Monday, August 9, 2010

Secret files reveal truth behind Lindy Chamberlain's murder conviction

As usual, it was women who were hardest on another woman

SECRET jury notes hidden in Northern Territory police files have revealed why Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murdering her baby daughter Azaria 30 years ago.

The handwritten notes show that like the rest of the nation, the female jurors were tougher on Lindy than the men.

The three women - a teacher and two housewives - all voted for a conviction while at least four of the nine men had to persuaded that she was guilty. "Doesn't believe dingo,'' one of the housewives is recorded as declaring. Another said that while she was going to convict Lindy, she still found it "hard to accept Mrs C did it''.

They are the missing element in a puzzle that three decades later still perplexes Australia.

Almost three months ago, The Daily Telegraph sought access to the documents and files held by the Northern Territory police on the investigation into Azaria's death. Northern Territory Assistant Commissioner Mark McAdie took the view that the files belonged to the people of Australia, and they should see them. The new NT Police Commissioner John McRoberts, agreed to make them available.

After long negotiations, the only material removed were private police notebooks.

Two weeks ago, The Daily Telegraph was given exclusive access to the Azaria Files - 145 boxes of police documents and exhibits destined for the National Archives because of their historical importance.

Within the files are pages of jury notes apparantly written by the public servant who was the jury foreman, jotted down on blue notepaper as the jurors struggled with their decision in the Darwin courthouse after the seven-week trial that captivated the nation in 1982.

They detail exactly what the jury was thinking when it threw out Lindy's story that a dingo had taken her baby and convicted her of killing Azaria at what was then Ayres Rock on August 17, 1980.

Her husband Michael was convicted of being an accessory.

The jurors were as puzzled as the rest of the country by the couple's unemotional behaviour and why they never joined in the search for their daughter's body. The foreman dismissed the entire defence evidence as "purely smokescreen''.

It was to be six years before Lindy was released and then the couple was exonerated after Azaria's battered matinee jacket was found at the base of the Rock.

Veteran criminal barrister Chester Porter QC said it was unheard of for secret jury notes to be saved after a trial. Mr Porter, who was counsel assisting the Morling Commission of Inquiry that cleared the Chamberlains in 1987, added to the mystery of their origin by revealing the notes were not among the police documents when he examined them to prepare for the commission.

The only juror to have identified herself, Yvonne Cain, said she believed the notes must have been made towards the end of their six-and-a-half hours of argument.


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