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


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