Doin’ a little jail time

My youngest daughter is competing in the National Skipping Championships at Homebush this weekend, just moments from where from my old school friend Kathleen Folbigg is incarcerated at Mulawa Detention Centre.

So I decided it was a great opportunity to pay Kathy a visit, especially after fellow friends had told me she was feeling a bit knocked around by the NSW government’s endless delays in responding to her judicial review.

According to the State Library of NSW “Kathleen Folbigg was found guilty of the murder of her four babies. Folbigg, aged 36, was found guilty of killing Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura, who were aged between 19 days and 19 months. The first killing occurred in 1989 and the last in 1999. Two of the deaths were attributed to sudden infant death syndrome, one to an epileptic fit and another cause of death was undetermined. Justice Barr sentenced Folbigg to 40 years, with a non-parole period of 30 years.

“Folbigg successfully appealed against the length of sentence, having it reduced to 30 years with a non-parole period of 25 years.”

And that’s where things languished until three years ago, when a ray of hope arrived in the form of a group of barristers who wanted to re-explore her case.

After two years of painstakingly reviewing her case, Newcastle barristers Robert Cavanagh, Nicholas Moir and Isabel Reed, together with University of Newcastle Legal Centre director Shaun McCarthy, sent a petition to NSW Governor David Hurley a year ago seeking a judicial review of Kathy’s conviction. They are convinced that after spending 13 years in jail for killing her children, there is an “overwhelming weight” of forensic pathology evidence that her children all died of either natural causes or SIDS.

In the petition, internationally respected Monash University Professor of Forensic Pathology Stephen Cordner notes: “If the convictions in this case are to stand, I want to clearly state there is no pathological or medical basis for concluding homicide.

“It seems not to have been explicitly stated in the trial, but there is no forensic pathology evidence, no signs in or on the bodies to positively suggest that the Folbigg children were smothered or killed by any means.”

Much weight was placed on Kathy’s diary entries about her children, which were offered as evidence of her guilt. But a respected clinical psychologist says the words are consistent with the thoughts and feelings of mothers whose children have died and maternal grief reactions.

But it’s been hard to stay positive in the face of so many government officials dragging their feet for more than a year. The Crown Advocate couldn’t devote enough time to it, so another had to be appointed. The Crown Solicitor had to pass it on because it was “too big for us to do it.” The Governor referred it to the Attorney General for advice. And now, due to the “complexities” cannot advise of a date for a response.

Every few months, someone in the NSW government or judicial system passes the buck. No one wants to face the hot potato that is the petition about her case.

All the Crown Solicitor’s office will say is: “We have pulled in more people to work on this and everyone is working as hard as they can but we must be thorough. I am mindful of how long this has taken and I have cleared as much of my other work as possible so I can devote time to this.”

Aside from being upset about the delays in responding to her review, Kathy was also feeling a little wobbly yesterday about her son’s 25th birthday having just passed. She was dealing with the confronting realisation that all her kids would be adults now if they were still alive.

She told me how much she hates Mother’s Day each year and the loss it symbolises.

It was an emotional few hours we spent together. I felt drained as I walked out the prison gates and drove five minutes to a sporting venue filled with music and laughing children.

I think officials lose sight of the fact that it’s a human being’s life and mental health at stake. None of them have spent time in jail. If they had they would have some concept of how soul-destroying the open-endedness of their considerations feel to someone who has been locked in a concrete room for 16 or more hours a day, 365 days a year, for 13 years.

And so we wait. And wait. And wait.

All the power is in their hands. We have none.

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