Linguistics expert gives verdict on Kathleen Folbigg’s diaries
Associate Professor of Linguistics at Macquarie University David Butt has told 60 Minutes he believes it is not reasonable to claim that Kathleen Folbigg’s diaries support only one ‘damning’ interpretation.
Butt said he did not subscribe to the belief that the diaries are a “virtual confession”. He added that his conclusion after reading the diaries was that there was reasonable doubt. He suggested the police and prosecutors should have approached her case with the mandate of “innocent until proven guilty”.
“If you start out with the presumption of guilt, you can find it,” he cautioned.
Butt was among four leading experts who analysed Folbigg’s diaries have formally submitted their opinions to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC, and to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman, as part of a petition originally lodged in March – and which has now been backed by 155 eminent scientists, science advocates and medical experts from around the world – calling for her to be pardoned and released.
“There is a likelihood that the courts and Inquiry have misinterpreted the feelings of responsibility for not being a better mother as admissions of agency in the deaths of the children,” he noted in the formal submission.
“I am comfortable in describing Ms Folbigg as having been a very loving and attentive mother …,” psychotherapist Dr Kamal Touma said.
“After reading and analysing the minute particulars of Ms Folbigg’s diaries and having met her for five analytical psychotherapy sessions, I cannot see anything in the diaries or from my sessions with Ms Folbigg to indicate that she harmed her children.”
Dr Touma had five audiovisual consultations with Folbigg and concluded that “the painful aloneness of being dissociated with and from her feelings is illustrated by this simple heartbreaking entry in her diary the day her daughter Sarah died: MONDAY 30: SARAH LEFT US.”
But Dr Touma rejects the notion that she may have killed her children in severe dissociative, fugue like states.
“Nowhere in the diaries nor in my conversation with Ms Folbigg was this observable,” he said. “I can comfortably exclude this hypothesis.”
When Dr Touma spoke to Folbigg, he was struck by how she spoke about her children.
“A written transcript cannot reflect what we may call the ‘musicality’ of the moment where immersed in associative thinking she talked about her children. This is the true memories she keeps of her children and wasn’t since losing them able to access to express. This is not how a murderous mother would ever talk about her children,” he said.
A second expert, US-based psychologist and textual analyst Professor James W. Pennebaker, who has helped the FBI and CIA understand the language of kidnappers, terrorists and violent criminals, said: “I see absolutely no evidence to suggest that these were premeditated murders.
“I see no evidence that Kathleen Folbigg’s language … exhibited any signs of deception or attempts to cover anything up. I also see no sign that Folbigg is mentally unstable or is someone harbouring buried hostility or rage,” Prof Pennebaker said.
A third expert, consultant psychiatrist Associate Professor Janine Stevenson, said: “Nowhere in her journals does she use agency verbs, such as ‘I hurt her’ … Throughout the journal Ms Folbigg is detailing all the steps she took to ensure the safety of her children. There is no anger, no aggression, only self-doubt.”
Watch Butt’s interview below:
Kathleen Folbigg has spent 18 years behind bars on the basis of discredited evidence and presumptions about her diaries that are not supported by experts. It’s time for the NSW justice system to admit it made a mistake.