At the end of a four month trial in 1991, Justice Jane Matthews said that Roseanne Beckett (then Catt) was either a “victim of terrible conspiracy” or an “evil and manipulative woman” who had falsely charged her husband with assault and brainwashed her ex-husband’s children into making false accusations of child abuse. Roseanne was convicted of eight of nine charges and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
That was 22 years ago. The Crown case accepted by the jury, who only saw part of the available evidence, was in tatters long ago. Six of eight convictions have been overturned. For much of that time, the current NSW Attorney General Greg Smith was the deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, at least partly responsible for the Crown’s handling of the case. So far, he has refused to reopen compensation discussions which were begun and then dropped in 2006, preferring instead the tortuous and expensive route of malicious prosecutions proceedings.
Roseanne was released when fresh evidence emerged that police had planted a gun on her in 2001. She has been acquitted of two charges and five of seven others have been dismissed since 2005.
So far the allegations against Roseanne have attracted the most attention. But it’s time to look at the case from another point of view: was there a conspiracy in which key prosecution witnesses conspired to abuse the court process and interfere with a number of pre existing court proceedings? If so, is the real aim of the Crown to cover up for its own lawyers and discredited witnesses?
It’s time to shine the spotlight on the Crown in the Roseanne Beckett case – on the threats to witnesses, missing files, perjury, interference with court proceedings, and collusion between Crown witnesses and a false victims’ compensation claim.
For evidence of this “terrible conspiracy”, you need go no further than a report for the NSW Ombudsman written by the then head of Family and Community Services, Greg Baggs. Baggs wrote the report in 1990, summarising his ordeal as he tried to steer a course through his duty of care to Roseanne’s four stepchildren, while suffering threats and intimidation against himself and his staff, who were convinced the children had been abused by Barry Catt and others. This report was available at the time of Roseanne’s 1991 trial but the defence team were told nothing about it. It was tendered at a 2004 judicial Inquiry into the case. If they had known of the events described in the report, Roseanne would probably have never been convicted.
Back in 1990, the Ombudsman passed the file on to the NSW Police Internal Affairs who recommended charges against the leading detective in the case, Peter Thomas. But the NSW DPP did not proceed with the charges. Thomas was allowed to leave the police force and become a private inquiry agent in Queensland, where he was found to have charged people on insufficient evidence and offered a witness a bribe. On more than one occasion, he has given evidence he court that he was aware of no findings against him.
In a summary letter, Baggs wrote: “There are many sinister activities associated with the motivation of many people surrounding these [Roseanne’s ex-husband Barry Catt’s] children.” He had no doubt that Taree FACS had protected the children and that "Roseanne, guilty or not, was their savior (sic)”.
The first part of the report deals with reports by the local hospital that Roseanne’s stepchildren had “disclosed” that they had been sexually abused by more than one person. A number of people were involved in counselling and treating the children. All believed the allegations. In the case of at least one child, physical medical evidence supported the allegation. The children were placed in foster care and then in Roseanne’s care. Barry participated in some counselling sessions.
Barry was charged with two serious assaults on Roseanne. In February 1989, the Newcastle Police Child Mistreatment Unit charged Barry Catt and another relative with 15 counts of sexual abuse. Three weeks later they were committed for trial. FACS were aware that further fresh complaints against Barry had been made by the children but no action had been taken by police.
One of the Taree sexual assault workers later gave evidence in a 2004 inquiry into the case that Barry Catt threatened to rape her. There is also evidence that after this time, Peter Thomas, then stationed in Newcastle, told a Taree resident that he was concerned about the charges against Barry Catt. He and key prosecution witness, Barry Catt’s friend Adrian Newell, collected statements against Roseanne.
In August, Baggs saw on television that Roseanne had been arrested and immediately became concerned about the children. Initially, the leading detective Thomas refused to say where he had taken the children. It turned out they were safely in the care of Barry Catt’s friend Adrian Newell. The next day, Thomas explained his refusal by saying that he did not trust FACS.
Thomas told Baggs that investigations of the sexual abuse case had shown it to be “sloppy” and that a “no bill” would be entered, meaning the case would be dropped. (He was not formally involved in the case in any way.) He wanted Bill Ferguson, a children’s services worker who was part of the Aboriginal community in Taree, off the case because he was biased in favour of Roseanne.
Later that day, Thomas rang Baggs and accused him not being prepared to work with him, of being involved in a “cover-up”, that his handling of the case was “questionable” and that he and been working “undercover” and with Newell.
About 15 minutes later, Baggs had a disturbing conversation with FACS case officer Bill Ferguson. Ferguson told Baggs that an Aboriginal Police Liaison officer alleged that Roseanne had offered him money to kill Barry Catt. (This was one of the charges against Roseanne that has since been dismissed.) The liason officer was accused at this time of being involved in organised prostitution of Aboriginal girls. This will be covered in a further report on New Matilda.
At lunch time on the same day, Baggs and another worker Christine Warne, met with Peter Thomas at the Taree police station. “Thomas was immediately abusive and aggressive”, Baggs wrote, claiming that he had Newcastle Child Mistreatment Unit detective Frank Burgess, Ferguson and other Taree police under investigation. He claimed to have power vested in him by the NSW Assistant Police Commissioner and that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption was involved.
Thomas then showed Baggs statements and evidence he had collected, much of which the 2004 Inquiry by Thomas Davidson found likely to be fabricated. Baggs told Thomas that he was satisfied with Ferguson and that it was “positive that the children had been sexually abused by someone”. Before leaving, Thomas apologised for his aggressive conduct the previous evening.
Baggs then asked for a new independent investigation of the sexual abuse allegations, taking into account the possibility that they might have been influenced by Roseanne. The children were placed in foster care. The review confirmed the original assessment.
Over the next two weeks there was further conflict with Thomas and Newell over their demands for access to the children. Baggs refused to let them interview one child who was said to be depressed and potentially suicidal.
On 9 September, Thomas again rang, threatening Baggs saying: “He is suicidal – who says?”; “This is a total cover-up…”; “We have got information about a lot of people.” Thomas then went into “rage mode” threatening to take Baggs to court and have him “in contempt”. After Thomas accused Baggs and his department of being in a conspiracy, Baggs terminated the call. The Regional Director of FACS Terry Madden registered a complaint against Thomas with the police.
Baggs was then contacted by then Sergeant Gary Gilday, the police prosecutor in the case against Roseanne, who he later described in court as a “wicked lady”. He said that he wanted to independently review the child abuse case. He also said that the children would be called as Crown witnesses in the case, meaning that Roseanne would not be allowed to have contact with them. Gilday later became police commander at Lake Macquarie in the Hunter Region. In 2000, he was suspended after he was charged with assaulting another office. The charge was later withdrawn.
Not long afterwards Sharon Cox, a FACS worker, contacted Baggs saying that during counselling the children had disclosed that they had been involved in performing sexual activities while pornographic movies were being shown. Police had been present. The children were “vague but consistent”.
A week later, Marie Whalen, a local woman, visited the FACS office and said that police had stormed into her home and taken her to a deserted house. A detective sat spinning the chamber of her gun. They wanted her to sign a statement against Roseanne. She mentioned a videotape which she had given to her solicitor. Baggs was uncertain about whether this was connected to the allegations about pornographic movies.
Thomas was finally allowed to interview the eldest child, who confirmed his previous statements that he had been abused. Early in October 1989, Barry Catt visited the FACS office and said “he was working with the Crime Squad and they were working with him”. He said he had spoken to one witness who had previously given evidence of seeing him assault Roseanne and that he had now changed his story. He claimed that he was innocent and that he “had not cuddled or done anything with his kids for 14 months.”
Baggs met with his regional director, NSW Internal Affairs Inspector Rob Inskter. He had the impression that his complaints were being construed as a “kind of personality clash between myself and Thomas”. The children were eventually restored to the care of Roseanne who had returned to her home town of Dapto. They gave evidence for Roseanne at the trial.
On 31 October Marie Whalen was charged with murdering her husband. Baggs concluded that she was a “significant witness” in the entire matter and that if her allegations about Thomas and another detective were true, there “are many questions that needed to be asked”.
He noted that there was to be no trial, as she would plead guilty to manslaughter. Whalen switched sides and became a witness against Roseanne at the trial and at the 2004 Davidson inquiry. She was assisted by Thomas in her case, and Newell, who she had not known, was a character witness at her sentencing hearing. She was found by Justice Davidson to be a witness who could not be relied upon and that her evidence damaged Roseanne’s case at her trial.
At Barry Catt’s sexual abuse trial the children maintained their story but also said they had been abused by other people. The Crown asked for the judge to direct the jury to acquit Roseanne, which it did. The children were warned against lying. Despite this, they gave similar evidence at the Roseanne 1991 trial.
The children gradually lost contact with Roseanne after she went to prison. Before her unsuccessful 1993 appeal, the Crown Prosecutor Patrick Power had a conversation with the eldest child. The following day he was interviewed by police and withdrew all previous statements, adopting the Crown case which was that he had been brainwashed. His sister also withdrew her statements. She gave three different new statements, never however entirely withdrawing the allegations of abuse. She instead accused Roseanne and her son of being the abusers.
The now adult children gave evidence for the Crown at the Davidson Inquiry, but were found to be unreliable witnesses. Child psychiatrist Sara Williams was prevented from giving evidence about the abuse at Roseanne’s trial but remained convinced that the children were victims of abuse. She tried to get the 1995 NSW Royal Commission into the Police, the NSW Independent Commission against Corruption and other bodies to investigate the case for many years. She told me on several occasions that she felt the children were in danger after Roseanne went to prison. She tried unsuccessfully to get a doctor who had examined the children to come forward. She died in 2012.
The man who prosecuted Roseanne, Patrick Power, remained a Crown prosecutor until he was charged with having a large amount of child pornography in his possession, including a video of man raping a 10 year old Thai boy. The current Attorney-General Greg Smith, then the Deputy DPP was accused of tipping off Patrick Power before calling the police. Former High Court judge Michael McHugh later reported to the NSW Attorney General that he should have alerted the police but they had not acted corruptly. Power pleaded guilty to possesses hundreds of child pornography images and video and was imprisoned for 15 months.
Power’s convictions raise serious questions about this role in the Roseanne case, especially his interviews with the children, who changed their evidence before the first appeal in 1993. He had been repeatedly accused by the defence of unfairness and intimidatory behavior towards witnesses at the 1991 trial.
Barry Catt continued to live in Taree but has been placed on a number of restraining orders for violence over the years. In 1993 Patrick Power advised him to apply to the Victims’ Compensation Board for damage caused by Roseanne. In 1995, he received $89,000 compensation although the medical evidence was inconsistent with statements supplied by he and his friend Newell and with evidence at the trial. The then Attorney General Bob Debus referred allegations that he had made false statements in the application to police, who took no action.
As late as 2010, the NSW Victims Compensation Board demanded Roseanne pay the state $89,000, but after the SMH reported their claim it was withdrawn until after the malicious proceedings are concluded.
The Crown Prosecutor Roser argued that the Court of Criminal Appeal should reject all of Davidson’s findings. He stalled Roseanne’s malicious prosecution case with an argument that she had to prove her innocence. This argument was rejected by the High Court. He is currently appearing for senior police at the Special Commission on Inquiry concerning the child abuse investigations in NSW’s Hunter region.
After Roseanne’s successful appeal to the High Court last week, Roseanne’s lawyers and supporters hope that compensation talks which lapsed in 2006 will be renewed. Instead, Smith has so far indicated that the Crown will continue to press their case against Roseanne.
As early as 2000 the senior NSW Police were alerted by department investigators that Roseanne could have been framed and might eventually be compensated.
In 2011, Channel Seven arranged for Roseanne to take lie detector test. She passed with flying colours.
Crown witnesses repeatedly failed to follow instructions by Justice Davidson not to contact each other during his inquiry. He referred scores of phone calls between them to the DPP for further action. No action was taken.
Has the Crown forgotten that it is supposed to have a duty to the truth, not to conviction at all costs?
More stories by Wendy Bacon about this case can be found on her blog at wendybacon.com, where you will find her “Questions for the Crown”. If you have any more information about this case email enquiriesATnewmatilda.com or wendybaconATgmail.com.
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