Ex-premier’s parents take sides
Amid placards and piled pamphlets, newspaper cuttings and files, Lynn and Rick Giddings quietly explain how they befriended a convicted murderer — and became intimately involved in her fight for freedom.
The parents of former Tasmanian premier and current opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Lara Giddings had a “Hi, bye” relationship with Susan Neill-Fraser before 2009, when she was charged with the murder of her partner, Bob Chappell.
However, Mrs Giddings knew Neill-Fraser’s mother, Helen, and in the days after Chappell’s disappearance from his yacht moored on the Derwent in Hobart, on Australia Day 2009, she became concerned at the direction of the embryonic police investigation.
They were shocked when a policeman investigating the case publicly made derogatory comments about Neill-Fraser. “He came on the evening (TV) news and said she (Neill-Fraser) seemed more interested in the property than in the person,” Mrs Giddings said. “Richard and I looked at each other. I said ‘hey, the police don’t like Sue, I think they might charge her with murder’.”
Her fears were soon confirmed. Mrs Giddings, who set up a probation service in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s and was the first female prison welfare officer in Hobart’s Risdon Prison, later visited Neill-Fraser in jail.
“I knew what it was like to be your first time in jail,” Mrs Giddings said. “I had a two-hour conversation with her ... my first proper conversation with Sue. She had plenty to tell me.”
Mrs Giddings left that first meeting concerned Neill-Fraser might have been “stitched up”. “But I thought, ‘it’ll all get sorted out in court’,” she said. However, attending the trial with his wife, Mr Giddings, a former PNG colonial policeman and senior magistrate, was “appalled” at the “lack of dignity” afforded the defendant and the “very weak defence”.
Both believed there was a failure to thoroughly challenge key evidence. “I believe she’s innocent,” Mr Giddings said.
It’s a view now shared by Mrs Giddings, who was initially unsure, but it flies in the face of Neill-Fraser’s failure to overturn her conviction at her first appeal and via a High Court challenge.
A second appeal application is before the Supreme Court, arguing “fresh and compelling” evidence justifies a full-bench rethink. The Giddingses, who stress they are just two among a 100-strong support group, have attended proceedings daily.
They believe Neill-Fraser’s manner — perceived by some as privileged, aloof and unemotional — and her double-barrelled name, contributed to her undoing by alienating police, prosecutors, media and the jury.
“This is one of the things that went against her in court — she was born in the UK to a Scottish father … and there’s that British stoicism about her; much the same with Lindy Chamberlain,” Mrs Giddings said. “If you’re a woman and you get arrested, for God’s sake cry. Stoicism doesn’t have much value.”
Mrs Giddings said the 62year-old former equestrian school owner was doing her best to remain calm. “She’s coping but she said to me once: ‘I’m just angry’,” Mrs Giddings said.
Mr and Mrs Giddings concede their activities may at times be uncomfortable for their daughter. However, Lara Giddings rejected this, saying while she shared “some concerns” about the case, and backed further reform of appeals law, she retained faith in police and the justice system.
Richard and Lynn Giddings at home in Tasmania