A witness has revealed she gave false evidence under threat of being charged with a murder conspiracy. Wendy Bacon reports.
ON AUGUST 10 last year, the NSW Labor member for Illawarra, Marianne Saliba, met her constituent Roseanne Catt, who is campaigning for compensation for the 10 years she spent in jail for conspiracy to murder her husband and other offences, which were quashed in 2005.
At Ms Saliba's suggestion, they met at Cafe J in Shellharbour. As they were talking, Ms Saliba saw a woman approach and tap Ms Catt on the shoulder. "Mum, I thought I would never find you again," the woman cried as she hugged Ms Catt. The woman was the cafe's chef, Tracy Taylor.
Ms Taylor later told the Herald she was overjoyed to see Ms Catt, whom she had called "Mum" as her own mother died when she was five. "Roseanne gave me a job and taught me to cook when I left school," she said. At that time they both lived in Taree.
But Ms Taylor was afraid Ms Catt would not talk to her now, because they had not met since Ms Taylor gave evidence for the Crown in the 1991 trial in which Ms Catt was convicted of attempted poisoning, conspiracy to murder and other offences against her former husband, the Taree mechanic Barry Catt. Ms Taylor later told the Herald about the circumstances in which she gave her evidence, and in December she signed an affidavit, which Ms Catt has forwarded to the Attorney-General, Bob Debus.
It states: "Parts of the evidence I gave at the trial are not truthful. I went along with the police because I was frightened. I am very sorry for any harm that was caused but I had no one to help or advise me."
At the time of Ms Catt's arrest in 1989, Ms Taylor, then 24, had moved to Queensland. The first she knew of it was when two detectives arrived at her home at Ingham in 1990 and took her to the police station. "They said I was a prostitute and that Roseanne was the madam and that I was the one who kept the guns," her statement says. "I said I knew nothing about guns. I had never seen Roseanne with a gun. They also said I was going to be charged with conspiring to murder Barry Catt."
She adds: "I was threatened into signing a statement that was not mine. I was terrified I feared for my life and my baby's life."
Like many other witnesses, her evidence was not a major part of the case but supported the Crown contention that Ms Catt had tried to poison Mr Catt. She says her false evidence included that Ms Catt had encouraged her to baffle and confuse Barry Catt into making admissions of sexual abuse.
In his 2004 report to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, the Acting District Court judge Tom Davidson found a detective and others may have framed Ms Catt on the attempted poisoning charge. This conviction was among six of eight quashed.
Sending Ms Taylor's affidavit to Mr Debus on February 1, Ms Catt wrote: "This is compelling fresh evidence that there has been a grave miscarriage of justice, where witnesses were forced to give false evidence."
Last week the Herald asked Mr Debus what action he proposed to take. He is yet to reply.
Ms Taylor said when she met Ms Catt at the cafe, she knew nothing of what had happened, including the quashing of her convictions. Had the Crown contacted her, she would have been prepared to give evidence for Ms Catt at the appeal.
Last October Ms Saliba told Parliament of the dramatic meeting between the women. She called for authorities to compensate Ms Catt for the "horrific injustice".
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald.