opinion

She killed her four babies.. or did she?

Alan Jones is the latest unlikely campaigner making a bid to free Kathleen Folbigg, the woman convicted of killing her four babies between 1991-99. He’s not the only one who believes the evidence against Kathleen is shaky at best. Former ivillage editor Alana House has been visiting Kathleen for years, and firmly agrees it’s time for review of her controversial case.

After a decade of bone-crushing isolation and fear inside her cell at Silverwater Jail, there have finally been tantalizing glimmers of hope for my former school friend Kathleen Folbigg … and those who feel she didn’t receive a fail trial when she was convicted of murdering three of her children and the manslaughter of a fourth. Among them is the decision by The University of Newcastle Legal Centre to work on a submission seeking a judicial inquiry into her case.

The front page of Sydney's Sunday Telegraph, January 19

Another recent development was the surprise appearance in the prison visitors’ room one afternoon of radio host Alan Jones that was revealed in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph.

Folbigg's was jailed for 40 years, reduced to 30 after an appeal. Jones' support follows the discrediting of evidence against her which was circumstantial and mostly focused on the struggles she revealed in her personal diaries.

Kathy told me during my last visit to the jail that knew something was afoot when a buzz of excitement swept through the prison guards and an unusually large number of them suddenly decided they were needed in the visitors’ area.

She sat on her usual pink metal stool, bolted to the floor. To her surprise, Alan walked into the room and sat opposite her on one of the visitors’ blue metal stools, also bolted down.

The mutual friends who had arranged the meeting procured snacks of Mars Bar Pods and Kettle Chips from the junk food machines in the hallway and placed them in plastic bowls on the little bolted-down metal table in front of them, like some Tim Burton-style nightmare version of a fairy toadstool picnic.

Kathy wore a white canvas jumpsuit, secured with an electrical cable tie at the neck, and a pair of ugly, green Dunlop sneakers. Alan wore his signature sports jacket and a broad smile.

They chatted for over an hour and she was charmed by his open attitude towards her plight.

For the 10 years prior her only visitors have been a handful of friends and a dedicated group of Salvation Army members who offer support.

Kathy had become resigned to being branded a cold-blooded child killer who deserved to be locked away for 26 years.

Having Alan visit – and offer his very public support on the cover of yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph – is a sign that the tide of public opinion may finally be turning.

Alan told journalist Matthew Benns (who previously wrote a book called “When The Bough Breaks” that actively condemned Kathy as a murderer) that after reading academic lawyer Emma Cunliffe’s book “Murder, Medicine and Motherhood” about the court case: “I am persuaded that the expert evidence is not convincing at all.”

Alan’s public support is a powerful thing. Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger, for example, told ABC’s Lateline after the 1998 federal election that he knew who to thank for the Howard government’s narrow victory: his friend Alan Jones.

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Alan has a loyal and trusting radio following. He speaks out and people listen, they believe.

Alan notes to Benns: “Having met the woman I find her a very courageous woman and an outstanding person who faces this injustice with great dignity.”

There are many, many issues that I vehmently disagree with Alan Jones upon. There are many, many things that he’s said in the past that I find distasteful. His views on Julia Gillard and her father dying of shame being a disturbing case in point. (UPDATE: And his decision this morning to release private letters from Kathy to The Daily Telegraph distressed me – Kathy will be mortified and disappointed. How can he not realise how much more difficult he has made her life behind bars?)

But his words about Kathy are spot on.

I can never imagine having her courage. Prison is a terrible place full of terrifying people and, as Alan notes: “"The evidence that was used against Kathleen Folbigg has been discredited... Society collectively should be concerned if a woman’s lying in jail, convicted for (killing) four children, if she didn’t do it.”

When Kathy finally steps outside those prison walls – whether in one year or 15 – she will have nothing. No home, no money, no family. She has lost them all. The Salvos promise someone will be there to meet her when she is freed. But then what? How does she successfully reassimilate into society after being incarcerated for so long, when she’s hated by so many?

Kathleen Folbigg with Alana, the former editor of ivillage and author of this post.

I’ve written blogs about Kathy and the vitriol they inspire is fascinating:

“She murdered her little babies after she snapped when they wouldn’t stop crying. She’s a cold, evil and manipulative woman who deserves to rot in jail.”

“She was cruel and evil. I shudder to think of what those poor little babies went through.”

“This woman killed her kids. There are no ifs or buts. She’s a cold-blooded killer. End of story.”

But it’s not the end of the story for me. My world isn’t so black and white. The possibility an innocent woman has been jailed haunts me.

I think I would go mad, locked away for so long, the world believing I murdered my own children. But Kathy is strong, she always has been. She believes her difficult past has helped her survive prison, without it she might have gone mad.

And now she needs to remain strong and not let her hopes get too wild. Because while a wave of public support, a visit from Alan Jones and a campaign by The University of Newcastle Legal Centre are thrilling developments there’s still a long and fraught battle ahead before a judicial inquiry is even countenanced, let alone successful.

But I look forward to visiting her in a few short weeks, hugging her tight and hoping her barrister gets that miracle chance to prove whether justice was indeed done.

Do you believe the case against Kathleen Folbigg should be reviewed, or do you think her sentence should stand as it is?

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