Speaking out – how do you feel later?

How do you feel when you see or know something that is wrong and you do decide to speak out about it – and then the public hears it? The focus can come down on you. So how do you cope?

When you choose to put the spotlight on a wrongdoing, or something questionable, it is often a choice that means this issue will be with you for weeks, months, years or even a lifetime.

It can become time consuming and emotionally draining, which is why so many people stop at simply talking to a friend, or perhaps emailing a concern to a public forum. And maybe, when you think about personal health and well-being, this is the best thing to do.

But if you really want a behavior, process, or culture changed for the better then you have to be resilient and be prepared for the long haul.

I will share my story but have come to realise that there are four key lessons to learn:

1. Know your facts, dismiss gossip and gain confidence through knowledge

2. Don’t exaggerate, don’t misrepresent, don’t be defensive – be honest, clear and open

3. Ensure you have key people in your life who are supportive

4. Be resilient and persistent when the going gets tough

I spoke out on 60 Minutes on Sunday, March 17, 2013 (‘Justice Overboard’) about a possible miscarriage of justice.

I have been following the case of Sue Neill-Fraser for four years since her partner of 20 years disappeared in Hobart. Bob Chappell, radiation physicist, Royal Hobart Hospital, aged 65, was last seen alive on Australia Day, 26 January 2009.

Seven months later, Sue was arrested, and in October 2010 she was convicted and jailed for 26 years for his murder, subsequently reduced to 23 years.

There were no eyewitnesses, no weapon, no plausible motive and Bob’s body has never been found. No forensic evidence linked Sue to the crime scene, the couple’s luxury yacht moored in Sandy Bay, Hobart.

I decided to start filming a documentary (Shadow of Doubt), never realising I would still be working on this same case four years later nearing the release of my film. I wanted to examine the facts and understand why Sue was the only suspect. Was it simply because she had told lies? If she was innocent, why lie?

The prosecution’s case was simple: Sue returned to the yacht in the afternoon, or maybe in the evening of Australia Day, struck Bob from behind with a wrench, once, maybe twice, then late at night returned to the boat and winched his body from the bottom of the boat into a dinghy, then pushed Bob’s body out into the Derwent River with a fire extinguisher attached to ensure it sank. The prosecutor created the idea of the wrench – there was no murder weapon or body.

Sue has always protested her innocence. She has vehemently denied any involvement in Bob’s disappearance.

As a psychologist, I wanted to understand how the jury could have decided she was guilty when there was so much doubt in the case: other DNA at the crime scene with no proper explanation; a different dinghy at the yacht that afternoon; a mysterious phone-call late that night; witnesses not brought to court; and leads not followed and some untrue stories circulating.

The prosecutor had told the jury Sue had cleaned up the crime scene with latex gloves – but this was not true. In fact, the DNA on the inside of the glove analysed was not Sue’s – it was the DNA of one of Bob’s children.

I was concerned at the negative impact of gossip and media. Many people in Hobart thought of Sue as the black widow because they said her first husband had died in suspicious circumstances.

That was absurd because one of the first people I interviewed was Sue’s ex-husband, who had a lot to say about Sue’s personality, but not one word about anger, rage, physical violence, and he was certainly very alive. In fact, he has remained a strong supporter of Sue’s throughout the whole ordeal. And to this day the police have never interviewed him!

I try and imagine the kind of shock Sue may have been experiencing when Bob was first missing. A lot was said about her being cold, calculating and manipulative. Everyone reacts differently to shock and many have impaired memory. But all of this is now in the past as Sue was judged to be guilty, and after an initial sentence of 26 years, is now in prison for 23 years. She lost her appeal and was never granted leave to appeal to the high court DESPITE there being other DNA – that of a homeless girl, found at the crime scene – someone who lied about her whereabouts that night.

This is the first time someone has been jailed in Tasmania for murder based solely on circumstantial evidence and without a body.

Barbara Etter APM, former assistant Police Commissioner and lawyer, has reviewed the case and is very concerned about the witnesses not called, statements not taken and leads not followed. She has identified many flaws in the case, and new evidence not investigated.

I am glad the story went to air. I will remain resilient and am appreciative of those who provide the encouragement to question.

Imagine if we could get all issues of concern at work, and in our lives, out on the table and honestly resolved.

Eve has produced a wide range of business films (www.7d-tv.com) and is a widely acclaimed public speaker (www.eveash.com).


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