Vic­tims’ cham­pion runs to the de­fence

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - AVA BENNY- MOR­RI­SON BRENDEN HILLS

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

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