By Jessica Kidd.
The case of the three young children murdered in the northern NSW town of Bowraville is long and complex. It is a story of political inertia, racism and fierce debate over the state’s double jeopardy laws.
These laws have long been blamed as the reason why the three murders have never been heard together in a single trial.
But the legislative changes needed to re-try the key suspect were passed in NSW more than a decade ago.
Broadly, double jeopardy refers to laws that prevent someone being charged with the same crime twice. It is not unique to NSW — in fact, all Australian states have similar legal protections.
So why has it taken so long for this case to return to court?
First, some background
Bowraville first appeared on the national map in the early 1990s when three Aboriginal children disappeared in the space of five months from the town in the state’s north.
Two of the bodies — Evelyn Greenup, 4, and Clinton Speedy-Deroux, 16, were found, separately, in bushland near the town.
The third child — 16-year-old Colleen Walker — has never been found and she was later ruled dead by a coroner.
A man stood trial for Clinton’s murder in 1994 and Evelyn’s murder in 2006 but was acquitted both times.
Before 2006, double jeopardy meant you could not be charged with the same crime twice.
There’s a good reason the laws exist — to stop authorities repeatedly harassing people that have been proven innocent.
So if he didn’t do it, what’s the problem?
Well, it’s not quite that simple.
Many believe the suspect was acquitted because the cases were heard separately and evidence possibly linking all three deaths was not considered by the court.
This fact kickstarted a long and emotional campaign by the victims’ families to have all three cases tried together.
Remember — no one has ever been charged over Colleen Walker’s disappearance.
The families and their supporters argued that if the cases had been heard together, the suspect would have been more likely to be convicted.
Is there any wiggle room?
There is now, because the double jeopardy laws changed in NSW in 2006 allowing a suspect to be re-tried if “fresh and compelling” evidence came to light.
That development meant a door that was previously shut in the Bowraville case was now open.
However, there was a setback. In 2007 the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery advised police they did not have enough evidence to support a Bowraville re-trial.