Victims’ champion runs to the defence
AFTER decades building a reputation as the victims’ champion, barrister Margaret Cunneen is ready to quit as Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor.
In a further blow to the Director of Public Prosecutions office — following the retirement of top prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC last month — she has told friends and colleagues she is ready for a change and wants to move into defence.
Ms Cunneen, who is responsible for convicting some of the state’s most notorious criminals, refused to comment last week, however multiple sources have confirmed the 59-year-old has openly discussed the shift.
“She wants to leave the DPP and move into defence next year,” one source said.
The widely talked-about departure of Ms Cunneen, who rose to prominence prosecuting the Skaf gang rapists in the 2000s, follows the announcement by the state Attorney-General this week that DPP barrister Christopher Maxwell QC, who held the same position as Ms Cunneen, would fill Mr Tedeschi’s role as Senior Crown Prosecutor.
As an employee who joined the DPP before 1988, Ms Cunneen will qualify for a pension after the age of 60. She became a crown prosecutor in 1990, earning a reputation as a fearless and dogged prosecutor, particularly pursuing sexual abuse offenders.
The mother-of-three is often the first choice of prosecutor for police, as well as a shining light for women in the traditionally maledominated legal fraternity.
Among a string of high- profile cases she has helped to prosecute were paedophiles Robert “Dolly” Dunn, Michael Guider, Colin Fisk and Philip Bell, Campsie serial rapist Quoc Vinh To, and collar bomber Paul Peters, who tried to extort money from the family of teenager Maddie Pulver.
Ms Cunneen also presided over a Special Commission of Inquiry into sexual abuse in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
One police officer said: “She is well renowned in the cops and is competent and confident but has that humility, too.
“Lawyers might not agree with her but they respect her.”
Her unapologetic displays of support for victims have polarised some within her profession.
The Court of Criminal Appeal stopped Ms Cunneen from acting in a retrial for an associate of the Skaf gang rapists due to her public statements about the infamous case and the empathy she showed for the victim.
In recent years her personal life has taken a battering. The Independent Commission Against Corruption launched a well-publicised investigation in 2014 into allegations she perverted the course of justice. Ms Cunneen was accused of coaching her son’s girlfriend, Sophia Tilley, to fake chest pains after a car accident to avoid being breath-tested, a claim she vehemently denied.
Following many legal challenges, the High Court ruled in 2015 that ICAC had exceeded its jurisdictional power in investigating Ms Cunneen.
Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen. Picture: James Croucher