John Button (campaigner)

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Justice for Button and Beamish: Darryl Beamish, Estelle Blackburn and John Button at the Supreme Court celebrating Beamish's exoneration on 1 April 2005 (44 years after conviction), following Button's exoneration on 25 February 2002 (39 years after conviction).

John Button, born in Liverpool, England on 9 February 1944, is a Western Australian who was the victim of a significant miscarriage of justice. Button was wrongfully convicted of the manslaughter, by vehicle impact, of his girlfriend, Rosemary Anderson, in 1963.

History[edit]

On 9 February 1963 19 year old Button and his 17 year old girlfriend Rosemary Anderson were celebrating his birthday at his parents' house when they argued and Anderson decided to walk home. Button followed her in his car but she refused to get in and continued walking. Button smoked a cigarette before driving on to find her lying injured on the side of the road. He then took her to the surgery of a local GP, Dr Quinlivan, who contacted the police and organised an ambulance to transfer the still living but unconscious Anderson to Fremantle Hospital, where she died shortly before entering surgery. Dr Quinlan instructed Button to remain for the police, who arrived at the house and commenced their investigation, transferring him to Central Police Station after a short review of the road site where the murder took place.[1] Button had a bad stutter and police interpreted this as being nervous due to the questions he was being asked. Button was refused access to his parents or a lawyer and was hit once by an interviewing police officer[2] before finally confessing to killing Anderson after 22 hours of interrogation.

Charged with wilful murder, for which he could have been executed, the jury's lesser conviction of manslaughter brought him a sentence of 10 years imprisonment, of which he served 5 years in Fremantle Prison and Karnet Prison Farm, before being paroled. The serial killer, Eric Edgar Cooke, confessed to the murder of Anderson when arrested in 1963, giving details withheld by police that only the killer would have known, and again when on death row, including immediately before his execution, at which point he swore on a Bible that he was the offender. At Button's subsequent appeal, little credence was given to Cooke's testimony as the vehicle Cooke claimed he had used had an external steel sunvisor. The appeal judges did not believe a body could be thrown "over the roof" as Cooke claimed without ripping the visor off and dismissed the appeal.[3]

Cooke was, coincidentally, held on the segregated Death Row in Fremantle Prison before his execution while Button and Darryl Beamish (also falsely convicted of a murder perpetrated by Cooke) were incarcerated in Fremantle Prison, in Main Division.

Vindication[edit]

Several appeals to courts or for ministerial intervention were unsuccessful.[4] In 1998, a Western Australian journalist, Estelle Blackburn, advanced the cause of Button's vindication through her book Broken Lives.[5] Following the book's publication, the matter went before the courts again with Button represented by Tom Percy QC and Jonathan Davies both of whom worked pro bono on the case.

At the original trial the strongest evidence apart from Button's confession was that his 1962 Simca Aronde had damage consistent with an accident. Trevor Condron was the police officer who had examined John Button's Simca in 1963 but he had not been asked what could have caused the damage at the trial. He told the appeals court that while the car was damaged, the damage was not consistent with hitting a person and that three weeks before Anderson's death, Button had reported to police an accident with a Ford Prefect that had caused matching damage to that seen by Condron. This accident report had been known to police at the original trial but been discounted as irrelevant. The court also heard from Dr Neil Turner who had treated Anderson. He claimed that her injuries were not consistent with Button's vehicle. The world's leading pedestrian accident expert, American William "Rusty" Haight, was flown to Australia and testified that experiments with a biomedical human-form dummy, a similar Simca to Button's and an EJ Holden similar to the one Cooke claimed he was driving when he hit Anderson, matched exactly Cooke's account and excluded the Simca.[6][7]

Button self-published a book in 1998 titled "Why Me Lord!" which told of his ordeal.[8]

On 25 February 2002, the Court of Criminal Appeal quashed Button's conviction after evidence from vehicle crash experts proved that Cooke was most likely the culprit.[9] In a televised interview six months after Button's conviction was quashed, Rosemary Anderson's parents refused to embrace the finding and still maintained that Cooke did not kill their daughter and that Button was guilty. A conference between the Button, Anderson and Cooke families, Blackburn and her publisher Bret Christian organized by Australian Story changed their minds, although Mrs Anderson maintained Button was still responsible as it was his role as her escort on the night to bring her home. Following a meeting with the W.A. Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the court's findings, the Andersons accepted Button's innocence was proven.[10]

Button now spearheads the Western Australian Innocence Project which aims to free the wrongfully convicted.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Button, J. Why Me Lord!. Perth: Digital Document Company. ISBN 0-646-36466-9. p42,
  2. ^ Button, J. Why Me Lord!. Perth: Digital Document Company. ISBN 0-646-36466-9. p49
  3. ^ In 1998, crash tests with the same model car found that the sunvisor flexed when hit by a body before popping back to its original shape without even cracking the paint. The body (a $2,500 biomedical human-form dummy that behaves exactly as a human body in an accident) was thrown over the roof exactly as Cooke had described and the damage sustained by the vehicle in the test matched exactly the damage recorded by the panel shop that had repaired the vehicle Cooke claimed he had used in 1963.
  4. ^ Blackburn, Estelle (2001). Broken lives. Hardie Grant. ISBN 174064073X.  (review)
  5. ^ Blackburn, Estelle (2001). Broken lives. Hardie Grant. ISBN 174064073X.  (review)
  6. ^ Beamish: action after 40 years The Post
  7. ^ A Case of Science and Justice The Skeptic Spring 2002 pdf. Haight's crash tests with photographs.
  8. ^ Button, J. Why Me Lord!. Perth: Digital Document Company. ISBN 0-646-36466-9. 
  9. ^ "Button -v- The Queen [2002] WASCA 35". Supreme Court of Western Australia. 2002. 
  10. ^ Murder He Wrote - Part 2 Australian Story 5 August 2002 Transcript
  11. ^ "Cost of Innocence". The Australian. 20 September 2006. Retrieved 14 December 2009.