It was great to finally see Kathy again at Silverwater Detention Centre on Saturday.
It’s been a long time between visits – I’d only managed to drive up from Sydney to Cessnock to see her once during her time there.
She’s anxiously preparing for the judicial inquiry into her case, after almost three years of waiting to hear if she’d be given the chance.
It hasn’t been easy riding that emotional rollercoaster of hope and fear for so long. No one thinks of the person trapped in the process.
Kathy has been in jail for more than 15 years now. She still has more than 10 years of her sentence to serve.
I arrived on Saturday for a 12.40pm visit, but no one ever gets inside until it’s waaaaaay after 1pm. It takes forever to process everyone’s visitor forms, check their fingerprints and irises and usher them through the metal detectors.
The guards wrap the visits up just before 3pm.
You feel sad for the kids who only get to see their mums for such a short period of time.
There were lots of kids there on Saturday, sweet-faced ones with ponytails, little terrors darting around the waiting room, tired bubbas sobbing in their prams.
Visiting jail is totally bizarre, yet completely normal experience.
I’ve seen a little girl in a pink dress playing hopscotch beside a barbed wire fence, pausing to wave and shout “Bye Daddy” as she glimpsed her father being taken back to his cell.
I’ve watched a visitor coo when a prison guard showed her snapshots of his new baby.
And I’ve overheard some fascinating conversations. One of the most colourful was when a woman wearing fuzzy bed socks and chain-smoking started ranting loudly about being called up for jury duty for the second time in just a few months. She told the authorities: “Look, my daughter’s in jail for f@#kin’ murder. I don’t feel like being on a f@#kin’ jury right now. And they got straight back to me that I didn’t have to f@#kin’ do it.”
When we finally get inside the visitors’ room, we sit on pastel-painted metal stools, bolted to the floor and arranged around a little bolted-down metal table, like some Tim Burton-style nightmare version of fairy toadstools.
Kathy wears a white canvas jumpsuit, secured with an electrical cable tie at the neck. We sip cans of Diet Coke and snack on bags of Mars Bar Pods and Kettle Chips from the junk food machines in the hallway.
We talk about her latest upheavals in protective custody and her hopes of getting a job to ease the boredom and pay for the ever-increasing number of items that are on “buy-up”. When I first started visiting you could sent pyjamas, underwear, books and other items, but they’ve all been banned now.
We discuss her return to Silverwater and how she vomited repeatedly from the stress of being locked in a prison van to be transported from Cessnock jail back to Sydney.
She never fails to amaze me with her strength and resilience in the face of the challenges her daily life presents.
When visiting hours end, all too soon, everyone hugs and cries as they separate.
I watch a couple embrace and the woman call over her shoulder as she returns to her cell: “See you in court on Thursday! I love you!”
So mundane, yet so otherwordly at the same time.
I walk out of the security doors and into the sunlight I feel so grateful to be free.
I don’t have many jail pictures to share with you, because they are verboten for security reasons.
There was a total furor when one of Kathy’s cellmates once sold photographs (and lies) from inside the prison to a weekly magazine.
But here are a few snaps to give you a brief glimpse of what it’s like …
One of Kathy’s supporters sent us a message that we wanted to share with you.
Here’s what they had to say:
For those of you who thought or assumed that Kathleen gave birth to four completely healthy babies, here is some more information you may not be aware of: on October 17, 1990, Patrick was placed in his cot to go to sleep.
At about 3.30am the following morning, Craig Folbigg was woken by the screams of his wife. He rushed in and Kathleen called an ambulance. The ambulance officers administered oxygen and Patrick responded almost immediately. Patrick was then treated in hospital over a number of days. He was diagnosed as suffering from a major form of epilepsy.
Caleb, Kathleen’s first baby, was diagnosed with a “lazy larynx” after Kathleen and Craig consulted a pediatrician because he had been experiencing difficulty breathing and feeding at the same time.
Sarah was sent home with a sleep apnea blanket to monitor her breathing while she slept, and Laura was also sent home with a sleep breathing monitor. Due to the scarcity of resources, that type of equipment was only ever sent home with babies where there was a genuine need.
In between her pregnancies, Kathleen and Craig consulted geneticists for advice on whether they should have more children.
It is worth thinking about that.
These were all babies with health difficulties right from the start. What do you make of that?
What will the former chief judge of the District Court, the Hon Reginald Blanch AM QC, makes of that when he conducts the inquiry into Kathy’s convictions?
There are a growing number of experts coming forward to offer their assistance and join the respected forensic pathologists who contributed to the Petition that led to the inquiry.
There has been so much progress in medical fields since Kathy’s conviction and many new theories about what might have caused her children’s deaths.
We are so grateful there is finally an inquiry into Kathy’s case. It’s been a long time coming.
It’s been a huge few weeks for Kathy and her supporters following her appearance on Australian Story and NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman subsequent announcement of an inquiry into her convictions.
To top it all off, Kathy was also suddenly transferred last Saturday from Cessnock Jail back to Silverwater Correctional Centre.
So we wanted to give you an update on how she’s going.
Fortunately, Kathy has already had a few visitors at Silverwater, who’ve given her big hugs and report that she’s in good spirits.
While we were initially concerned about the move, she tells us it’s a better alternative to the conditions at Cessnock, which were pretty limited and basic.
Barrister Isabel Reed, who has been one of the driving forces behind gaining an inquiry, said Kathy is over the moon that an inquiry has been granted, but will need time to distill the news.
Fellow barrister Robert Cavanagh has also argued that Kathy needs to be released from jail during an inquiry into “how a miscarriage of justice occurred”.
“You can’t have a conviction where there’s a natural cause of death and yet that’s what’s occurred here and she’s been in jail for 15 years because of it,” he told The Newcastle Herald.
Kathy was also quoted in New Idea saying that those who still feel she is guilty should “do some proper research into my case and the expert opinions included in my Petition and open their minds.”
She admitted that her past 15 years in jail have been incredibly challenging.
She copes by taking it “One day at a time, minute by minute, one foot in front of the other. You make your world the immediate space around you to survive emotionally or depression rules. To survive you need to adjust and adapt. You can’t comprehend what it is like behind prison walls, it’s such a tough, difficult place.”
Kathy thanked her legal team “who have been absolutely incredible and I can’t thank them enough for giving me a reason to hope”.
And she looked to what the future might hold if the inquiry leads to her release.
“I’d like to do some advocacy work to make sure other people don’t go through the hell that I have,” she said. “The manner prosecutions are handled needs an overhaul and Australian needs an independent review body for these sort of cases. I’d also like do do some social justice work, as the current prison system is broken. It’s a revolving door because prisoners with high security classifications aren’t taught life skills, they receive limited education and little support post incarceration.”
We will keep you up to date on Kathy and the inquiry over the coming months.
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman has announced an inquiry into the conviction of Kathleen Folbigg, regarding the deaths of her four children.
Kathleen was found guilty by a NSW Supreme Court jury in 2003 of the murder of three of her children and the manslaughter of a fourth.
On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeal imposed a total sentence of 30 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 25 years. Kathleen has maintained her innocence during the 15 years she has already spent in jail.
The inquiry will be led by Reginald Blanch QC, the former chief judge of the NSW District Court.
Speakman said he carefully considered a Petition for review – sent to the Governor almost three years ago – and formed the view that an inquiry was necessary.
“The petition appears to raise a doubt or question concerning evidence as to the incidence of reported deaths of three or more infants in the same family attributed to unidentified natural causes in the proceedings leading to Ms Folbigg’s convictions,” Speakman said.
“The direction establishing the inquiry requires Mr Blanch to have particular regard to this evidence in conducting the inquiry.”
Speakman also noted: “I have spoken with Mr Craig Folbigg to explain this immensely difficult decision. I am sorry for the renewed distress and pain he and his family will endure because of the inquiry.”
The inquiry is expected to take six to 12 months to complete. Blanch will then prepare a report. If he is of the opinion that there is a reasonable doubt as to the guilt of Kathleen, he may refer the matter to the Court of Criminal Appeal for further consideration.
It’s an emotional day for Kathy’s supporters. We’ll keep you up to date with developments as they unfold.
Thank you to Kathy’s legal team for their hard work and passion.
A must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the path to Kathy’s Petition to the Governor is a book called Murder, Medicine & Motherhood.
It was written by a Canadian legal academic, Emma Cunliffe, who spent six years researching Kathy’s case and concluded she shouldn’t have been found guilty based on the evidence presented in court.
The Petition includes a 120-page report by internationally-respected forensic pathologist Professor Stephen Cordner, which criticised medical evidence given at the trial and concluded that the jury verdict was based on a lot of inaccurate and misleading evidence.
“There is no forensic pathology support for the contention that any or all of these children have been killed. If the convictions in this case are to stand, I want to clearly state there is no pathological or medical basis for concluding homicide,” Professor Cordner said.
Cordner wrote a review of Murder, Medicine & Motherhood for the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences. It makes for fascinating read. We’ve attached a copy of it below:
Did you watch the Australian Story episode featuring Kathy tonight? What did you think?
We’re still processing our feelings, we’re a bit too close to it all.
It was interesting to read the comments on Australian Story’s Facebook page. While many condemned Kathy, others felt there was reasonable doubt.
Among the supportive remarks:
“Wow. We actually call guilty without evidence of guilt in this country. Utterly shocked by this show. Circumstantial evidence was nothing but agreement about a convenient story as to cause of death: murder! Couldn’t believe my ears when one on the show says there was no evidence, then cites diaries and husband’s opinions and calls that the ‘weight of evidence’. Unbelievable.”
“Very interesting story tonight. Obviously there is insufficient evidence to hold up the convictions and her case should be reviewed. We don’t know the full evidence that was presented at trial but there definitely seems to be a lot of reasonable doubt. Review her case with new modern forensic eyes.”
“This could so obviously be a miscarriage of justice. Those diaries could have been written by any mother who had lost children and felt responsible, without actually being responsible. It’s so clear that the courts could have gotten this so wrong, just as they did in the Chamberlain case. What amazes me is that people are so willing to believe that she is guilty. Although rare there have been cases of multiple infant death in families before, due to genetic causes. What a travesty, a massive miscarriage of justice.”
And we remain convinced that if some of the greatest science minds have grave doubts about her convictions, surely that’s got to mean something.
Thank you for joining us on this difficult journey. We appreciate it.
Today’s the big day for the team behind Justice For Kathleen Folbigg.
Australian Story will feature the latest on Kathy’s story tonight at 8pm.
Here are the first few paragraphs from an article on the ABC site:
Almost every day about 9.30am, Tracy Chapman’s phone rings. “Kath” is the name that flashes up on the screen but before either woman can speak, a robotic American voice interjects.
“You are about to receive a phone call from an inmate at Cessnock Correctional Centre. Your conversation will be recorded and may be monitored. If you do not wish to receive this call, please hang up now.”
Tracy Chapman never hangs up. “Good morning bub, how are you?” she says to her friend, convicted serial killer Kathleen Folbigg.
Since May 2003 when a New South Wales Supreme Court jury found Folbigg guilty of the murder of three of her infant children and the manslaughter of another, their conversation mostly has been banal — chitchat about Folbigg’s daily routines, about the laundry or cleaning or other inmates.
But for the past three years, their conversations have increasingly focused on Folbigg’s frustrations about the NSW Government’s delay in considering her lawyers’ petition for a judicial review of her case.
Read the rest of the story by clicking here and be sure to tune in tonight at 8pm and let us know what you think afterwards.
Australian Story will air an episode focusing on Kathy’s Petition on Monday August 13, at 8pm, called From Behind Bars.
Here’s what the press release from the ABC has to say about it
Kathleen Folbigg is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for killing all four of her young children.
She has her hopes pinned on a petition drafted by her legal team to the Governor of NSW, seeking a judicial review of the case.
The petition contains a report from one of Australia’s top forensic pathologists, Professor Stephen Cordner, who says: “There is no positive forensic pathology support for the contention that any or all of these children have been killed.”
Australian Story invited a second independent forensic pathologist based at Vancouver General Hospital in Canada, to examine the forensic evidence in relation to the death of Folbigg’s fourth and final child, Laura.
“I think this is an eminently fatal case of myocarditis,” Associate Professor Matthew Orde says, in relation to Laura’s death. Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, is known to cause sudden death in some children.
“On the basis of the medical evidence alone, I think this case certainly needs to be re-examined quite carefully,” he says.
In an Australian Story exclusive, Kathleen Folbigg speaks out for the first time about her case. During phone calls to a friend, recorded by the ABC, she candidly discusses life behind bars, her hopes for the petition and her view of some of the events leading to her multiple murder convictions.
Nicholas Cowdery, who was Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW at the time of Kathleen Folbigg’s trial, disagrees with the need for a judicial review.
“I have looked at the petition that Mrs Folbigg has lodged… I remain of the view that the jury was correct,” he says.
However Cowdery is critical of the time taken to process the petition. “The fact that the petition was filed three years ago, is concerning. I think this is an inordinate delay in dealing with the matter.”
For Kathleen Folbigg, now midway through her sentence, an answer can’t come soon enough. “For over three years now, we’ve been clinging to that little bit of hope.”
We are concerned by some of the views expressed by Cowdery, however we remain hopeful the report will be balanced and generally positive.
In 2015 a Petition (not the 10,000 signature kind – more like a submission with expert reports attached) was sent to the Governor of NSW suggesting that Kathleen Folbigg’s case should be reviewed because we feel that there is enough evidence to cause a sense of unease or disquiet about Kathleen’s conviction.
The experts who have kindly donated their time and considerable effort to this are:
Professor Stephen Cordner, forensic pathologist, who is head of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. He has prepared an incredibly detailed report in which he reviewed the forensic evidence presented at the trial, as well as all the autopsy reports and actual pathology slides for each child. This is what he said in conclusion: “If the convictions are to stand they must do so without the support of forensic pathology, and in Laura’s case at least, against the forensic pathology view.”
Dr Sharmilla Betts, clinical psychologist, after reviewing all the diaries and all the current research, concluded that Kathleen’s diary entries are completely consistent with the literature on grieving mothers who have experienced the sudden unexpected death of an infant. There was nothing in her diaries to suggest (even between the lines as the Crown suggested) that she killed her babies.
Dr Ray Hill is an emeritus professor in mathematics from the UK who said in his report that the “one in a trillion” statistic which was being yelled from the rooftops by the media before the Folbigg trial was, simply, wrong and probably had a significant influence on the jury. He says, (quite logically), that in fact if one child dies of SIDS, there is an increased chance of a second or subsequent baby in the same family also dying. So that’s the main thrust of what we have asked the Governor to consider. The Governor has sought advice from other sources, including the Crown who have also submitted a report.
The Attorney General has now been “considering” this petition and the Crown submission for two years, which we believe is nothing short of unconscionable.
Kathleen Folbigg was a loving mother of four children; Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura. On May 23, 2003, she was found guilty by jury of the murder of Patrick, Sarah and Laura, and guilty of the manslaughter of Caleb, in the Supreme Court of New South Wales.
There was no physical evidence the children were murdered. The prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence to present their case. Kathleen has spent the last 15 years in prison and continues to maintain her innocence.
In June 2015, three Newcastle-based Barristers submitted a Petition to the Governor outlining grounds upon which Kathleen’s convictions should be reviewed. This Petition contains fresh and compelling evidence consistent with Kathleen’s innocence, including a report from one of Australia’s leading forensic pathologists who concluded that there is no basis in forensic pathology that any of the children were smothered.
Three years later, Kathleen and her supporters are still waiting for the Governor to respond to the Petition.