The 2017 Limina Conference Public Lecture
Challenging justice – changing lives
A public lecture by Estelle Blackburn OAM
It is generally agreed that 1% of the prison population are innocent inmates who are the victims of injustice. This presentation will detail two wrongful convictions in 1961 and 1963 and how a Perth journalist with no legal training could succeed in gaining the innocent men’s exonerations 40 years later, winning against the odds after they had lost seven combined appeals in the 60s.
When John Button’s manslaughter conviction was quashed by the WA Court of Criminal Appeal in 2002, and Darryl Beamish’s wilful murder conviction was quashed in 2005, they were the longest standing convictions to be overturned in Australia.
As well as the exonerations, the work corrected Perth’s history. Eric Edgar Cooke, the perpetrator of the two murders and the last person executed in WA, had been remembered for killing six people and attempting to kill two more in 1963. Cooke is now recognised for eight murders and 14 attempted murders over a five-year period from 1958.
The work also gave a voice to 12 of Cooke’s previously-unknown attempted murder victims, gave hope to innocent prisoners and raised public awareness of wrongful conviction and its causes: police misconduct including blinkered investigation, over-zealous prosecutors, weak legal representation for the uneducated and marginalised, false confessions, fabricated evidence by witnesses with incentives, faults in forensics, eyewitness misidentification and fallible memory. While not the cause in the Button and Beamish cases, the fallibility of eyewitness memory has been found to be the greatest contributor to wrongful conviction – 72% of eyewitness identifications being wrong in the US Innocence Project’s successful exoneration cases.This lecture is part of the 2017 Limina Collective Conference - Memory: Myth and Modernity. Visit www.limina.arts.uwa.edu.au for more information.
Estelle Blackburn is a writer whose determined sleuthing uncovered the truth about Perth’s most notorious serial killer, Eric Edgar Cooke. Her investigative journalism, authorship of Broken Lives and citizen advocacy led to the exoneration of convicted killers John Button and Darryl Beamish, 40 years after they were wrongfully convicted of Cooke murders. Estelle was a journalist for The West Australian then the ABC, before becoming a press secretary to several WA Ministers and a Premier. The winner of many awards including an OAM, WA Citizen of the Year (Arts and Entertainment), WA Woman of the Year, Premier’s Award for non-fiction, and journalism’s top honour, a Walkley Award for the most outstanding contribution to the profession, she is also an inductee into the WA Womens Hall of Fame. Now working in Canberra, Estelle still spends her spare time crusading against wrongful conviction.