Murder of Leigh Leigh

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Murder of Leigh Leigh
Portrait style school photograph of a young teen girl
School photograph of Leigh Leigh, as seen in mainstream media
Date 3 November 1989
Location Stockton Beach, Australia
Coordinates 32°54′04″S 151°47′20″E / 32.901175°S 151.78877°E / -32.901175; 151.78877Coordinates: 32°54′04″S 151°47′20″E / 32.901175°S 151.78877°E / -32.901175; 151.78877
Cause Sexual assault, blunt trauma
Convicted Matthew Grant Webster
Charges Murder
Verdict Guilty
Sentence 20 years

Leigh Leigh (born Leigh Rennea Mears; the daughter of Robert Mears and Robyn Leigh)[1] was a 14-year-old girl from Fern Bay on the east coast of Australia, who was murdered on 3 November 1989. While attending a 16-year-old boy's birthday party at Stockton Beach, Leigh was assaulted by a group of boys after she returned distressed from a sexual encounter on the beach that a reviewing judge later called non-consensual. After being kicked and spat on by the group, Leigh left the party. Her naked body was found in the sand dunes nearby the following morning, with severe genital damage and a crushed skull.

Matthew Grant Webster, an 18-year-old who had acted as a bouncer at the party, pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison with a non-parole period of 14 years. He was released on parole in June 2004, having served 14½ years. Guy Charles Wilson, the other bouncer and only other person aged over 18 at the party, was charged with assault; a third person was charged for having sex with a minor. The investigation of Leigh's murder proved controversial, however, as several people who admitted to various crimes, including assaulting Leigh, were never charged; nor was anyone ever charged with her sexual assault. Webster's confession did not match the forensic evidence,[2] and there is speculation that he was not alone when he murdered Leigh.[3]

Leigh's murder received considerable attention in the media. Initially focusing on her sexual assault and murder, media attention later concentrated more on the lack of parental supervision, the drugs and alcohol at the party, and Leigh's sexuality. The media coverage of the murder has been cited as an example of victim blaming.[4][5] Leigh's murder inspired a theatrical play entitled A Property of the Clan, which was later revised and renamed Blackrock, as well as a feature film of the same name. The disparaging reactions to both the plays and the film were said to be as complex as the reactions to the murder itself.[6]

Night of the murder[edit]

Daytime view of beachside bungalow with iron fencing around it
The building where the party was held, pictured in 2014. After the murder it was disused before being turned into a childcare centre in the mid 1990s.[7]

Newcastle High School student Jason Robertson's 16th birthday party was held on 3 November 1989 at the North Stockton Surf Club, a formerly abandoned building which the Stockton Lions Club had taken over four years prior, thereupon leasing it for various functions.[8] Police estimated about 60 people attended the party,[9] though the figure was reported as high as 100 in the media.[10][11] The majority of the attendees were Year Ten students from Newcastle High School,[12] though it was reported that two 10-year-olds were present at one point.[13] Many of the participants were drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana[14] and some were having sex.[13] Fourteen-year-old Leigh had a written invitation to attend the party and permission from her mother to stay there until 11pm;[4] Leigh's mother was told there would be responsible adults present at the party.[15] Matthew Webster and Guy Wilson, who acted as bouncers, were the only people aged over 18 at the party.[16] Leigh was said to be very excited, as it was the first teenage party she had attended.[15] It is alleged Leigh and several other under-age girls were specifically invited to the party for the purpose of getting them intoxicated and having sex with them.[2] According to a police report, Webster approached another person at the party and stated "Hey dude, we're going to get Leigh pissed and all go through her."[13][17] Leigh was one of several under-age people whom an adult purchased alcohol for before the party.[17] She was reported to have gotten heavily intoxicated very quickly.[13] A 15-year-old boy, who for legal reasons could not be named and was accordingly referred to in official documentation as 'NC1', is quoted to have said "I'm going to go and fuck [Leigh]." Shortly afterwards Leigh went to the beach with NC1; witnesses stated Leigh was so intoxicated that he "had to almost carry her."[18]

A stretch of beach and sand dunes; sea is to the right of the picture
Stockton Beach as seen from the surf club facing north, the direction that Leigh headed after leaving the party

When Leigh returned from the beach she was bleeding between her legs, distressed, crying and seeking assistance.[2][19] Some people at the party reported trying to console Leigh and find out what had happened to her;[20] Leigh "asserted she had been raped"[21] replying "[NC1] fucked me"[18] "I hate him".[10] After witnessing Leigh's complaints, Webster is quoted as saying to a group of boys "she's a bit of a slut and why don't all of us have a go".[22] Nineteen-year-old Guy Wilson then approached Leigh, placed his arm around her and asked her for sex.[23] Wilson pushed Leigh to the ground when she refused, and was joined by Webster and around ten other boys who surrounded Leigh. They yelled abuse, kicked her, poured beer on her and spat both beer and saliva on her.[2][13][24] Several people witnessed the assault, yet nobody came to help her[13] or attempted to contact the police, her parents or other adults.[20] The assaults continued for approximately five minutes; when they stopped Leigh got up and staggered away before picking up an empty beer bottle and throwing it at the group of boys, missing them.[25] Guy Wilson threw a beer bottle back at her as she left, hitting her in the leg.[2][14] The group of boys followed her inside the crowded clubhouse where she sought refuge, and similar assaults continued.[26] Leigh was seen leaving the club and walking towards the beach at about 10:30pm.[27] Leigh's stepfather arrived at the party to pick Leigh up at 10:50pm. He and several of the party-goers searched for Leigh, but she could not be found. After repeated search attempts, Leigh's parents decided to wait for her to return home, assuming she had gone to a friend's house for the night.[28] Leigh's stepfather recommenced the search for Leigh the following morning, aided by several youths from the party. Her body was found in the sand dunes about 90 metres north of the surf club.[29] Leigh's invitation to attend the party was still in her pocket.[15]

Leigh was found naked except for her socks and shoes, with her knickers and shorts around her right ankle. She was on her back with her legs apart. Her bra, which had its securing hook bent, was found nearby, as was her shirt and jumper, which were intertwined, inside out and stained with liquor.[30] Saltbushes nearby had been flattened.[29] According to the police forensics report, a blood-stained rock weighing 5.6 kg (12 lb) was found next to her, and blood stains were found up to 2.8 metres (9.2 ft) from her body.[31]

Postmortem[edit]

The postmortem report stated Leigh's cause of death to be a fractured skull and injury to the brain.[30] Leigh had been struck with great force several times,[2] including at least 3 times in the head.[32] The postmortem also found that Leigh had asphyxial haemorrhages, and multiple injuries to the jaw, ribs, liver and right kidney. Leigh had neck fingertip pressure injuries, indicating she had been choked before she died, though this was not the cause of death. Leigh's blood alcohol reading was 0.128.[30] There was no doubt that Leigh was violently sexually assaulted before she was murdered,[29][33] and the evidence indicated that prior to the night of her murder she had been a virgin.[31] Leigh had deep bruising to the left wall of her vagina, extensive bruising to her hymen and two tears, one 20 millimetres (0.79 in) long, to her vulva.[34] An analysis of the post-mortem by Dr Johan Duflou stated that an inflexible object, such as a beer bottle, was likely to have caused the majority of the genital injuries.[2][35] No semen was found in her body.[13]

Investigation[edit]

Twenty detectives, led by Detective Sergeant Lance Chaffey,[13] were assigned to the case though the squad was reduced to fewer than 10 members several weeks later.[36] Police were said to be going through the painstaking task of cross-checking the stories of several dozen teenagers; by 5 November police had interviewed around 40 teenagers, stating they expected to interview around 20 more.[9] The three suspects who emerged early in the investigation were Matthew Webster, Guy Wilson and NC1.[37] In interviews on 5 November, NC1 admitted to having sex with Leigh, but stated it was consensual.[38] Wilson initially denied any wrongdoing, though in a later interview he admitted to pushing Leigh, pouring beer over her, spitting on her and throwing an empty beer bottle at her.[39] Webster admitted to pouring beer on Leigh, but denied sexually assaulting or killing her.[38] Webster originally told police he went to a pub after the party. In an interview eight days later, Webster changed his story to state that he had instead gone for a walk.[40] Webster also stated that two 14-year-old girls approached him and NC1 at the party, asking for some "hash", and that the two of them then went to obtain a small bag of the resin and exchanged it with the girls for $20.[41] Blood samples were taken from two suspects, with The Newcastle Herald reporting it was believed to be the first time DNA tests would be used in a Hunter Valley murder investigation.[42] Clothing samples were also taken from several suspects.[2]

Dr Kerry Carrington, a criminologist and prominent researcher of the murder, described the investigation as being "fuelled by mutual suspicion and by rumour and counter-rumour."[43] People who attended the party complained of living in fear of being the next rumoured killer;[44] Matthew Webster, Jason Robertson and two other boys appeared on the front page of The Newcastle Herald on November 8 with such complaints.[45][46] For a time the most popular rumour was that Leigh had been murdered by her step-father, Brad Shearman, and that he had been having sex with her for months. Detective Chaffey stated that police heard this rumour so many times they considered Shearman to be a suspect,[47] and that false information given to police resulted in the investigation being side-tracked.[48] The community of Stockton was said to have harboured suspicions about Shearman right until Webster was charged with murder.[47] On 16 November[49] Webster pleaded guilty to assaulting Leigh and to supplying Cannabis resin to a minor.[41] He was released on bail,[49] with his sentencing scheduled for 21 February 1990.[50] On 19 January Wilson pleaded guilty to assaulting Leigh; he was released on bail pending sentencing.[23] On 28 January, upon being taunted by four boys regarding the murder, Webster assaulted one of them.[51] On 31 January, Brad Shearman approached Guy Wilson in public, and punched him in the head three times after Wilson allegedly told him he would get Leigh's younger sister next. Shearman was charged and pleaded guilty to assault.[52]

Whilst he was still on bail[49] on 16 February 1990, Webster admitted to killing Leigh during his third interview with police. Webster stated he saw Leigh whilst he was looking for his stash of beers. According to Webster, they walked to the saltbushes together, where he pulled her clothes off and stuck a finger in her vagina. Webster stated he lost his temper when Leigh rebuffed him, choking her for a while before killing her with a rock.[2][53] After spending the weekend in a police cell,[50] Webster appeared in court on 19 February where he was refused bail.[49] On 21 March, whilst remanded in custody, Webster was fined $250 for offensive behaviour in relation to the 28 January assault.[51] On 17 July Shearman was given a 12-month good behaviour bond for the 31 January assault; the judge did not record a conviction, taking into consideration that he had been provoked into attacking Wilson.[52]

Convictions[edit]

NC1 was the first to be sentenced, pleading guilty to sex with someone under the age of consent[54] and receiving 6 months' custody in a detention centre on 28 February 1990,[55] the maximum possible sentence for a youth charged with that offence.[54] It is believed that prosecutors did not charge NC1 with rape as a conviction on such a charge would have been unlikely due to a lack of evidence; Leigh's complaints about the incident as reported by witnesses were hearsay and therefore inadmissible in court.[56] On 11 May[57] the sentence was reduced on appeal to 100 hours' community service.[2][16] In reducing his sentence the judge stated the evidence obliged him to find that the sex was consensual, and that it was better for NC1 to do something positive for the community rather than possibly being led further astray in custody.[57] Multiple sources state the judge reached the conclusion that the sex was consensual due to the inadequate manner in which evidence was presented to the court.[54][2] NC1's community service was supervised by the same church minister who buried Leigh.[55]

Guy Wilson was sentenced to 6 months' imprisonment on 19 March 1990 for assault.[58]

Charges were initially laid against Matthew Webster for sexual assault, though by the time the case went to trial they had been dropped without explanation.[59] It is believed that Webster was offered a plea bargain that would drop the lesser charges in exchange for his guilty plea for murder.[60] Webster pleaded guilty to Leigh's murder on 24 October 1990. Due to the guilty plea no witnesses were called for the trial; Detective Chaffey instead read a list of facts to the court.[13] Justice James Roland Wood sentenced him to a minimum of 14 years in prison with an additional 6 years during which he would be eligible for parole,[61] stating that a life sentence was inappropriate due to Webster's potential to be rehabilitated.[62] Wood found that Webster's motivation for killing Leigh was his fear she would report his sexual assault upon her.[12] Webster received an "extraordinary level of compassion" and support from the residents of Stockton;[63] five Stockton citizens volunteered to give character evidence at his trial, describing him as a quiet "gentle giant" from a good family.[64] Others expressed amazement as this description of Webster,[65] who was conversely known as "fat Matt, the thug of Stockton."[66] Webster served his sentence at Parklea Correctional Centre.[13]

Whilst acknowledging plea bargains such as the one Webster was likely offered are common, legal, and help avoid an expensive and time-consuming trial, The Australian Feminist Law Journal stated that accepting Webster's confession helped create a legal fiction that he unquestionably acted alone in both sexually assaulting and murdering Leigh,[60] also stating that the actual level of sexual violence that Leigh sustained was accordingly "all but erased" from the sentencing,[33] and that it appeared Justice Wood had only been given the limited information from the post-mortem report that would corroborate with Webster's confession.[67]

Webster was the first murderer in New South Wales to be sentenced under the "truth in sentencing" legislation,[68] which meant he could not be released under any circumstances before the end of his 14 year non-parole period; under the previous legislation a person of Webster's age would of likely been released after only nine years.[69] Webster appealed the length of his prison term to the New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal, though Justices Gleeson, Lee and Allen dismissed his case in July 1992,[70] stating that the crime was "so gross that nothing less of a very severe sentence would accord with the general moral sense of the community."[71]

Webster first applied for parole in February 2004. His application was denied on the grounds he needed to first undertake work release.[72] After completing a few months of work release,[72] Webster was released on parole on 10 June 2004 after serving 14½ years.[73] The conditions of his parole included that he would only be allowed to visit Newcastle or Stockton with permission from his probation and parole officer.[72] Webster's parole was discussed in the Parliament of New South Wales, with John Hatzistergos responding to queries and concluding that the option to supervise Webster's re-integration into society was better than the alternative of releasing him without supervision at the end of his sentence.[72] Following his release, Leigh's family stated they harboured "no ill thoughts" towards Webster and wished him well in the "re-establishment of his life".[11] Webster's parole was revoked in November 2004 after he was arrested for assault;[74] he pleaded not guilty on the grounds of self-defence.[75] He was released from prison in May 2005 after the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence.[76]

Media coverage[edit]

Leigh's death received widespread[16] and ongoing coverage in both the Sydney and Newcastle media, possibly due to a fascination with her homographic name;[70] Leigh was born with the surname Mears though this was changed when she was eight after her mother was in a relationship with a man whose last name was Leigh.[1] Between 1989 and 1994, The Newcastle Herald ran at least 39 stories on Leigh, 23 of them being featured on the front page.[77] At least 10 articles on the case were published in The Sydney Morning Herald during the same period.[78] Both the extended media coverage and the theatrical plays and film the murder inspired have contributed to it being referred to as a "celebrity crime",[68] and to Leigh being referred to as a "celebrity victim".[79]

Before Webster was arrested the media was said to be obsessed with finding something to blame for Leigh's death, other than her murderer.[47][4] After Webster's arrest the media continued to search for an outside agency that may have been responsible for the event.[80] From the beginning, however, media reports highlighted the lack of parental supervision at the party.[47] In sentencing Webster, Justice Wood made comments criticising the lack of parental supervision.[70] It was said that Wood's comments "might as well have been quoted from the very newspapers that were covering the crime";[80] his comments, in turn, were heavily reported in the media.[81] Webster's sentencing also received considerable media coverage, possibly due to his youth and the length of his sentence, as well as curiosity with the newfound "truth-in-sentencing" principles. His appeal regarding the length of his sentence received similar coverage.[82]

According to observations by Dr Kerry Carrington, media references to Leigh being sexually assaulted "almost completely disappeared" in less than a year, as did the references to her being assaulted by the group of boys. Carrington states the fact that NC1 was not charged with raping Leigh created a legal fiction that his sex with her was consensual,[22] and that the "unsustainable assumption" that Leigh consented to sex was the turning point in her being blamed for her own assault and murder;[83] on the grounds she was sexually promiscuous Leigh had somehow "asked for [the attack]".[2] In addition to sexual promiscuity and the lack of parental supervision, Carrington states that media attention also shifted to the presence of drugs and alcohol at the party;[84] the Sydney Law Review credits media attention on these factors as taking attention away from the abuse that Leigh suffered before she died.[5] Leigh being referred to as a "slut" in a psychological report that was made on Webster in preparation for his trial, also became a topic of focus for the media.

Webster attacked Leigh, not so much because she would not let him have sex with her but because she became the living proof that even a slut, a property of the clan, thought he was not good enough to have sex with.

—Psychological report on Matthew Webster

Carrington accused the media of completely missing the point that the report was not the feelings of the psychiatrist, rather it was the psychiatrist's interpretation of Webster's feelings.[85] She also considered Mark Riley's extended coverage of the case, which she described at one point as "journalistic voyeurism",[86] to be the most profound case of shifting the blame from the assailants to Leigh herself.[87] One of Riley's articles in particular was said to insinuate the fact Leigh's parents had discussed sex with her, as well as her looks and physical development, had contributed to her murder; at the same time he portrayed Webster as a symbol of innocence.[88] The Sydney Law Review also criticised the article, stating it "disturbingly (...) married parental blame with the well-documented notion that the rape victim herself is presumably to blame for her attack."[80] Several writers, including Eva Cox and Adele Horin, rejected the concept that Leigh was in any way responsible for her sexual assault and murder, instead defending her as an innocent victim.[5]

The media coverage of the murder has been cited as part of a wider culture of victim blaming.[4][89]

Criticism of police[edit]

Police were criticised over their handling of the investigation[68] for various reasons, including the failure to quickly identify perpetrators.[90] It took police over three months to press charges against Webster, despite the fact that after interviewing him 10 days after the crime they had already established that he had lied about his whereabouts, had publicly stated his intention to rape Leigh, and had the opportunity to commit the crime.[40] Police were also criticised for incorrectly reporting to the media that Leigh's body was found 200 metres from the surf club, when it was actually less than 100. This incorrect assertion has been credited with disassociating the murder from the assaults at the party, potentially influencing and distorting witness evidence.[91]

Criticism was also raised regarding the number of convictions.[15] Despite several people admitting to police that they physically attacked Leigh at the party,[2] only Guy Wilson was charged with assault, and the adult who admitted to supplying her with alcohol prior to the party was also never charged.[92] NC1 admitted to having sex with another under-age girl at the party, though he was not charged for it.[2][15] With the exception of the charges against Webster that were dropped without explanation,[59] nobody was ever charged with raping or sexually assaulting Leigh,[70][92] even though there was graphic forensic evidence of genital injuries.[92] When Detective Chaffey informed Leigh's mother that he had arrested Webster, she responded enquiring as to why others were not being charged. Chaffey is quoted as replying "do you know how much it costs to run an investigation?"[2]

Forensic testing[edit]

Whilst police took blood and clothing samples from suspects, including the shirt Guy Wilson was wearing on the night of the murder which he admitted had a blood stain on it,[93] whether any DNA tests were actually carried out is unknown.[2] Speculation has been raised that the reports of evidence being sent for testing may have simply been a fabrication to obtain a confession.[94] Leigh's grandmother reportedly called Scotland Yard, where the suspects' clothing was said to have been sent to, to enquire about the results. Scotland Yard would not give any details regarding specific results but confirmed that they had not received anything from Australia for forensic testing in the relevant timespan.[94]

The only record of forensic testing that has been uncovered is an acknowledgement of four items being sent for testing: three items of Leigh's clothing, and the blood-stained rock found near her body. The acknowledgement, however, indicates that other items were specifically not sent for testing. Results from the apparent tests were never made available, nor was information on why the other items were not sent.[95] According to Dr Kerry Carrington, four years after the investigation a detective involved in the case told her that none of the samples taken from suspects were tested.[38] Samples taken from Webster were not used in his prosecution.[38] Professor Harry Boettcher, a forensic scientist, has stated that if police did not actually test the samples it would be "professional negligence – indefensible".[95]

In 2009 a solicitor who acted on behalf of Leigh's family stated that given the advances in DNA testing technology, it was time to re-examine the evidence.[96]

Possibility of accomplices[edit]

Several factors have led to speculation that Webster was not alone when he killed Leigh.[3] According to the transcript of Webster's confession, he was never asked if he acted alone.[53]

Dr Carrington accused police of accepting Webster's confession at face-value, ignoring both forensic and witness evidence.[97] Her investigations noticed several discrepancies in Webster's confession and the forensic evidence. Webster specifically stated in his confession that he choked Leigh with his left hand as he knelt beside her,[32] though according to the autopsy report, the bruises on Leigh's neck were consistent with being choked with a right hand.[97] Other factors in Webster's story that Carrington questioned are his statement that he walked along lit streets to the other side of the Stockton peninsula to wash his blood-stained hands, when he could have washed his hands in total darkness at the beach less than 100 metres away,[35] and the fact that he stated he had blood on his hands but none on his clothes, despite that Leigh was struck so hard blood was splattered 2.8 metres one way from her body and 1.3 metres the other way.[32] Webster stated that he walked to the beach with Leigh, though according to police reports four witnesses stated she walked to the beach alone; two witnesses stated they saw Webster and Guy Wilson leave the surf club together.[98] Neither NC1 nor Guy Wilson had a reliable alibi for their whereabouts at the time of the murder;[99] Wilson told police he was alone on the beach when Leigh walked past him as she left the club, minutes before she was murdered.[100] Webster's statement that he only penetrated Leigh with his finger has been considered by multiple sources to be inconsistent with the autopsy findings of genital trauma,[35][33] and it is also inconsistent with NC1's account that his sex with her was consensual.[54] In reviewing the autopsy, Professor Harry Boettcher stated that the numerous blows which killed Leigh came from multiple directions, and were probably inflicted with different items, indicating the possibility of more than one perpetrator.[2][29] Dr Carrington speculated that Leigh was assaulted by the group of boys after returning from the beach as punishment for complaining about being raped, and was murdered by Webster and two others because they were afraid she would tell other people. She refused to specifically name the two other suspects for fear of legal repercussions, though clarified that one sexually assaulted Leigh earlier in the night, and the other likely sexually assaulted her with a beer bottle before she died as punishment for publicly refusing to have sex with him.[101] Webster spoke to the media about the murder for the first time in 1997, and insisted that he acted alone in killing Leigh.[13]

Aftermath[edit]

Leigh's mother, Robyn, began a campaign for the case to be officially re-investigated in 1990 after she was told that nobody was going to be charged with Leigh's sexual assault.[102] A victim's compensation case originally awarded Leigh's mother and sister a combined total of $29,214 in May 1993.[103]

In August 1994, Dr Kerry Carrington sent a 17,000-word document and 300 pages of evidence to the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service, asking for the case to be investigated.[104] The Commission was headed by Judge James Roland Wood, the same judge who sentenced Webster, though it was assured that Wood's involvement in Webster's trial would not affect the outcome of any investigation.[105] In December 1994, a representative for the Commission stated that after thorough consideration, they would not be investigating the matter.[104]

An appeal, aided by Dr Carrington's research, was lodged against the original victim's compensation payout.[68] In May 1995 Judge Joseph Moore approved the appeal, awarding Leigh's mother and sister an additional total of $134,048[103] in a landmark legal decision.[106] Moore stated the evidence indicated that Leigh rejected NC1's sexual advances, and that his intercourse with her was without her consent.[2] He also acknowledged that whoever sexually assaulted Leigh had never been brought to justice, and the lack of convictions for assault,[107] specifically naming Jason Robertson and three other boys as those who assaulted her in addition to Webster and Wilson.[108]

Leigh's mother abandoned her efforts to have the case re-opened in 1997,[102] citing "exhaustion and survival".[13][16]

NSW Crime Commission[edit]

In October 1996, Police Minister Paul Whelan made an announcement in the Parliament of New South Wales, stating that the murder would be reviewed by the New South Wales Crime Commission. Acknowledging that nobody had ever been charged with Leigh's sexual assault, Whelan stated the upcoming review was "our one opportunity to right the terrible wrongs that occurred on the night that Leigh died."[15]

In March 1998 the Crime Commission released its findings, concluding that the crimes that resulted in convictions occurred substantially in the way described to the courts, that no further charges would be laid as Webster had acted alone in both the murder and the assault that immediately preceded it, and that police had not acted inappropriately in their decision to not charge other persons.[18] It did, however, criticise some police procedures and practices.[3] The review did not comment on the discrepancies between Webster's confession and the forensic evidence, and it did not clarify whether forensic evidence was ever sent for testing. A representative for the Commission refused to comment on whether Guy Wilson's blood-stained shirt was ever tested.[109] One expert opinion obtained by the Commission stated that it was "likely [Webster] engaged in sexual behaviour which demeaned Leigh and to which he will never admit because he is ashamed and embarrassed", and another stated that a finger or penis was unlikely to have caused Leigh's severe genital damage.[33] An article in The Australian Feminist Law Journal stated that these expert opinions, which contradict Webster's confession, raised questions on how the Commission concluded that Leigh's sexual assault occurred in the manner to which he confessed,[33] also raising doubts about several of the Commission's other findings.[110] The Crime Commission released one of their two reports on the matter; their second unpublished report was referred to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) for investigation.[111]

Police Integrity Commission[edit]

Twenty-six people, mainly police officers, were interviewed in 1998 as part of the subsequent PIC inquiry.[112] Several witnesses from the party, as well as Webster, Wilson and NC1 were also questioned. The inquiry heard allegations that police assaulted four people during interviews: Webster, Wilson, NC1 and another unnamed suspect referred to as NC5, a relative of Matthew Webster[113] who was 17 at the time of the murder.[114] Whilst admitting to the inquiry that he killed Leigh and insisting that he was alone in doing so,[115] Webster stated that police repeatedly punched and kicked him when he refused to confess to her murder.[116] Police were also accused of falsifying reports and with-holding evidence;[117] one of the officers being investigated had his police locker raided by internal affairs, who discovered several records on the murder that had previously been listed as missing.[118] Dr Kerry Carrington was also summoned to give evidence, though she was not informed as to why. Carrington's book, Who Killed Leigh Leigh, which criticised police over their handling of the investigation, had been released earlier that year.[119] Carrington was cross-examined for 3 days, sufficiently longer than any of the police officers who were questioned, in what was described as "an inquisition on just about every word she had spoken [or] written" in relation to Leigh's murder.[120] The Australian Feminist Law Journal accused the PIC of summoning Carrington for the sole purpose of attacking her credibility on issues they had no intention of investigating;[120] to discredit someone who had attracted considerable media attention for criticising police.[121]

The PIC released their review in October 2000.[3] The review recommended the dismissal of Detective Sergeant Lance Chaffey[3][90] for "gross dereliction" of duty, also recommending criminal charges against five other investigative officers.[3][122] The review stated that Webster was falsely arrested, as police arrested him for the purpose of questioning which they did not have the power to do,[122] and that it was likely he was assaulted by police whilst he was in custody.[3] Police received further criticism after it was uncovered they interviewed NC1 without contacting his parents, and for not asking him a single question about Leigh's murder, questioning him solely about his intercourse with her.[123] Following the review, Chaffey retired "a little earlier than [he] intended", but dismissed the review's findings, stating he was proud of his team's performance.[13] In October 2001, the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to press criminal charges against any of the officers, on the grounds they had suffered emotional hardship and their careers had already been destroyed.[124] The case, which was described as "one of the longest ever investigations into police conduct in New South Wales",[3] prompted changes in the New South Wales Police Force, including the reform of record-keeping procedures.[125]

Theatrical and film adaptations[edit]

Newcastle's Freewheels Theatre commissioned Nick Enright to produce a play that explored themes around the rape and murder.[68][126] Entitled A Property of the Clan, it premiered at the Freewheels Theatre in Newcastle in 1992, and was performed at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in 1993.[90] The title was taken from the controversial quote in the psychological report that was made on Webster in preparation for his trial.[85][127] Enright deliberately omitted the criminal acts and the murder from the play, instead focusing on the drama, its participants and the aftermath of the murder.[128] The play was shown at various high schools in the Newcastle area, and following its positive reception, was shown nationally at high schools across the country, winning several awards. However, Newcastle High School, where both Leigh and Webster had been students, declined to book the play.[16] The play is set in the fictional town of Blackrock, and the rape and murder victim is named Tracy.[90] Leigh's family requested that the name be changed, as 'Tracey' was the name of Leigh's cousin and best friend, however, the name remained even after the play was retitled Blackrock, despite other revisions to the script.[128][129] Blackrock was performed by the Sydney Theatre Company in 1995 and 1996.[90]

Rear of a ferry boat with jetty to its left. Boat has "Shortland" and "Newcastle" on the back
The Stockton Ferry, where several scenes from Blackrock were filmed[129]

Blackrock was developed into a film of the same name, which was partially filmed in Stockton and released in 1997.[16] The community of Stockton opposed filming in the area, stating the memories of the events were still fresh and the details of the script were "too close for comfort".[16] When filmmakers arrived in Stockton, locations that had previously been reserved were suddenly no longer available, and the local media treated them with hostility.[16] Complaints about Blackrock were exacerbated by the filmmaker's denial that it was specifically about Leigh, despite the choice of Stockton for filming.[90] Leigh's family were opposed to the film, saying the filmmakers were "feasting on an unfortunate situation" and portraying Leigh negatively.[16] The film received mixed to positive reception in Australia, but performed poorly when shown elsewhere; it was said that without background knowledge of Leigh's murder, it seemed "shallow and clichéd."[16] The play and film were, however, credited with correcting some misinformation reported in the media regarding the murder, as well as to providing a forum for reflection on the events.[90] The mixed public reactions to the play and the film were said to be as complex and controversial as the public sentiments aroused by the actual crime.[6]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b Carrington 1998, p. 125.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Sticks and Stones: The Killing of Leigh Leigh". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 29 September 1996. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "NSW releases findings of police misconduct inquiry". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 18 October 2000. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Carrington 1998, p. 131.
  5. ^ a b c Morrow 1996, p. 480.
  6. ^ a b Carrington 1998, p. 157.
  7. ^ Carrington 1998, p. 148.
  8. ^ Riley, Mark (6 November 1989). "Boy distraught after finding young friend's body". The Newcastle Herald. p. 2. 
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