There seems to be no end to the violence, threats and witness intimidation that have marred the notorious Roseanne Catt case. Wendy Bacon reports.
WHEN Wingham grazier Patricia Roy returned home last Saturday, she found her dog hanging dead from a chain, and tapes and legal documents missing. She immediately assumed the attack was because she was going to give evidence at the inquiry into the wrongful conviction in 1991 of Roseanne Catt. Back then, Roseanne had been found guilty of stabbing, poisoning, assaulting and plotting to murder her ex-husband, Taree motor mechanic Barry Catt, and of possession of a pistol.
Roy told a District Court inquiry this week that she had taped telephone conversations with Barry in 2000 and 2001 because she feared he would kill her after she rejected his approaches. Some of the tapes are now being transcribed for the inquiry.
Last weekend's attack on Roy is the latest in a stream of allegations of threats and violence during the six-week hearing. Roseanne Catt's legal team will argue that the intimidation helps prove that her eight convictions were the result of a conspiracy. That conspiracy is claimed to involve three men who were both friends and key prosecution witnesses at her trial: Barry Catt, who married Roseanne in 1987; a former NSW detective, Peter Thomas, who first clashed with Roseanne Catt when he unsuccessfully prosecuted her for burning down her delicatessen in 1985; and a retired automotive engineer, Adrian Newell, who played a major role in putting together the Crown evidence.
Roseanne served 10 years of a 12-year sentence. She was released, and the case re-opened, after Queensland loss assessor Peter Caesar swore in 2001 that Thomas, who had worked in the Queensland insurance industry after leaving the NSW police, had told him he had planted the gun allegedly found in Roseanne's house. Caesar told the inquiry Thomas had not only said on numerous occasions that the gun had been planted but that it hadbeen decisive in persuading the jury that Roseanne was guilty of seven other offences.
Caesar told the inquiry of a clash between a female office worker and Thomas in the early '90s where Thomas threatened to "do her in". Caesar said he had fallen out with Thomas after Thomas had got drunk and attacked him. Caesar testified that Thomas had subsequently threatened to have police "raid my office and rain, hail or shine he would get me". Thomas later arranged for Caesar to be charged with fraud but the charges were dismissed. Thomas denied Caesar's allegations.
THE case against Roseanne relied on claims that she had fabricated evidence of assaults by her husband and had manipulated police and doctors into scheduling him to a psychiatric hospital three times and prescribing lithium for him. However, the inquiry's acting judge, Thomas Davidson, has admitted evidence of seven apprehended violence orders (AVOs) against Barry since 1991, including one taken out by his sister, Mary Warwick.
Patricia Roy told the inquiry that Barry had hit her with an iron bar, broken her nose, made hundreds of abusive phone calls and had stalked her over a two-year period after she rebuffed his interest in her. She applied for an AVO against him in November 2002. Barry Catt described Roy as a Judas who was fabricating evidence against him.
Judge Davidson said Roy "should be granted some police protection. We can't have citizens treated like this … it should be followed up professionally and comprehensively. It is not simply a question of witness protection. It's a question of police doing their job."
Another witness, a Taree invalid pensioner, Graham Fellows, testified that Barry Catt had arranged to have him given a severe kicking and that Catt had asked him to get him a revolver so he could shoot Roseanne while she was in prison.
Another former Taree resident, David Knowles, said he had taken out a five-year AVO against Barry Catt and fled Taree after Catt said he would "grind him into the ground as he had ground Roseanne". Knowles believed Barry Catt and another man had set fire to a caravan in which his son usually slept. Catt denied this.
ONE of the issues confronting Roseanne Catt's team at the inquiry is that 20 Taree residents had given evidence at her trial that assisted the Crown case, including that Roseanne had suggested she would harm or kill her husband. Two important witnesses who had supported Roseanne in allegations against her husband before her arrest had subsequently changed their evidence after being interviewed in a deserted house by Thomas and his partner, Detective Carl Paget. Paget has denied intimidating witnesses.
But the inquiry has heard evidence that Thomas threatened witnesses at the time of the 1991 case. Roseanne's sister, Joy, and daughter, Julie, have testified that Thomas had verbally threatened them while they were attending court. Thomas has denied the threats.
The inquiry has also heard that NSW police internal affairs officers had found that Thomas had intimidated witnesses in the Catt case and coerced a witness in another case. Thomas left the force before he could be charged. However, Thomas told the inquiry he knew nothing of those allegations or findings by internal affairs that he wrongfully removed property from Roseanne Catt's house when hearrested her.
In other testimony, a Queensland natural therapist, Gina Hart, gave evidence that in 1998 Thomas, then working for an insurance company, had offered her $10,000 to give false evidence against her former employer in an arson case. Another witness said that Thomas had told her she could live in comfort if she would give evidence that her husband torched his hotel.
The Crown prosecutor, Wayne Roser, objected to most of the new evidence as irrelevant. But Judge Davidson said his inquiry had to consider the broader issue of possible abuses of process in the Catt case. For example, Roser questioned the relevance of an alleged break-in at the home of Roseanne Catt's son, where witnesses saw Barry Catt loading her property into his car. Judge Davidson, however, found the evidence relevant to the "breakdown in law and order" which he said was an important part of the defence case.
The judge later complained that his inquiry had been "beset with allegations of interference with witnesses". Earlier in the inquiry, he had asked the Director for Public Prosecutions to consider charging Thomas with perjury for evidence to the inquiry about a meeting Thomas had had with a journalist.
On Thursday, the judge asked the Registrar of the Supreme Court to consider whether a Crown witness, Adrian Newell, should be charged with contempt for contacting Barry Catt's daughter, Sharon Catt, while she was giving evidence. Newell had been expressly ordered not to contact witnesses.
Sharon Catt is one of the Crown's most important witnesses. In 1991 she had given evidence for Roseanne Catt and at the end of the trial had publicly declared that her stepmother was the only person who had cared for her and that she would stick by her until she was cleared.
But in 1993, just before Roseanne's appeal, Sharon Catt, her two brothers and a sister all withdrew allegations of sexual assault against her father, though Sharon still maintained he had "fondled" her. At the inquiry, Sharon has made a dramatic reversal, passionately insisting that Roseanne Catt had "coached and coached" her to make false allegations against her father, who she now says had only ever hit her as a "normal father" would.
She was asked about a call from Adrian Newell earlier on the very day she was giving evidence. Sharon said she had taken the opportunity to discuss with him confusion about her evidence, particularly the "fondling". Recalled to the witness box, Newell denied the conversation had taken place.
Justice Davidson said Newell's phone call was "deliberate" and was relevant to the broader issue of whether three people (Newell, Barry Catt and Thomas) had manipulated evidence and the processes of justice to bring about the wrongful conviction of Roseanne Catt. "These matters continue as live issues before me."
The inquiry has been adjourned for several weeks, after which there will be a last opportunity for each side to call further evidence.
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald., Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday March 22, 2003, Wendy Bacon