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Hanson and Ettridge got off lightly from the scars of Qld 'justice'

By Bernie Matthews - posted Friday, 21 November 2003

BEEN IN PRISON FOR 15 YEARS ... for somethin' I didn't do ... for somethin' I knew nuthin' about ... a totally innocent man. I watched my father die in a British prison for somethin' he didn't do.

Gerry Conlon's emotion-charged voice echoed from Australian television screens in October 1989. Like Pauline Hansen and David Ettridge, Conlon walked to freedom from (in Conlon's case, a British) court after being imprisoned.

Royal Commissions and Judicial Inquiries have featured prominently in trying to correct Australian miscarriages of justice but the finality of cell door slamming shut or the indignity of a "squat and cough" strip search can never be corrected for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned.


The disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain from a campsite near Ayer's Rock August 16, 1980 resulted in the arrest of parents Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. Suggestions that a dingo took baby Azaria from the tent were ridiculed and served to inflame further prejudice.

A Supreme Court jury convicted Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. Lindy was sentenced to life imprisonment and Michael was sentenced to 18 months as an accessory. Michael's sentence was later suspended and he received a $500 good behaviour bond.

The discovery of Azaria's matinee jacket at the base of Ayer's Rock on February 2, 1986 rekindled the controversy and renewed speculation that a dingo had taken the baby. Five days later the Northern Territory government released Lindy Chamberlain and appointed a Royal Commission headed by Federal Court Judge Justice Trevor Morling. The Royal Commission exonerated both Lindy and Michael Chamberlain.

A dispute over forensic and scientific evidence was also the foundation for a Royal Commission that eventually freed innocent South Australian man, Edward Charles Splatt, after he had served six-and-a-half years of a life sentence for murder.

The Ananda Marga Trio; Paul Alister, Ross Dunn and Tim Anderson, were arrested in June 1978 and charged with conspiracy to murder. They were convicted and sentenced to 16 years imprisonment from where they continued to protest their innocence. The NSW government eventually implemented an Inquiry, headed by Mr Justice Wood, to investigate the convictions.

In May 1985 Mr Justice Wood submitted his report to the NSW Government. The government responded by immediately freeing the trio and issuing them with unconditional pardons.


Douglas Harry Rendall, 39, was charged and convicted for the shotgun murder of his de facto wife, Yvonne Cheryl Kendall, at Broken Hill on July 30, 1979. A NSW Supreme Court jury convicted him of murder and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. For the next eight years Rendall campaigned from jail to prove his innocence.

December 14, 1987, Justice David Hunt of the NSW Supreme Court reviewed the Rendall case and recommended a Judicial Inquiry into his conviction. Rendall was released from prison on February 12, 1988. The subsequent Inquiry revealed the fatal weapon in the case had a faulty trigger mechanism, a fact not revealed at the time of the trial, and reinforced Rendall’s claim that Yvonne Kendall had accidently shot herself.

Johan "Ziggy" Pohl, spent ten years of a life sentence in prison for a crime he did not commit after he was convicted of his wife's murder in their Queenbeyan home in 1973.

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About the Author

Bernie Matthews is a convicted bank robber and prison escapee who has served time for armed robbery and prison escapes in NSW (1969-1980) and Queensland (1996-2000). He is now a journalist. He is the author of Intractable published by Pan Macmillan in November 2006.

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