Last week Denis Tanner, former Victoria Police sergeant, applied to the Coroner’s Court for the purpose of seeking a review of the finding made against him in 1998 by then Coroner Graeme Johnston that Denis Tanner shot and killed his sister-in-law Jennifer Tanner in a lonely country farmhouse in 1984. Jennifer died from injuries caused by two bullets in her brain and was buried as a suicide only 60 hours after her body was found late at night by her husband, Laurie (Denis’s brother). The Tanner family has always supported the suicide theory. I wrote a book, Blind Justice, in 1998, that did not.
Now here we are in 2012, 28 years after Jenny died and 14 years after the second inquest into Jenny’s death. As I often (but not originally) say, the wheels of the law turn slowly.
Denis Tanner is seeking a review via a tortuous path he has followed since that fateful night in 1984, through the intricacies of the legal system. The first inquest in 1985 delivered an open finding. Police pretty well dropped the investigation immediately. In 1998, at a second inquest, Coroner Graeme Johnston was in breach of the Coroner’s Act 1985 when he named Tanner as Jenny’s killer.
See Section 19 (3) http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/0904_coroner.pdf, which says a coroner may not name a person he/she thinks guilty of an offence.
The insertion of this clause, or a clause similar to it in other legal followers of the English justice system, came about because of the finding at an inquest in the UK which decided the guilt of Lord Lucan, who was alleged to have bludgeoned to death his children’s nanny with a piece of lead piping in the basement of his posh house in Berkeley Square in London.
Although there was no evidence, speculation was rife that in the dark, Lucan had mistaken the slim figure of the nanny for his wife, whom, when she later returned home, he also bashed, without killing her. She escaped and, covered in blood, raised the alarm. An arrest warrant for Lucan was issued, but he had vanished.
He was named as the murderer of the dead nanny at the 1975 inquest into her death at Westminster Coroner’s Court. This finding, which named him as the guilty party without the benefit of a trial and deliberation by a jury, made Lucan disinclined to ever show his face again and he remains missing to this day! Probably dead by now, if not earlier. Obviously, a coroner naming a person as being guilty of murder, on the evidence he had heard in his court, which is much less stringent than trial evidence, could be considered a miscarriage of justice. People assume the Coroner must know what he’s talking about, believe the subsequent trial by media, etc.
For example the Daily Telegraph in UK ‘The gambling earl who murdered his children’s nanny’. No trial, just speculation.
The Lucan case is fascinating and you can look at it on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/9090249/Lord-Lucan-the-gambling-earl-who-murdered-his-childrens-nanny.html
So, getting back to the Tanner situation, Section 19 (3) was added to our then ‘new’ Act in 1985 and apparently ignored by the Coroner in 1998.
Tanner faced his own round of media headlines then and since, such as front page, ‘HE SHOT HER’ in bold 6cm type following the finding, which did nothing for Tanner’s reputation, already in tatters from speculative media stories. You can read more about this in my book Rough Justice downloadable from my website, or from http://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/87382/20/rough-justice-2nd-edition.
I spoke to Denis this week about his new application. He will know in 60 days if Chief Coroner Judge Jennifer Coate will grant his application. His return to the Coroner’s Court was necessitated because he had been just about to have his application heard in the Supreme Court when a new Coroner’s Act (2008) was introduced. He’s convinced the government of the day deliberately gazumped him and that the new Act was written with him in mind. It’s taken him 4 more years to get to this position last week. As I said, the wheels of the law . . .
Anyway, now he’s back again, still trying to clear his name, this time championed by very emminent barrister Robert Galbally, not to be confused with his cousin Frank or AFL player Bob.
(Denis’s former pugnacious barrister, Joe Gullaci, is now a judge, which kinda rules him out!)
Mr Galbally told the coroner that his client did not dispute the findings that Jennifer Tanner was shot and did not commit suicide.
He said that the finding that his client contributed to the death was, however, in dispute. This is a new position for Denis, which is interesting. Most people close to the case know that I’ve always told Denis I believe he did not kill Jenny, but that perhaps his subsequent actions, deliberate or accidental, assisted the outcome of the poor police investigation into the circumstances of Jenny’s death.
Mr Galbally said last week that a coroner’s findings could be set aside only if there is new evidence and if it is deemed “appropriate”, a term that is not defined in the Coroner’s Act. That should give Judge Coate some food for thought!
In addition, there were new witnesses who could alibi Denis Tanner for the night in question. (Given that the cops only consider three alibis airtight – hospital, jail or the morgue – this should be interesting!) These witnesses have waited a long time to come forward, but hey, look at the recently revised history of the Chamberlain case. One of the new witnesses remembers Denis ‘helping him into a taxi because he was feeling sick that night’, (Denis is that kind of guy, although no one believes it!), so who knows how Judge Coate will view this new application?
Watch this space.