By Wendy Bacon and Jeanavive McGregor, SMH 2007
A WITNESS has accused the NSW Attorney-General's Department and police of being "cowards" and covering up her confession that she gave false evidence against Roseanne Catt, the woman jailed for conspiring to murder her husband but freed after claims that police tried to frame her.
In February a Shellharbour chef, Tracy Taylor, signed an affidavit stating that evidence she gave in Ms Catt's 1991 trial was based on a statement that "was not mine. I was terrified … I feared for my life and my baby's life".
Ms Catt was convicted in 1991 of attempted poisoning, conspiracy to murder and other offences against her former husband, Taree mechanic Barry Catt. She served 10 years of a 12-year sentence but was released after the Attorney-General asked the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal to examine fresh evidence that a NSW detective planted a gun on her.
In 2005, the appeal court quashed six of eight convictions against Ms Catt.
In February Ms Catt forwarded Ms Taylor's affidavit to the then attorney-general, Bob Debus, with an application that the case of her remaining two convictions on charges of malicious injury and assault be reopened. But last month Ms Catt received a letter from the current Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, which stated that "after considering all the available material and the advice of the Crown Advocate, the Attorney-General reached the view that the affidavit of Ms Taylor does not create a feeling of unease or disquiet about your remaining convictions".
Ms Taylor worked at Ms Catt's Taree delicatessen after she left school in Taree. She remained close to Ms Catt until she moved to Ingham in Queensland in 1988, the year before Ms Catt was arrested. Apart from appearing at the trial, she had no further contact with Ms Catt until a chance meeting last year when Ms Catt visited the restaurant where she worked in Shellharbour. It was then that Ms Taylor heard for the first time of the inquiry into Ms Catt's case.
She told the Herald she would have been prepared to give evidence at the 2004 inquiry but was never contacted by Crown lawyers.
In her affidavit, Ms Taylor said police arrived at her home in Ingham in 1990 and threatened to charge her with conspiracy to murder Mr Catt.
"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."
Ms Taylor told the Herald: "It took a lot of courage to come forward. I feel like I am left sitting on a time bomb."
After the Herald revealed her affidavit, Ms Taylor received harassing phone calls and was forced to have a lock placed on her phone. She has not been interviewed by any NSW official about her statement.
"I just don't think that anybody wants to have the responsibility or the worry. I reckon they are all cowards," she said.
Ms Catt said: "The response was typical of the Attorney-General's Department. They have at no time any consideration or empathy towards me or my situation."
Ms Taylor says she has no doubt other witnesses were pressured. "As soon as you said, 'That can't be right and that is rubbish', you were coerced and you were hounded and threatened. I only know what happened to me and I know that other people would have been hounded and harassed the same way, because they wanted what they wanted back then and there was no one to stop them."
According to the lawyer Bob Moles, whose organisation Networked Knowledge investigates miscarriages of justice and supports Ms Catt's campaign against her two remaining convictions, Ms Taylor's fresh evidence "makes an overwhelming case even stronger".
Dr Moles said: "It clearly has been difficult for Ms Taylor to come forward as a witness to the influences she was subject to. Those actions clearly constituted serious criminal conduct and an attempt to pervert the course of justice. They amount to very serious allegations. The failure to follow up on them amounts to a serious failure of the justice system in NSW."
Ms Catt is considering an appeal to the High Court of Australia. "It is all about cover-up and protecting their buddies," she said. "They do not want to pay compensation."