Gordon Wood leaving court earlier this year. Picture: News Corp
Gordon Wood leaving court earlier this year. Picture: News Corp

Gordon Wood loses lawsuit

GORDON Wood has lost a lawsuit against the state of NSW more than six years after he was acquitted of murdering his model girlfriend Caroline Byrne by spear-throwing her off a cliff.

The 55-year-old former chauffeur to flamboyant stockbroker Rene Rivkin pursued the state for millions of dollars in damages in the NSW Supreme Court for malicious prosecution.

But Friday's ruling means he won't receive any compensation. Mr Wood served more than three years of his 13-year sentence after being convicted of killing his 24-year-old girlfriend at The Gap - a notorious suicide spot in Sydney's eastern suburbs - one night in 1995.

His conviction was overturned in 2012 with the NSW Court of Appeal finding suicide couldn't be ruled out as a cause of the model's death.

The three appeal judges strongly criticised trial prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC and Associate Professor Red Cross - a physicist who told the jury Ms Byrne must have been thrown off the cliff.

Mr Wood's lawyer in 2017 said the investigation into the model's death was biased and flawed.

"It was always intended to find my client was guilty of murder, not to get the actual truth," Bruce McClintock SC told a hearing over the lawsuit.

 

Gordon Wood’s conviction for the murder of his model girlfriend was overturned in 2012. Picture: News Corp
Gordon Wood’s conviction for the murder of his model girlfriend was overturned in 2012. Picture: News Corp

 

The barrister said police relied on Prof Cross's evidence when he wasn't qualified to speak about how a body may have left the cliff.

A photo of the alleged murder scene used at Mr Wood's trial was taken seven years later than claimed.

An allegation that he asked to see the breasts of his girlfriend as she lay in a morgue was also "totally false", the court was told.

But Mr Tedeschi argued his conduct was "fair and detached" and aimed at serving justice.

He said that during Mr Wood's trial he considered the evidence was "not just a bare case" against Mr Wood but "a very powerful, cogent case" implicating him.

The former prosecutor listed Mr Wood's inability to explain why he went to The Gap the night of Ms Byrne's death among the evidence that supported a murder prosecution.

While Prof Cross "overstepped the mark" in reporting on matters outside his expertise, Mr Tedeschi said "his core findings were utterly reliable". Mr Wood in a witness statement said the ongoing battle to clear his name continued to take its toll and he hadn't worked since his 2006 arrest. He described his years in prison as a "living death" during which he was assaulted by a guard and king hit by a notorious killer.

"Jail must be unbearably difficult even if one is guilty, but as an innocent man it was unimaginable," he said.

 

 

Model Caroline Byrne’s body was found at bottom of The Gap at Watsons Bay in Sydney in 1995. Picture: News Corp
Model Caroline Byrne’s body was found at bottom of The Gap at Watsons Bay in Sydney in 1995. Picture: News Corp

 

LEGAL SEQUELS TO CAROLINE BYRNE'S 1995 DEATH

June 8, 1995 - Caroline Byrne's body found at the foot of The Gap, the ocean cliff in Sydney's east May 29, 1996 - Homicide detectives revive inquiry into her death after the state coroner said he was not satisfied it was suicide.

Feb. 11, 1998 - Coroner John Abernethy records an open finding into the death, saying there was not enough evidence to make a finding of suicide and although there were suspicions that "a known person was involved in the death", there was no evidence.

Oct. 22, 1998 - Inquiry into the model's death is reopened.

April 24, 2001 - Rene Rivkin loses defamation battle against the John Fairfax Press over articles which allegedly implied he had sex with his chauffeur, Gordon Wood, and arranged the death of Ms Byrne.

March 3, 2002 - NSW Appeal Court orders new defamation hearing for Mr Rivkin against Fairfax.

June 18, 2002 - Mr Rivkin awarded $150,000 damages after being found to have been defamed by a Seven Network program in relation to Ms Byrne's death.

Sept 10, 2003 - High Court rejects Fairfax bid to stop retrial of Mr Rivkin's defamation hearing.

March 9, 2004 - Police complete five-year investigation into Ms Byrne's death and send a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

May 1, 2005 - Mr Rivkin, 60, found dead after killing himself at his elderly mother's Sydney apartment.

April 4, 2006 - Mr Wood arrested in London, weeks after DPP agreed there was enough evidence to charge him with murder.

May 3, 2006 - Mr Wood arrives in Sydney after being extradited.

July 6, 2007 - A magistrate orders Mr Wood to stand trial for the murder of his former girlfriend.

July 28, 2008 - Murder trial begins in the NSW Supreme Court.

Aug. 6, 2008 - Trial aborted after "misconduct" by jurors who planned a forbidden visit to The Gap.

Aug. 25, 2008 - Jury of 15 members empanelled for new trial.

Nov. 21, 2008 - Jury finds Mr Wood guilty.

Dec. 4, 2008 - Mr Wood jailed for minimum of 13 and maximum of 17 years four months.

Feb. 24, 2012 - NSW Court of Criminal Appeal quashes murder conviction and orders his acquittal.

April, 2015 - Mr Wood sues the state of NSW, claiming it deliberately set out to harm him and he lost earnings between $8.9 million and $17.8 million.

Feb. 20, 2017 - His Supreme Court case opens against the state.

July 3, 2017 - Justice Elizabeth Fullerton reserves her decision on the case.

Aug. 10 2018 - Justice Fullerton finds Mr Wood was not maliciously prosecuted. He receives no compensation.



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