Sophie Black writes:


One of twelve jurors who delivered the guilty verdict to the three Western Australian men at the centre of the controversial Australian Story three-part series “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” has strongly criticised the program for suggesting the men were innocent.

The
juror told Crikey this morning: “I have no doubts at all about the
verdict and this has even reinforced it. I am happy with the decision
that I came to and I don’t have any regrets about it.”

“What’s been said on TV is only showing one side, it’s so biased, and it makes me very angry.”

In an unprecedented series of programs, Australian Story
has campaigned against the convictions recorded against three West
Australian men over the murder of Phillip Walsham, 21, who fell to his
death from a pedestrian bridge over a freeway in the Perth suburb of
Stirling in February 1998. The men are now serving ten years in prison.
The juror told Crikey that by implication, Australian Story was suggesting that, after sitting in court for three months and deliberating for four days, the jury had got it wrong.

“It
really upset me that the program made these three boys out to be
pillars of society which I don’t believe they are,” the juror told
Crikey on condition of anonymity. “And as for Phillip Walsham, they
portrayed him very badly and he did not come across to me like that at
all…”

The juror told Crikey that watching the Australian Story
programs did not change their mind in any way, “I’ve had so many people
come up to me who’ve seen the show and asked me ‘How did you come to
that decision? How could you?’ and I say, ‘you weren’t there, you
weren’t given all the facts of the case and all the information…'”

The Australian has already raised concerns over Australian Story‘s blurring of the line between journalism and advocacy. West Australian Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan has accused Australian Story
and its staff of mounting a campaign to get the conviction overturned.
“It is not journalism, it is advocacy,” Mr O’Callaghan said after he
had seen the first program in the series. “There were quite glaring
events that could have provided a different point of view which were
simply left out.”

According to the juror: “There were two
journos that sat through the whole trial, and they were basically in
bed with the families, cuddling them and crying…One was from a local
paper over here, he wasn’t as emotional as the other one but he was
definitely in with them…His name came up a lot in the program…”

The juror may be referring to Bret Christian, Post Newspapers Editor, who featured heavily in the program and told Australian Story,
“Our system is that you are innocent unless proved guilty beyond
reasonable doubt. There was a truckload of reasonable doubt. There are
so few facts proved that all these other scenarios are equally or more
likely to be possible.”

“They sat in the journalists box but
when you’d see them before court, lunch times and everything, most of
them would be together,” the juror told Crikey.

The juror told
Crikey that emotions in the courtroom ran high when the guilty verdict
was eventually read out, “When we gave our verdict they all [the
families] started screaming and in the end the judge told them to get
out of his court…. As we came out the door they all came down the
stairs and tried to get to us…We deliberated for four days so I can
imagine why they were stressed out… But when we left the court we were
all scared for our safety going home, it was pretty scary…”

In the introduction to the first program, presenter Caroline Jones set up the story against a backdrop of a justice system under fire:

A young man died, yet after an inquest and two murder
trials, there is still no sign of the saga being put to rest. It’s all
taking place against a background of numerous overturned convictions in
Western Australia in the last few years and increasing controversy over
a number of criminal trials there.

The High Court has even directed some potent criticism at the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police.

But the juror believes that Australian Story
is “just on a bandwagon given the stories about the WA justice
system… It’s the only trial I’ve ever been on and I thought it was
very fair, I couldn’t see that things were being withheld… obviously I
wouldn’t know but things seemed fine…”

“There’s much more to the story than they’ve shown on TV and I know that and I’ve seen it…”

Peter Fray

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