FROM EDWARD CHARLES SPLATT’S CELL, AUGUST 1, 1984, HOURS BEFORE BEING RELEASED FROM PRISON FOLLOWING HIS EXONERATION BY THE SHANNON ROYAL COMMISSION:
"4.30 PM LOCK UP JUST THE SAME AS EVERY OTHER NIGHT. I WAS UNDRESSED AND LAYING ON MY BED WATCHING TV WHEN, AT ABOUT 9 PM, THE KEEPER AND A SCREW CAME TO MY CELL DOOR.
GENERALLY WHEN YOUR CELL IS UNLOCKED THIS LATE IT’S A STRIP SEARCH OF YOURSELF AND YOUR CELL. THE KEEPER JUST SAID, ‘GET DRESSED, SPLATTY, AND COME WITH ME.’
MY MIND STARTED TO RACE. WHAT HAD I DONE WRONG? I KNEW MY WIFE WASN’T WELL. SURELY NOTHING HAD HAPPENED TO HER. THE KEEPER INSTRUCTED THE SCREW TO STAY IN THE NEW BUILDING AREA. ‘SPLATT WON’T BE LONG.’
WHEN I ARRIVED AT THE FRONT GATE, I WAS OVERWHELMED. STEWART COCKBURN (A PHENOMENAL JOURNALIST WHO INVESTIGATED THE CASE HL) WAS STANDING BETWEEN GATES, NEARBY WAS MY WIFE. ‘WE’VE WON, EDDIE!’ STEWART SHOUTED. STEWART HAD BEEN GRANTED PERMISSION TO BRING YVONNE INTO ADELAIDE GAOL AT 9 PM TO DELIVER THE GOOD NEWS.
I COULDN’T BELIEVE WHAT WAS HAPPENING. THE KEEPER CONGRATULATED ME AND EVEN SHOOK HANDS—THE FIRST TIME POSSIBLY FOR A KEEPER TO SHAKE HANDS WITH A PRISONER. I WAS TAKEN INTO THE VISITOR’S ROOM FOR AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE ADVERTISER.
NOBODY WILL KNOW THE FEELING THAT HAD COME OVER ME. I HAD TO PINCH MYSELF TO MAKE SURE I WASN’T DREAMING. ALL MY WRITING AND ARGUING HAD AT LAST PAID OFF. I HAD ALMOST DONE THE IMPOSSIBLE. I WAS NOW TO JOIN A VERY SELECT BAND OF PEOPLE. I WAS ONLY THE FIFTH PERSON IN AUSTRALIA’S 200 YEARS OF LEGAL HISTORY TO BE RELEASED FROM PRISON AFTER A ROYAL COMMISSION ON A ROYAL PARDON. I REALLY FELT PROUD OF MYSELF FOR ACHIEVING SUCH AN HONOUR, ALTHOUGH IT IS NOT A NICE WAY TO MAKE HISTORY. SERVING SIX AND A HALF YEARS IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S PRISONS IS HORRIFIC ENOUGH BUT HAVING TO SERVE THAT SENTENCE KNOWING FULL WELL YOU ARE INNOCENT MAKES THE SENTENCE OF LIFE IMPRISONMENT TURN INTO A DAILY NIGHTMARE."
GOD, IT FELT GOOD TO HOLD MY WIFE WITHOUT A SCREW YELLING ‘TIMES UP.’'
FROM EDWARD CHARLES SPLATT'S CELL: AUGUST 1, 1984; HOURS BEFORE BEING RELEASED FROM PRISON FOLLOWING HIS EXONERATION BY THE SHANNON ROYAL COMMISSION; PRISON; FROM CURRENTLY UNPUBLISHED BOOK TENTATIVELY TITLED "FORENSIC FAILURES" BY TOM MANN; I AM GRATEFUL TO DR. ROBERT MOLES FOR MAKING A MANUSCRIPT OF THIS IMPORTANT WORK AVAILABLE TO THE READERS OF THIS BLOG;
"HE (COMMISSIONER SHANNON) SAID THAT SOME OF THE SCIENTISTS INVOLVED IN THE ORIGINAL CASE APPEARED TO HAVE HAD A DUAL ROLE.
THIS MEANT THAT WHEN ANALYSING WHAT THEY SAID AND WHAT THEY DID, IT WAS DIFFICULT TO DETERMINE WHETHER THEY WERE ACTING IN AN INVESTIGATIVE ROLE (LIKE THE POLICE) OR AS AN OBJECTIVE OBSERVER (LIKE A SCIENTIST)."
COMMENTS ON EDWARD CHARLES SPLATT CASE: NETWORKED KNOWLEDGE; DR. ROBERT MOLES; PROF. BIBI SANGHA;"
While preparing yesterday's post on Dr. Ross James' court challenge to the Medical Board of South Australia's finding of professional misconduct in connection with his evidence in the Henry Keogh case, I was intrigued by the reference to a Royal Commission called into the conviction of a man named Edward Charles Splatt;
So, intrepid reporter that I am, I decided to learn more about this man, and turned to the Networked Knowledge Web-site operated by Dr. Robert Moles and Professor Bibi Sangha, and found a fascinating note which I concluded was, in many ways, directly relevant to the issues raised at the Goudge Inquiry;
""Edward Splatt was charged with the murder of Mrs Simper, a 77 year-old Adelaide woman who had been badly beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled in her bedroom," the note begins;
The case was complex, dealing with paint, wood, birdseed and biscuit particles found in her room," it continues;
"It was a rare case in that the only evidence leading to the identification of the accused was the scientific evidence. No one had ever seen Splatt with the deceased or in her house.
Splatt was convicted of the murder in 1978. His appeals were unsuccessful.
However, Stewart Cockburn, a journalist with the Adelaide Advertiser, became convinced of the unsatisfactory basis of the prosecution case.
He ran a campaign in the paper for about two years before the government agreed to a Royal Commission.
Splatt’s conviction was subsequently overturned in 1984 and he was paid some $300,000 by way of compensation.
The commissioner was highly critical of the conduct of the trial, especially the operations of the expert witnesses.
He put forward a number of principles concerning the way in which lawyers and expert witnesses should work.
Had they been adopted, they may have prevented many of the apparent miscarriages of justice that appear in these reports.
Recommendations from the Splatt case;
The Splatt case is important because it was an authoritative source by which proper procedures could be identified.
Judge Shannon, the commissioner, was critical of the procedures which had led to the conviction.
In his report he adopted the recommendations from the scientific experts that had been called from the United Kingdom, about how things should be done for the future.
He said that some of the scientists involved in the original case appeared to have had a dual role.
This meant that when analysing what they said and what they did, it was difficult to determine whether they were acting in an investigative role (like the police) or as an objective observer (like a scientist).
Judge Shannon pointed out that this sort of confusion could only happen in a system which was ‘an incorrect one with serious defects’.
He said that some of the original evidence which had been given by the expert witnesses involved completely non-scientific statements that were more like police investigatory suggestions.
He also emphasised that a system which did not distinguish between scientific observations and deductions by police in their investigatory capacity, was ‘a defective and therefore a non-acceptable forensic system’ and said that ‘in each instance the dual roles are, in my opinion, incompatible’.
The proper role of expert witnesses;
The commissioner said that every scientific operation or observation must be documented on the case-notes and documented in such a manner that they would still be comprehensible perhaps even years later.
He said that all major observations must be checked by an independent observer who must indicate, by initialling the notes, that the proper checks had been made.
In our view, these basic requirements should apply to forensic scientists and forensic pathologists alike.
The commissioner also said that it was not acceptable for the scientific expert witnesses to say that it was no fault of theirs if the court was left with the wrong impression of their evidence because they were not asked the right questions by the lawyers; they had a responsibility to ensure that their evidence was not misused in that way.
The proper role of lawyers;
The commissioner also expressed his view on the proper role of lawyers.
He said that during the conduct of a trial there is a serious obligation on the lawyers conducting the trial.
He said that the critical responsibility is that they should ask such detailed and probing questions of the scientists as are most likely to elicit the proper information.
Some of the cases that we discuss in these reports illustrate the results of the legal system of South Australia failing to adopt those sound principles across the range of forensic investigations."
More to follow on the legacy of the Splatt case and its meaning for Canadians;
CSI DDS | Forensic Science Testimony. CSI bad science issues and their contribution to wrongful convictions.