trans­fer­ence from his suit­case.

The Sin­ga­porean au­thor­i­ties checked Mr Sceats’ phone records look­ing for links, mes­sages or calls to peo­ple in Sin­ga­pore or Malaysia prior to his ar­rival in Sin­ga­pore show­ing he had been li­ais­ing with peo­ple to de­liver the drugs. There were none.

They asked for and checked his bank records to see if he had made any with­drawals of the size needed to pay for the co­caine prior to his trip. There were no such with­drawals.

They checked his flight book­ings, Mr Sceats had not even booked his own flights.

“I am a fam­ily man. Noth­ing added up,” Mr

Sceats said of his predica­ment.

Mr Sceats was con­vinced he was set up and that Sin­ga­pore au­thor­i­ties were tipped off — he just didn’t know by whom.

“The first phone call must have come when I was in the air,” he said.

PRI­VATE EYES

In Aus­tralia, Mr Sceats’ fam­ily were be­com­ing des­per­ate. They knew he was in­no­cent but, like him, were watch­ing time run­ning out.

“I started los­ing hope,” Mr Sceats said. “I saw peo­ple dis­ap­pear­ing. It was pretty rough. It was very strict regime in there. If you do some­thing wrong they give you the cane on the bare bum.

“They say it is like sit­ting on a bar­be­cue.”

Vis­its were re­stricted and Mr Sceats lan­guished in jail for months be­fore he was able to re­ceive 20 minute vis­its from fam­ily mem­bers who flew to see him.

In the mean­time, the fam­ily called in a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor in Aus­tralia to work on un­cov­er­ing what they could about just who planted the drugs in Mr Sceats’ bag.

Head­ing the team was former Queens­land po­lice of­fi­cer turned pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor Oliver Lau­rence.

Mr Lau­rence flew to Sin­ga­pore to in­ter­view Mr Sceats and over the next few months pulled to­gether an Aus­tralian team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors and con­sul­tants in­clud­ing former high-rank­ing po­lice of­fi­cers from three states.

Among them was former Queens­land Po­lice As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ryn­ders, former NSW Deputy Po­lice Com­mis­sioner and United Na­tions se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor Nick Kal­das and former Vic­to­rian Po­lice De­tec­tive Se­nior Con­sta­ble Ken Clark.

Between them the trio had more than 100 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence in po­lice work and held some of the most se­nior roles in their re­spec­tive forces.

This jour­nal­ist was also con­sulted as part of the team in­volved in the race to un­cover the truth and get Mr Sceats re­leased from death row. Mr Sceats’ predica­ment was kept se­cret while in­ves­ti­ga­tors were ex­am­in­ing ev­ery shred of ev­i­dence pos­si­ble.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors took state­ments from fam­ily and friends and busi­ness as­so­ci­ates about his back­ground, busi­ness, any­thing to do with co­caine, and about pos­si­ble mo­tives for the stitch-up.

Armed with the ev­i­dence they had gath­ered and a pos­si­ble per­son of in­ter­est, the team ap­proached the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice, and the NSW Po­lice for help, but re­ceived none.

“I lob­bied Gov­ern­ment, po­lice both State and Fed­eral and got nowhere with any­one as they felt the of­fence had taken place out­side of the coun­try and ul­ti­mately didn’t be­lieve there were grounds for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Aus­tralia,” Mr Lau­rence told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

The team also asked for help from Mr Sceats’ then lo­cal Mem­ber of par­lia­ment, Dr Ker­ryn Phelps, but again re­ceived none.

AL­TER­NA­TIVE UNI­VERSE

When they said there was co­caine in my bag, I thought some­one was play­ing a joke on me

Be­wil­dered and anx­ious, Mr Sceats spent much of his time writ­ing home to his fam­ily.

In May 2018, just two months after he was ar­rested, he wrote: “Dear All, most time I feel I am stuck in some

sort of al­ter­nate uni­verse. How (sic) I ar­rived here? I don’t know as to how I leave. I can’t. Don’t think about too much! That’s what they say in here — it’s not good for you. That’s for those re­signed to their fate. I’m not yet.

“How did this all hap­pen to me? Why? Has any­thing come from the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice? Miss you all so much.”

Back home, Mr Sceats’ fam­ily were do­ing all they could to sup­port him while also main­tain­ing the fam­ily’s suc­cess­ful busi­ness in­ter­ests.

Am­ber, whom Mr Sceats adopted when she was a baby, is one of Aus­tralia’s most in-de­mand jew­ellery de­sign­ers, with her pieces fea­tur­ing in high-end mag­a­zines and worn by stars in­clud­ing Is­abelle Cor­nish, Sa­mara Weav­ing and Ricky-Lee Coul­ter.

Am­ber also counts pub­li­cist and so­cialite Roxy Ja­cenko as a friend, with Ja­cenko of­ten spot­ted wear­ing Sceats’ sig­na­ture pieces.

Rel­a­tively pri­vate, Am­ber did give a rare in­sight into her busi­ness in an in­ter­view with Elle mag­a­zine in 2015

“My grand­fa­ther founded one of Aus­tralia’s most prom­i­nent watch com­pa­nies and my mother took part in found­ing the Am­ber Sceats brand in 2012,” she told the mag­a­zine.

“We’ve been through a lot to­gether but we’ve achieved a lot to­gether as well. My mother is a fighter who in­spires me to push through life’s tough­est mo­ments and stay strong in ev­ery aspect imag­in­able. I adore them both.”

HANGED ONE BY ONE

Mr Sceats was be­ing held on what is known as death row — one of the old­est men in­car­cer­ated and shar­ing a cell with three oth­ers.

“We had min­i­mum food, only two books al­lowed at a time,” he said

“We were al­lowed out for 20 min­utes at a time. I spent my time read­ing and do­ing yoga and writ­ing let­ters.

“Guards come past your cell ev­ery hour. They don’t turn the lights off when you are on the death penalty.

“There is a very strict regime. If you do any­thing wrong they give you the cane

“There are four peo­ple in a cell to­gether and they change your cell ev­ery month.”

He be­came friendly with his cell mates and watched help­lessly as they were taken away one by one to face ex­e­cu­tion. All the while know­ing bar a mir­a­cle, that it would be the fate await­ing him. “You get friendly with peo­ple in there. It is heart­break­ing when they are taken away,” he said. “I think 14 guys were ex­e­cuted while I was there.

“They get taken away to the ex­e­cu­tion place. They stay there and have one month to ap­peal and if that is not suc­cess­ful they are ex­e­cuted.”

NO DEAL

Sin­ga­porean lawyer Amar­ick Gill said al­though he be­lieved early on that Mr Sceats had been framed, it was his duty as a lawyer in one of the world’ strictest coun­tries to dis­cuss with his clients the pos­si­bil­ity of a plea bar­gain.

Twenty years in jail was more ap­peal­ing than death.

“But when I brought up the sub­ject with Phillip, he ex­ploded at me,” Mr Gill told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“Phillip said to me ‘I am go­ing for broke. I didn’t do it’.”

AFP AND THE TIP OFF

After the 2015 ex­e­cu­tions of Bali Nine ring­leaders An­drew Chan and Myu­ran Suku­maran, the AFP changed its pol­icy on giv­ing in­for­ma­tion to law en­force­ment in coun­tries where Aus­tralians could face the death penalty.

But the ques­tion had to be asked: Did his­tory some­how re­peat it­self in the case of Phillip Sceats?

What is known is a mys­tery per­son tipped off the Sin­ga­porean au­thor­i­ties dur­ing Mr Sceats ill-fated flight from Syd­ney to Sin­ga­pore, know­ing full-well he would face the death penalty if con­victed.

Mr Sceats had not been searched be­fore he boarded his flight out of Syd­ney. But by the time he dis­em­barked at Sin­ga­pore’s Changi

Air­port, one of the largest and busiest trans­porta­tion hubs in Asia, air­port au­thor­i­ties had his name and ar­rival de­tails.

Mr Sceats in­sists he saw AFP of­fi­cer hats and jack­ets with lo­gos on them at Changi Air­port when he was ar­rested.

“I think the AFP should have in­ves­ti­gated more thor­oughly,” Mr Sceats said.

“They should have looked into a tip-off that said this guy is com­ing into Sin­ga­pore with drugs and do a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion rather than just pass it on and take it as gospel.

“To this day I kept on say­ing when I was ar­rested in Sin­ga­pore I saw the AFP logo on hats in the air­port.

A list of doc­u­ments ob­tained un­der Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion laws has re­vealed the AFP were aware of at least some of the tip-off in­for­ma­tion around the time of Mr Sceats’ ar­rest.

But the AFP has re­fused to re­lease any of the de­tails con­tained in the doc­u­ments. Among them is one doc­u­ment about Mr Sceats’ case which is de­scribed as “al­le­ga­tion/ in­ci­dent de­scrip­tion” which is said to be un­dated.

An­other doc­u­ment ti­tled “Bor­der In­tel­li­gence log No 9”, may hold the key as to the mys­tery tip-off. It was en­tered into the po­lice com­puter sys­tem on March 8, 2018, the day after Mr Sceats was ar­rested in Sin­ga­pore.

There are email chains between the AFP and other un­named peo­ple which in­clude dis­cus­sions of “in­for­ma­tion com­mu­ni­cated in con­fi­dence by the au­thor­ity of a for­eign gov­ern­ment”, all of which the AFP re­fused to re­veal for var­i­ous rea­sons in­clud­ing “ex­empted ma­te­rial would dis­close in­for­ma­tion that would have a sub­stan­tial ad­verse ef­fect on the proper and ef­fi­cient con­duct of the op­er­a­tions of the AFP and would be con­trary to pub­lic in­ter­est.”

It also re­fused to re­lease the in­for­ma­tion “on the grounds that dis­clo­sure would di­vulge in­for­ma­tion com­mu­ni­cated in con­fi­dence by the au­thor­ity of a for­eign gov­ern­ment”; “in­for­ma­tion ex­changed between the State Agen­cies and the Com­mon­wealth gov­ern­ment”; and “dis­clo­sure would or could rea­son­ably be ex­pected to cause dam­age to the in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions of the Com­mon­wealth”.

The last doc­u­ment en­try is dated Fe­bru­ary 21, 2019 — three days after the Aus­tralian pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor team again ap­proached the NSW Po­lice, armed with a dossier of ev­i­dence in­clud­ing a sit­u­a­tion re­port, sum­mary of events, time­line, pos­si­ble per­son of in­ter­est and pos­si­ble crimes com­mit­ted.

The team urged NSW Po­lice to ac­cept the re­fer­ral for im­me­di­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tion, given the ur­gency of the mat­ter with Mr Sceats fac­ing the death penalty.

The team were of the “firm view that there is an over­whelm­ing case to sug­gest Mr Sceats had been set up or framed in Syd­ney to en­sure his ar­rest in Sin­ga­pore.”

The re­fer­ral let­ter also said pre­vi­ous di­rec­tions from NSW Po­lice to “en­gage with the AFP have proved p un­suc­cess­ful …”

On Fri­day, The AFP told The Sun­day Tele­graph it only be­came aware of the ar­rest “of this man after no­ti­fi­ca­tion from Sin­ga­porean au­thor­i­ties on 7 March 2018.

The AFP had no knowl­edge of the al­leged of­fence prior to the man’s ar­rest.”

FREE­DOM, AND TO­MA­TOES

The dossier of ev­i­dence from the Aus­tralian team hired by the fam­ily was sent to the Sin­ga­porean lawyer, Mr Gill, who in turn sent it to the Sin­ga­pore At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Lucien Wong SC for con­sid­er­a­tion along­side the find­ings of the Nar­cotics Bureau’s own in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mr Lau­rence was pre­par­ing to travel to Sin­ga­pore for a fly­ing visit to as­sist Mr Gill (pic­tured left inset) in his fi­nal brief­ings to the Sin­ga­pore AG on be­half of Mr Sceats. It was to fo­cus on the lack of ev­i­dence to prove the pros­e­cu­tion case

On Fe­bru­ary 23, 2019, just two days after the AFP was asked about its in­volve­ment in the case ac­cord­ing to FOI doc­u­ments, Mr Lau­rence got a call with stun­ning news.

After 353 days on death row Mr Sceats was be­ing re­leased. Within hours Mr Lau­rence and Mr Ryn­ders were on a flight to Sin­ga­pore.

Wo­ken at 4.30am, a con­fused Mr Sceats was only told he was go­ing to court. He sat in the cells all day not know­ing what was go­ing on.

About 4.15pm and after al­most ev­ery­one in the court build­ing had left, Mr Sceats was told the court was fin­ished for the day. He as­sumed he would be re­turned to his cell at Changai pri­son.

In­stead, “a guard came and said ‘you have to go up­stairs’.”

When he was led into the dock, he was stunned to see his le­gal team, as well as Mr Ryn­ders and Mr Lau­rence.

“I was taken up to the court and I saw my so­lic­i­tor. He told me to be calm, and then said you are go­ing to get a Dis­missal No­tice with­out Ac­quit­tal.” Mr Sceats said he was so over­whelmed his legs gave way.

“I could barely stand up,” he said. “I said to him ‘you have to be kid­ding?’ After all this I am be­ing re­leased — after fac­ing the death penalty? Even the Judge seemed to have a small smile on his face.”

He said his first thoughts turned to his fam­ily and his wife Jeanette.

“I wanted to call my wife and tell her I love her and I miss her and I am safe,” he said. A mys­tery cau­casian woman was sit­ting at the back of the court­room and slipped away be­fore Mr Ryn­ders and Mr Lau­rence could catch up with her to find out who she was.

Mr Sceats was im­me­di­ately re­leased into the cus­tody of the pair on the prom­ise they would take a one-way ticket back to Syd­ney within 24 hours.

After be­ing with­out a com­fort­able bed for al­most a year, Mr Sceats spent his first night of free­dom in a ho­tel room he shared with Mr Lau­rence and Mr Ryn­ders.

“The first thing I ate when I came out was fresh to­ma­toes with salt and pep­per,” he said.

“We had boiled cab­bage and rice in the jail. No real meat. I wanted some­thing fresh. I was down to 72 kgs. I was 92 kgs when I went in. I lost 20 kgs.

He also got to eat the birth­day cake he missed out on the year be­fore. Mr Ryn­ders told The Sun­day Tele­graph they are ex­tremely grate­ful for the “ex­cep­tional as­sis­tance from the Sin­ga­pore au­thor­i­ties and ju­di­cial sys­tem in bring­ing the mat­ter to a suc­cess­ful and ap­pro­pri­ate con­clu­sion”.

It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by Mr Gill, who said “it is ex­tremely rare for any­one fac­ing drug traf­fick­ing charges to be re­leased be­fore fac­ing a trial.”

Mr Lau­rence said this in­ves­ti­ga­tion was one of the great­est chal­lenges of my in­ves­tiga­tive ca­reer to date”.

“Know­ing that Phillip was in­no­cent and the re­al­ity that he could be ex­e­cuted if I didn’t do any­thing, made me work so hard to en­sure we got him home to his fam­ily,” he said.

“I looked at him in that jail cell as my own fa­ther, and en­sured that the team and I left no stone un­turned.

“It is of­ten very dan­ger­ous as an in­ves­ti­ga­tor to make prom­ises to a fam­ily that you will re­solve a sit­u­a­tion, but on this oc­ca­sion, I broke my own rule. I promised I would bring him home, and we did.

SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH

While he saved his client from the gal­lows, Mr Gill said the case will haunt him for­ever.

“One ques­tion keeps bug­ging me and I don’t want to go to the grave not know­ing,” he told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“There was a tip-off and I want to know who made the call,” he said.

Mr Gill said he had “writ­ten many times to the Sin­ga­porean gov­ern­ment to ask for the source of the tip-off, both prior to Phillip’s re­lease, and af­ter­wards.”

But he said the Sin­ga­pore gov­ern­ment has re­fused to di­vulge the source. And when he was told Aus­tralian po­lice had not in­ves­ti­gated the fram­ing of Mr Sceats after he was re­leased, Mr Gill said he was shocked.

“I think it is dis­gust­ing that it has not been in­ves­ti­gated in Aus­tralia,” he said.

“I think who­ever planted that co­caine should be charged. Phillip spent 353 days on re­mand (on death row in Changi Pri­son) for do­ing noth­ing.”

But even after Mr Sceats was re­leased, Mr Lau­rence said he still re­ceived no as­sis­tance from po­lice. He said it was like “Oh well he (Mr Sceats) has been re­leased, now we don’t need to do any­thing else.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tor Ken Clark said he too is ex­tremely con­cerned by the lack of in­ter­est from state and fed­eral po­lice at the time they ap­proached them for help.

“I am dis­ap­pointed that this in­ves­ti­ga­tion never got the at­ten­tion from the au­thor­i­ties in Aus­tralia that it should have,” Mr Clark told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“I am also con­cerned that not only have those re­spon­si­ble not been held ac­count­able but they also failed to achieve their in­ten­tion.

“That al­ways cre­ates a sense of ur­gency to re­solve the mat­ter as the threat still ex­ists. If it was not for Oliver’s de­ci­sive ac­tion and di­rec­tion with this case Phillip’s out­come could have been dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent.”

NSW Po­lice ad­mit­ted yes­ter­day it had opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion at the time and it is un­der­stood made a re­fer­ral to the AFP.

But the search for the truth has con­tin­ued. This jour­nal­ist has spent the past year lodg­ing Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quests with the AFP and Home Af­fairs and in­ter­view­ing peo­ple try­ing to ex­tract the truth.

Home Af­fairs has said they hold no doc­u­ments in re­la­tion to Mr Sceats’ case. In­de­pen­dent Sen­a­tor Rex Pa­trick said he plans to raise Mr Sceats’ mat­ter with the AFP dur­ing Es­ti­mates hear­ings in Fed­eral Par­lia­ment this week.

“This is a most dis­turb­ing story in­volv­ing an in­no­cent Aus­tralian be­ing de­tained on death row in Sin­ga­pore for al­most a year,” Mr Pa­trick told The Sun­day Tele­graph.

“What does the AFP know about this mat­ter. Did the call orig­i­nate from Aus­tralia? If so, do they know who did make the call and what are they do­ing about the tip off?” he said.

I AM A BRO­KEN MAN

Home for just over a year now, the hor­rific in­ci­dent has left Mr Sceats scarred and a shadow of his former self.

“If I didn’t have a smart in­ves­ti­ga­tor I would have been done and dusted,” Mr Sceats said.

“If it wasn’t for the Sin­ga­pore in­ves­ti­ga­tor re­ally look­ing into this case I would have been hung by now.

“What is so wor­ry­ing is how eas­ily it can hap­pen to some­one and how eas­ily it can ruin some­one’s life.

“I would have been the first per­son ever to have smug­gled it into the coun­try from Aus­tralia.”

The man who proudly grew veg­eta­bles in his gar­den and rigged up ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems for his pineap­ple crop is now suf­fer­ing from Post Trau­matic Stress Disor­der. He has trou­ble ad­just­ing to his free­dom and hates even be­ing en­closed in a hospi­tal room.

“My life has changed so much. The fam­ily has been shat­tered.” Mr Sceats said.

“I used to work hard — 60 hours a week in the fam­ily busi­ness — I had a great in­ter­est in gar­den­ing. Ex­per­i­ment­ing with plants and Aus­tralian na­tives. Now I watch TV all day. I am a bro­ken man.”

He leads a sim­ple life now, only go­ing out to catch up with a few mates for a beer at the lo­cal RSL or vis­its with his first grand­child.

But what hurts most is that po­lice did noth­ing to help while he was on death row and have still done noth­ing to bring the sus­pected per­pe­tra­tors to jus­tice. Po­lice have not even in­ter­viewed him about his or­deal.

He wants to make sure that this never hap­pens again to any­one and the po­lice fi­nally do their job.

“I would give any­thing to know what re­ally hap­pened.”

I said to him ‘you have to be kid­ding?’ After all this I am be­ing re­leased — after fac­ing the death penalty?

The body of the last Aus­tralian to be hung in Sin­ga­pore for drug traf­fick­ing, Nguyen Tuong Van, is taken away in 2005.

Philip Sceats cel­e­brates a be­lated birth­day with his lawyer Amar­ick Gill after be­ing re­leased from Changi Pri­son’s death row.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.