‘All I remember was seeing a lot of blood and arguing...’
BOB Chappell was attacked by a teenage boy - and not the woman who has spent 11 years in jail for murder - a key witness at Sue Neill-Fraser's appeal has revealed.
Meaghan Vass, 27, spent an agonising hour giving evidence on Monday as Neill-Fraser's high-profile bid to clear her name finally began in the Tasmanian Court of Criminal Appeal.
Ms Vass was a 15-year-old homeless girl when Mr Chappell went missing on Australia Day 2009 from the yacht he co-owned with Neill-Fraser, the Four Winds.
Although she claimed during Neill-Fraser's 2010 trial that she'd never been on-board the yacht, Ms Vass has since changed her story.
She since told 60 Minutes, and claimed in an affidavit, that in fact Mr Chappell met his end at the hands of one of her male associates.
On Monday, she revealed that information in court for the first time, nominating her then-boyfriend, teenager Samuel Devine, as having carried out a bloody attack on the 65-year-old hospital physicist.
"We obviously got on-board the boat and obviously the boys had been robbing boats or whatever and we jumped on this one, not thinking that there would be anyone on this one. When they found someone on there, it obviously sparked an argument," Ms Vass said in response to questioning from Neill-Fraser's star barrister, Robert Richter QC.
"Bob had told Sam and that to get off the boat, 'what are you doing?'
"That's when Samuel started flipping, got a bit angry, and lashed out. All I remember was seeing a lot of blood and arguing for about 30 minutes."
Mr Richter asked how Ms Vass responded to witnessing the altercation.
"I panicked and vomited," she said.
Ms Vass also said Neill-Fraser was not on-board when the violence occurred.
Mr Richter told the appeal judges - Justices Helen Wood, Stephen Estcourt and Robert Pearce - that although Ms Vass had given varying accounts over the past decade, DNA evidence was the "anchor" proving Neill-Fraser (left), had suffered a miscarriage of justice.
He said Ms Vass' DNA, present on the Four Winds "in copious volumes", proved she had been on-board the yacht.
But Ms Vass crumbled under the weight of cross-examination by Director of Public Prosecutions, Daryl Coates SC, breaking down in tears and repeatedly asking if she could go home.
She said two other men had also been on the yacht - Stephen Gleeson and Paul Wroe - only remembering the presence of the latter in the past few days.
Mr Coates questioned why the group didn't burgle yachts moored at Goodwood - in the same suburb Mr Devine lived in - rather than making the trip to Sandy Bay.
"It was a quick f … ing penny," Ms Vass said.
"I don't know why they decided Sandy Bay, it was just where they decided to go, I suppose."
Ms Vass struggled to remember details of the night in question or the dinghy the group used to access the Four Winds.
"Bob's arked up. Sam's gotten f … ing angry and he's lashed out," she said before sobbing in distress.
"When Sam's been told to get the f … off the boat, that's when he's gotten angry and lashed out."
Mr Devine, born in 1993, would have also been aged 15 on Australia Day 2009.
Mr Richter told the judges his team had abandoned a number of points of appeal, including claims that a dinghy seen near the Four Winds on the night in question was not the yacht's tender.
They also abandoned an argument that a winching reconstruction shown to the 2010 jury was misleading.
Finally, the appeal team will not proceed with challenges to luminol testing on the Four Winds' dinghy, but would rely on the results of luminol used on the yacht's deck.
Luminol is a forensics chemical that glows blue in the presence of blood and other substances.
Ms Vass will continue cross-examination on Tuesday morning.
RE-CAP today's proceedings as they happened …
A key witness in Sue Neill-Fraser's murder appeal has ended the first day of the hearing early.
After the adjournment, Meaghan Vass said she didn't feel able to give further evidence.
"I can't … I'm so sorry," she said.
She is due to return to the witness box at 9.30am on Tuesday.
The proceedings were adjourned.
UPDATE: 2.30pm: Ms Vass said it was late in the afternoon but still daylight when the four rowed out to the Four Winds.
She agreed with Mr Coates' suggestion that the yacht was moored around 20m offshore and the trip didn't take long.
"I stepped out of the dingy and onto the vessel. On the side. It was a big yacht.
"They jumped on board … that's when he saw Bob, Bob's arced up.
"When he told Sam to get the f*** off the boat, Sam's got angry and lashed out.
"Him and Bob got in a scuffle below decks."
Ms Vass said there was a 30 minute altercation. She said the argument continued.
"They followed Sam, they heard Sam flipping out and they followed him below deck. I couldn't see anything because I was above deck."
She appealed to the court to be allowed to go home.
"Please, how much longer? I am trying my hardest. I don't want a break, I want to go home. I can't do this for much longer please."
Justice Wood called an adjournment as Ms Vass became increasingly distressed.
UPDATE 2.10pm: Under cross examination by Director of Public Prosecutions Daryl Coates, SC, Ms Vass said she had not recalled being on the Four Winds until she gave an interview to the 60 Minutes program in 2019.
Ms Vass was aged around 15 and homeless at the time Mr Chappell died, the court heard.
She said she had associated with Mr Devine and Mr Gleeson in Hobart's northern suburbs.
"It would just be the same thing, drinking mostly," she said.
"They would just get on the drink, run amok and I'd go along with it, stupidly."
She said she could not recall leaving the northern suburbs but said she was with Samuel Devine when met Mr Gleeson and Paul Wroe at Goodwood on the night of Australia Day, 2009.
Ms Vass said she only recalled Mr Wroe was with them a few days ago.
"They wanted money, drink, alcohol. I was his [Mr Devine's] girlfriend, so of course I was with him," she said.
"I didn't decide anything. There was no discussion. Obviously they wanted money so I could get on the piss. It was a quick f***ing penny.
"I don't know why they decided on Sandy Bay. It was just where they were at the time."
She said the group went to the shops near the casino and decided to rob yachts. She said she didn't know why the Four Winds was chosen.
"We drank, and that's when they decided they were going to start robbing the yachts," she said.
"I can't recall much, I can't recall a lot. We used to get on the piss all the time, but we were a bunch of teenagers."
She said she couldn't remember the specifics of the dinghy they used to get to the yacht.
"It was just an inflatable f***ing thing," she said.
She appeared upset and asked Justice Helen Wood when she would be excused.
"I don't need a break. I just want to know how long until we are done. How long until we are finished?"
Mr Coates told the court she would be unlikely to finish her evidence today.
"When am I able to leave to go home?" she asked.
"I don't want to take any breaks," she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
UPDATE 1.40PM: BOB Chappell was attacked by a teenager who boarded his yacht intending to rob it, an appeal hearing has heard.
Witness Meaghan Vass has told the Court of Appeal she was with two others - Samuel Devine, a teenager at the time, and Stephen Gleeson on the night of January 26, 2009.
They took a dinghy and boarded the yacht The Four Winds, which was moored off Sandy Bay, not realising Mr Chappell was aboard.
"We got on board the boat … obviously the boys had been robbing boats, whatever," Ms Vass said.
"They jumped on this one not thinking anyone would be there. When they found someone was there, it's sparked an argument."
"Was there violence?" she was asked by Neill-Fraser's lawyer Robert Richter, QC.
"Bob told Sam and that to get off the boat … that's when Samuel started flipping, he got a bit angry and lashed out," she said.
"All I can remember is seeing a lot of blood and arguing for about 30 minutes.
"I panicked and vomited on the deck of the boat."
Ms Vass said Neill-Fraser was not present on the yacht.
UPDATE 12.30pm: THE appeal hearing was adjourned after the court ruled Ms Vass' support person was not suitable.
After being presented with material by DPP Daryl Coates, SC, Justice Helen Wood ruled that the support person Ms Vass brought with her could not remain in the court.
Mr Richter said there was no other evidence Ms Vass could give in the meantime.
"She's our case," he said.
The court adjourned for a lunch break at 12.30pm.
Ms Vass had earlier agreed to continue to give evidence after Justice Wood ruled that she had been given a certificate that the evidence she gave could not be used against her in other proceedings.
But she was warned she could face sanction for giving false evidence in the hearing.
'I was there': Sue Neill-Fraser witness bombshell
UPDATE12:00pm: A KEY witness in the Sue Neill-Fraser appeal says she was present on a yacht moored off Sandy Bay on the night Bob Chappell disappeared.
Meaghan Vass gave evidence in the Supreme Court in Hobart today. She was asked about her whereabouts on the night of Australia Day 2009.
"On that night were you present on a yacht called the Four Winds?" she was asked by Robert Richter, QC.
"Yes," she replied.
Barbara Etter heads the large contingent of supporters of Sue Neill- Fraser’s appeal trial at the Supreme Court in Hobart. Some turned away due to capacity numbers. pic.twitter.com/5tJC5C9yUI— Luke Bowden (@stilllukebowden) March 1, 2021
The hearing has adjourned while Ms Vass received legal advice about giving further evidence.
Ms Vass was a witness at Neill-Fraser's original trial, when she denied being on the Four Winds on the night in question, despite her DNA being later found there.
The court has heard she has since given multiple contradictory statements, including that she was present on the yacht with others on the night Mr Chappell disappeared.
Earlier, the hearing hit a brief roadblock after objections to Ms Vass having a support person present while she gave evidence.
Justice Helen Wood ruled that Ms Vass could have a friend with her while she was in the witness box.
UPDATE 10.50am: Mr Richter told the Court of Criminal Appeal judges the case would turn on whether there was sufficient proof that Ms Vass on the yacht on the night Mr Chappell died.
"I don't think there will be any controversy about the freshness of the evidence …" he said, noting it had emerged since Neill-Fraser's appeal.
Central to that would be evidence about Ms Vass' DNA on the yacht.
"The notion that her DNA in copious volume and perfect order of identification somehow got to the boat in a different way, what your honours will hear is pure speculation and guesswork as to how the DNA could have got there in any other way," he said.
He said Ms Vass' credibility when she gave evidence was secondary to the presence of DNA.
"We say there is an anchor which is fixed - and that is the finding of the DNA of Meaghan Vass," he said.
"And if that anchor holds despite guesswork and speculation, it will in our submission it presents a compelling case that there has been a miscarriage of justice."
He said the doctrine of Occam's razor dictated that the simplest explanation of the known facts was the one that should be accepted in any case.
Meaghan Vass will be the first witness to be called in the case
UPDATE 10.40am: Mr Richter told the court that there was only one ground of appeal: that there was fresh and compelling evidence that there had been a miscarriage of justice in the case.
"There are really left two central issues to be determined in this appeal," he said in his opening remarks.
"The first one is: was Meaghan Vass was present on the yacht Four Winds on the night of Australia Day 2009, when the deceased was - it will be uncontroversial - met his death?
"The second issue is: was the appellant herself present on board that yacht at the time of the killing of Dr Chappell and did she dispose of his body?"
"There is, we say, one witness who can answer those questions and we say it is Meaghan Vass.
"There is no doubt that for whatever reason Meaghan Vass has provided a number of documents, a number of statutory declarations and a number of other utterances which will come into question."
Lawyers, reporters, supporters and spectators are rolling up for Sue Neill-Fraser's heavily-anticipated appeal bid.— Amber Wilson (@ambervwilson) February 28, 2021
@ Supreme Court of Tasmania pic.twitter.com/4Hp7RMXsSj
He read from a statutory declaration in which Ms Vass said she had never been near the Sandy Bay waterfront of the Four Winds, followed by another in which she said she was on the yacht with others on the night Mr Chappell died.
"The lady Sue Neill-Fraser was not on the yacht. I do not know her, I have never met her," the statement said.
It was followed by another denying she had been on the boat and another in which she said she was aboard, with others.
"There is no doubt Meaghan Vass … has vacillated in her evidentiary utterances," Mr Richter said.
Mr Richter said the appeal team has abandoned two points of its appeal: one that a dinghy seen near the Four Winds was not the vessel's tender.
They have also abandoned a point relating to a police reconstruction of how a body might have been winched from the yacht's saloon.
He said the appeal case would also not rely on parts of its challenge to luminol testing on the Four Wind's dingy, but would rely on the results of luminol used on the deck of the yacht.
Luminol is a chemical used by forensic police which glows blue in the presence of blood and other substances.
Mr Richter said the appeal book on which the proceedings would be based consisted of six volumes, including the transcript of the original trial.
UPDATE 10:20am: The Supreme Court hearing has been convened with restrictions in place due to social distancing, with videolinks conveying proceedings to overflow rooms for members of the public and the media.
Ms Neill-Fraser present in the court, flanked by a police officer.
Her counsel Robert Richter, QC, has opened proceedings with an application that witness Meaghan Vass give evidence by video link.
The application was agreed to by the Crown.
During preliminary discussions, Neill-Fraser's counsel said some of the witnesses who were to be called to give evidence would not be required.
He said that evidence was that no fingerprints found on the Four Winds were identified from Ms Vass or Samuel Devine or Stephen Gleeson.
THE hearing of Sue Neill-Fraser's long-awaited appeal against her conviction for the 2009 murder of her partner Bob Chappell will begin this morning in Hobart.
Neill-Fraser is the first convicted person in Tasmania to use new laws allowing an appeal on the grounds of fresh and compelling evidence.
Mr Chappell was last seen aboard the couple's yacht the Four Winds moored off Sandy Bay on Australia Day 2009.
The yacht was discovered partially submerged the following morning. Mr Chappell's body has never been found.
Neill-Fraser was convicted of Mr Chappell's murder the following year. She was sentenced to 23 years in prison with a minimum sentence of 13 years. She will be eligible for parole next year.
The Crown case was that Neill-Fraser murdered Mr Chappell aboard the yacht and dumped his body in the River Derwent.
Witnesses told the court Neill-Fraser believe her relationship with Mr Chapell was at an end.
Her alibi for the afternoon of Australia Day - that she was at Bunnings - was disproved by evidence the store was closed at the time.
Appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal and the High Court failed, and a coroner concurred with the findings of the criminal trial.
She has maintained her innocence and her supporters have conducted a lengthy and vigorous campaign with the intention of reversing her conviction.
They claim Neill-Fraser was convicted in the absence of a body, a murder weapon or a motive.
The case of her innocence points to the presence of DNA from a homeless girl which was found aboard the Four Winds. Meaghan Vass, who is now 27, is expected to be the main witness at the appeal.
The case will be heard by three Supreme Court judges Stephen Estcourt, Robert Pearce and Helen Wood and is expected to run for a week.
The Crown will be represented by Director of Public Prosecutions Daryl Coates, SC.
A large number of supporters and reporters are present for the hearing at the Supreme Court complex in Hobart.
Sue Neill-Fraser appeal to challenge luminol claims
March 1, 6am
ELEVEN years ago, a Supreme Court of Tasmania jury was shown a photo of an inflatable rubber dinghy glowing iridescent blue.
That photo, depicting luminol apparently reacting to the presence of blood, was used as a key piece of evidence to put Sue Neill-Fraser behind bars for the Australia Day 2009 murder of her partner Bob Chappell.
But this week, Neill-Fraser's lawyers will argue the photo was misleading - and that in fact there was no blood in the dinghy at all.
The 66-year-old's highly-anticipated and repeatedly-delayed fight to clear her name will finally play out in the Tasmania Court of Criminal Appeal this week.
With an all-star legal team led by prominent silk Robert Richter QC, the five-day hearing could perhaps mark the final chapter in one of the most high-profile cases in Tasmanian criminal history.
Neill-Fraser's case will hinge on the evidence of a young woman named Meaghan Vass, now 27, whose DNA was found aboard the couple's yacht, the Four Winds.
Ms Vass, who was at the time a homeless 15-year-old girl, denied at trial that she'd ever been on the boat.
But she now claims that she witnessed one of her male associates attack Mr Chappell, and that Neill-Fraser wasn't on the yacht when it happened.
While Ms Vass' evidence will be crucial at the appeal, Neill-Fraser's lawyers are also expected to this week thrash out the veracity of the luminol evidence as explained to the 2010 jury.
They will argue the jury was provided with misleading forensic evidence, and that in fact there was no evidence of blood in the dinghy.
The argument is significant, as Neill-Fraser was convicted on a Crown case that said she attacked Mr Chappell on the yacht, then when he was dead or "deeply unconscious", winched him up to the Four Winds' deck and manoeuvred him into their dinghy.
She was then said to have thrown him into the River Derwent from the dinghy, with his body weighted down by an old-fashioned fire hydrant.
"The unmistakeable evidence before Your Honour is that the information was completely incorrect, there was no blood in the dinghy," one of Neill-Fraser's barristers, Chris Carr SC, previously told the court.
The appeal is expected to run for five days in Hobart before Justices Helen Wood, Stephen Estcourt and Robert Pearce.
The judges will then decide on whether to uphold Neill-Fraser's original conviction, quash her conviction and allow her to walk free from the Mary Hutchinson Women's Prison, or order a retrial.
Originally published as 'All I remember was seeing a lot of blood and arguing...'