If there are any murder suspects out there they should take note of the ill fated court action by Adelaide photographer, Derek Sands, who has managed to attract a whole lot of negative publicity for himself by attempting to deflect it.
An extraordinary five year defamation case, involving a TV station, a radio network, a federal MP and a press photographer, ended yesterday when Justice Bleby in the South Australian Supreme Court ruled in favour of the media organisations.
By dismissing Sands’ case that Channel Seven and ABC Radio had wrongly defamed him, the court has effectively given the media permission to describe Sands as a suspect for the murder of Adelaide model, Corinna Marr, twelve years ago.
The Advertiser seized the opportunity this morning with the cutting front page headline “You Liar” aimed at Sands:
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And to add to his misery, Sands will probably be left paying the legal costs for both the media organisations as well as his own. That bill could be well over half a million dollars.
As an exercise in clearing his name it has been a complete failure.
In May 2004 the South Australian edition of Today Tonight ran a promo for a story it was planning about the then federal Liberal MP, Trish Draper, and a tax payer funded business trip to Europe that she and Sands had taken in 2000. Sands was described in the promo as Draper’s “boyfriend” and as “a suspect in a murder case.”
A few days later the ABC also claimed Sands was a “murder suspect” in three radio news stories and an internet article. Those reports were about Seven’s attempt to lift a District Court injunction applied for by Draper to stop the Today Tonight program going to air.
At the time Marr was shot dead, Derek Sands was a photographer with the News Limited owned Messenger community newspapers. He knew the murder victim but denied he visited her on the day she was murdered because he was working in the newspaper darkroom all day. However, this and other evidence was refuted by his colleagues.
In his findings yesterday, the judge concluded that Sands had lied to the police about his movements on the day and that the evidence did “constitute reasonable grounds on which the plaintiff, as at May 2004, could properly have been suspected of the murder of Corinna Marr.” He said “In all the circumstances I cannot accept the plaintiff as a witness of truth.” The judge stressed, however, that this should not be taken as a finding that Sands in fact murdered Marr.
Sands unsuccessfully claimed damages from Seven for economic loss, after losing his job with Messenger in the wake of the publicity in 2004. As well as paying costs he can now expect more negative press. Without a suppression order in place, the media is free to refer to Sands as a murder suspect, simply by reporting what Justice Bleby concluded in yesterday’s findings.
This is despite the fact that the South Australian DPP has not charged Sands, or anyone else, over Marr’s murder, due to a lack of evidence.
The affair may also have repercussions for Trish Draper who retired as the member for Makin in the last federal election. She is a candidate in the next South Australian election after being endorsed last year for the seat of Newland.