Eight years after Sydney woman Keli Lane was jailed for 18 years for killing her two-day-old baby, the case is once again in the public eye, courtesy of ABC documentary series, Exposed.
As the program recounts, the newborn’s body was never found, no confession was ever made. Instead, the former water polo player’s conviction hinged largely on circumstantial evidence, on a series of lies that included multiple secret pregnancies.
Between the ages of 17 and 21, Lane fell pregnant four times. The first two were terminated, the third resulted in adoption. The fourth – Tegan, the one at the centre of the case – disappeared.
During the trial, the public and the media devoured every salacious detail, not least of which the fact that both Lane’s full-term pregnancies occurred without the knowledge of her parents, partner or teammates. Her sex life was combed over both in the courtroom and in the papers; dredging up ideals about female morality and promiscuity.
The persistence of that narrative was captured in just two sentences on Exposed this week. Sentences that came from a surprising source: the then NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery QC, a man who now serves as Chair of anti-domestic violence organisation, White Ribbon.
The 72-year-old told the program that he did not perceive Lane to be a risk to other children, but...
"She seemed to be a bit of a risk to the virile young male portion of the community," he said, chuckling. Then, after a pause, added, "That's not grounds for putting her in prison, of course."
Speaking to Mamamia, the ABC journalist behind Exposed, Caro Meldrum-Hanna, said the room fell silent when Cowdery spoke those words.
"I was speechless myself," she said.
"For him it was probably an off-the-cuff remark, perhaps an attempt at humour and probably not as loaded as it was."
It's clear from the reaction to Cowdery's comments that his 'humour' fell flat. Criticism on social media ranged from "disappointed" to "disgusted", with several viewers accusing him of "slut shaming" Lane.