The Walsh Street Case Stalemate

The Victoria Coroner Judge Jennifer Coate recently ruled against holding an inquest into the deaths of Damian Eyre and Steven Tynan, young constables cut down by gunshots in Walsh Street South Yarra in 1988. The parents of the policemen, backed by the Police Association, had applied for the inquest.

There had never been an inquest into how the men died, because, at first, it was the subject of a murder trial; then, because all the defendants were acquitted and the criminal court proceedings inconclusive, the coroner was stalemated until new and compelling evidence was given to him.

The families, backed by the Association, had tried, 14 years before, but the coroner refused that one: he saw insufficient advance on the criminal trial’s evidence – not enough for an inquest, thus stalemate.

The new submissions bore mid-2010 datelines, the signature of a later Association secretary, and landed on the desk of another coroner, the previous judge being too ill for the work. The new and compelling evidence submitted were: (1) Wendy Peirce, Crown witness, had told the world, via John Silvester and The Age, that her acquitted husband Victor did do it; and (2) acquitted defendant Peter (Macca) McEvoy had gone off early in the morning of 5 February 2010, before NSW Police witnesses in Lambton Newcastle, apparently boasting of his part in the killings.

Judge Jennifer Coate checked Ms Pierce out. Victoria Police, perhaps in anticipation of the imminent partial repeal of the double-jeopardy rule and a new murder trial, or perhaps for this coronial court investigation, had sent Detective-Sergeant Mark Caulfield, now promoted and an Australia Police Medal winner, over to Wendy’s place in August 2010. Yeah, Victor did it, obvious, admitted it; and Macca, Victor named him; and, yeah, Victor was out all night the night Eyre and Tynan died: all on record of interview, neat and tidy. But by January next she was telling all that she would not ‘swear up’. A coroner’s court family-and-community-support worker found Wendy to be anxious, prone to panic attacks, nursing a morbid fear of the media, with memory problems, dependent on benzos, and she called in a psychiatrist, who confirmed Ms Pierce was a mess. Thus, ‘compelling’ Wendy to testify was not a useful recourse. Besides,

… the credit of Ms Pierce is so damaged by her history, it would be against common sense to describe any one position she may state she holds at any given time as sufficiently cogent

to open an inquest [coroner’s bold].

Judge Coate fixed her Sherlocky eye on Macca. Had he admitted he did it?

Six NSW Police fell on a house in Lambton for an early morning raid which they video-ed. Three of them made statements later, not on the raid, but on the words of a man then unknown to them who happened to have been sleeping in a car in the driveway. To Sergeant Simpson, the man seemed groggy suggesting drug use, and was abusive, saying ‘If I’ve gotta come back for ya, you might find out something about 1988, a couple of fucking jacks in Melbourne, might cause you to fucking speak to me more politely, copper.’ (Peter McEvoy’s criminal record would show charges from youthful rapes, armed robberies, and the murder of the police, plus the convictions, sentences, and acquittals, and this outburst guaranteed they’d check. He was charged with offensive language and hindering police that day.)  Senior Constable Fuhrer was trying a door when Macca interrupted him with ‘the sweetest thing’ Macca had ‘ever heard’ was the last words of a dying policeman. On the DVD audio-track this sounded more like ‘sorriest thing’ and ‘heard about’. After the raid Macca was sitting on the veranda giving Senior Constable Thomas the benefit of his vision: ‘I can’t wait to put a shotgun to your fucking head, [gun] loaded with a solid [shot], and watch your fucking head get blown off. There’s nothing better than watching a cunt like you die.’ There was a record of another memory of this speech, not significantly different, but it was not on DVD.

Sweetest or sorriest mattered little except the jazz, but ‘heard about’ took Macca off the street, off Walsh Street, and introduced doubt as to when and how he heard, as Judge Coate read it. She listed Macca’s mentions as: Walsh Street, high-profile investigator John Noonan, Tynan and Eyre, his ‘victory over the law’ in the trial verdict, and the ‘spectre’ of a new trial in post double-jeopardy repeal days to come. But to Coate, Macca was ‘big-noting’ in the presence of the young suspects of the raid, and what he said was, ‘at best, equivocal evidence of an admission’.

The coroner took modest pains to say the repeal of the 1215 double jeopardy law was irrelevant to her rulings. But to Victoria Police investigators assigned to assemble evidence for prosecution in the brave new ex-double-jeopardy era opening in 2012, this legal scorecard - Wendy’s word 0, Macca’s admission 0 – makes the ruling depressing. Unless detectives are collating evidence we have no idea of, the re-trial so confidently promised by the deputy commissioner well before Christmas 2011 is unlikely to happen.

John Kerr
February 2012

[The Judge Coate’s ruling on the Tynan-Eyre application is on PDF is under rulings on http://www.coronerscourt.vic.gov.au ]