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A gross miscarriage of justice

By Bernie Matthews - posted Monday, 7 May 2007


Patrick John Power was a respected pillar of society who upheld the law with zealous tenacity. During his tenure as New South Wales Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor, he prosecuted and helped imprison hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals. One of those he successfully prosecuted and imprisoned was Roseanne Catt.

Roseanne Catt’s saga (PDF 422KB) began during the 1980s when she was informed by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) that her new husband, Barry Catt, in company with other prominent Taree townspeople, had been molesting his own four children (Roseanne’s stepchildren) for years prior to their marriage.

Roseanne Catt agreed to support the children and help FACS prosecute her husband. Shortly afterwards she was arrested by Detective-Sgt Peter Thomas, a friend and drinking buddy of Barry Catt. Thomas charged her with three counts of soliciting others to murder Catt, two counts of wounding him, one count of endangering his life with Lithium, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, perjury, and possession of an unlicensed pistol.

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One of the charges included offering a stranger at her local RSL club $10,000 to break Catt's arms and legs - even more to kill him. That stranger, Taree’s police Aboriginal liaison officer, James Morris, was being investigated for running a prostitution ring involving young girls in Taree. He signed a statement accusing Roseanne of offering him money the money: the police investigation ceased after Peter Thomas had him sign a statement against Roseanne. He then became a prosecution witness.

Barry Catt’s former housekeeper, Marie Whalen, told police Internal Affairs, a Taree solicitor and two FACS officers that she had been taken to an abandoned house by Thomas and another police officer where she was held at gunpoint and forced to sign a false statement denying a previous statement she had made against Barry Catt after he had been committed to stand trial for the sexual abuse of his children in August 1989.

Roseanne Catt stood trial in 1991. The prosecution successfully prevented a veteran child psychiatrist Dr Sara Williams, OA, and a child sexual assault counsellor from testifying at the Barry Catt’s sexual assault trial in 1990, Roseanne’s trial 1991 and Roseanne’s appeal in 1993. Dr Williams had originally been contacted by Taree FACS to give expert evidence in the child sexual assault matter.

Despite the conflicting and contentious evidence of child sexual assault that arose during the trial, Roseanne Catt was found guilty on eight counts and jailed for 12 years and three months for attempting to murder Barry Catt.

Her appeal in 1993 was dismissed after key witnesses, including her step-children, retracted their original evidence against Barry Catt and Peter Thomas and made fresh accusations against Roseanne Catt instead. At the time of her appeal in 1993 the DPP withheld fresh evidence concerning another case where it was found that Judge Harvey Cooper and Prosecutor Nicholas Harrison, concluded that detective Thomas had a tendency to threaten and intimidate witnesses into giving false evidence. It was recommended that he be charged but nothing eventuated.

July 12, 2002 the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal found there was sufficient fresh evidence to instigate an Inquiry and they referred Roseanne Catt’s case back to the District Court to conduct a 474B inquiry into the original trial and appeal of Roseanne. The 18-month Inquiry by Judge Thomas Davidson heard a substantial amount of fresh evidence including one witness, Peter Caesar, who stated Thomas had told him: “It's common knowledge that I planted a gun on the bitch.”

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Judge Davidson found Thomas “descended into malice and abuse of power”. He also found there was significant evidence that:

  • Det/Sgt Peter Thomas gave and procured false evidence;
  • Thomas, Barry Catt and Adrian Newell conspired to have Roseanne falsely convicted;
  • Thomas was instrumental in planting the gun on Roseanne Catt;
  • Thomas, Catt and Newell rang each other hundreds of times during the Inquiry 2003-04 against specific instructions from Judge Davidson, who conducted the Inquiry; and
  • Crown witnesses’ testimony was unreliable.

Judge Davidson also concluded that:

  • Senior Crown Prosecutor, Patrick Power, who prosecuted Roseanne at her original 1991 trial and who was present at her 1993 appeal, was also instrumental in bringing charges against Roseanne's son Peter Bridge. After six years he was finally acquitted of the trumped up charges;
  • evidence also indicated that Power was personally involved in the Catt children retracting sworn testimony against their father and Peter Thomas concerning the sexual molestation allegations;
  • Power was accused by a defence witness, Errol Taylor, of misleading the court at Roseanne’s 1991 trial about corruption allegations against Peter Thomas made by a Crown witness in a trial six months earlier; and
  • Power was named by Barry Catt as advising him (Catt) to apply for victim’s compensation despite lack of evidence. Catt and Newell subsequently received $89,000.

Judge Davidson ordered Thomas and Newell be referred to the DPP for perjury and contempt charges. Judge Davidson also said there was further evidence of conspiracy and perjury and that all of Roseanne’s charges were unsafe and should be quashed.

In 2004, evidence of the numerous phone calls that contravened Judge Davidson’s order made by Peter Thomas, Adrian Newell and Barry Catt during the Inquiry, were referred to the NSW Commissioner of Police and the NSW director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, for investigation but no charges were laid.

In 2004 Judge Davidson’s findings of fact went to the NSW Court of Appeal where Roseanne Catt’s sentence was quashed. After 10 years imprisonment she was finally freed. Her claims that she had been framed and wrongfully imprisoned because she agreed to help FACS expose a pedophile ring that included her former husband Barry Catt and other prominent people seemed buried within the convoluted nuances of the NSW legal system.

July 4, 2006 the Roseanne Catt case took a new twist when senior DPP prosecutor, Patrick Power, returned to work from annual leave in Thailand and asked an IT expert at the NSW Office of the DPP to repair his faulty computer. The computer analyst located 29,000 pornographic images, including 433 depicting sex acts involving children, on Power’s computer.

A folder on the hard drive titled “good” contained 31 video files of a sexually explicit nature. The video file contained footage of a middle-aged man having sex on a sofa with a young Asian boy. Another file was titled “Paedo gay man and 5-year-old Thai boy”. The material consisted of still images and video files, the duration of which varied from a few seconds to 37 minutes.

These videos contained scenes of adult males engaged in a variety of sex acts with young children aged 10 years and less as well as adolescents. The material included penetrative oral and anal sex, bondage, masturbation and sex acts between adolescent males.

The computer analyst informed his superiors of the discovery. Later the same day the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdrey, informed Power of the material found on the computer but claimed he did not have the power to prevent Power leaving the Office of DPP (ODPP) before he was interviewed and charged by Police 48 hours later. Power was subsequently arrested July 6, 2006 and his Darlinghurst home was searched the same day.

It was during the intervening 48 hours prior to his arrest that a second, and possibly far more incriminating hard drive, disappeared from Power's computer prior to it being handed over to the DPP's IT department. A reconstruction of material from the missing hard drive showed it contained catalogued files with names strongly suggestive of it being child pornography.

Files on the missing hard drive carried names including: “Naughtyboyz - Weekend House Party”, “Gay porn - threesome rape of blond boy”, and “Gay porn young boy tied gets raped begs for them to stop”. Power, who had two days to hide or destroy the missing hard drive before his home was searched, has refused to produce it to investigators.

Patrick Power’s secret double life, which occupied senior responsible and high-profile positions in the NSW legal profession as well as chairperson of the NSW Youth Justice Advisory Committee responsible for advising the NSW Government on policy, came to an ignominious conclusion when he pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography and resigned from the NSW ODPP earlier this year.

Attempts to maintain damage control and achieve leniency in the courts fell on the shoulders of high profile silk, Ian Barker QC, who has been hired as Power’s legal advocate and defender. Barker is an astute legal tactician who earned his reputation as Crown prosecutor in the 1982 Lindy Chamberlain murder trial when he claimed the theory a dingo had abducted baby Azaria was a "transparent lie".

Barker gained Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction and she was jailed - only to have the conviction quashed after blood tests proved to be flawed. Nevertheless, Barker’s legal acumen was firmly established.

That legal acumen was employed to keep the charges against Power confined to the Magistrate’s Court where the maximum penalty that could be imposed for his guilty plea is two years imprisonment. If the charges had been elevated to District Court the penalty for Power’s guilty plea could been far more severe.

Another important legal tactic was to keep the court hearings out of the public arena by curtailing media access and public exposure. This tactic was accomplished by previous court hearings coinciding with public holidays - Melbourne Cup, Australia Day and Anzac Day - so the media would be occupied with other current and topical events as opposed to the stuffy confines of courtroom legalities. Power fronted magistrate's court prior to Melbourne Cup Day 2006. He pleaded guilty just prior to Australia Day holiday 2007. His last court date in magistrate's court was prior to Anzac Day.

But perhaps Ian Barker overstepped the mark at the recent pre-sentence hearing when he claimed Power was "a person of integrity" and a good man who had made an "outstanding contribution to society".

"This is an extremely sad case, we have a good man, a person of integrity, recognised by his friends, relatives and peers as a person of integrity, who is ruined by his own conduct," Barker told the court.

Barker said Power had always acted with complete propriety toward children and his "selfless work and generosity" should be remembered.

"In one sense the community is indebted to him and he is now entitled to call in the debt," he said.

Ian Barker then presented 59 references to the court vouching for Power's character and reputation and a further 17 references detailing his qualities as a crown prosecutor.

Barker told the court that Power suffered an Internet addiction and had long-term problems with depression. He said that his client has a serious mental condition and had been getting treatment for this condition since 1988. If these claims are correct then the NSW DPP have allowed a sexually dysfunctional Power to continue prosecuting cases for the past 19 years.

One of those cases he successfully prosecuted was that of Roseanne Catt in 1991 - a case in which pedophilia and the sexual exploitation of children was the cornerstone of her defence. A defence upheld by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal 10 years later.

Roseanne Catt served 10 years on malicious trumped up charges prosecuted by a man who now faces a maximum of two years imprisonment for the pornographic and sexual exploitation of children. Somehow the scales of justice no longer tip equally in NSW.

Postscript: Roseanne Beckett, aka Roseanne Catt, whose convictions were overturned by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, the same convictions wrongfully and maliciously gained by Patrick Power when he acted as Senior NSW Prosecutor for the DPP, has been denied the legal right to make a Victim Impact Statement to the court during Power's sentencing. Who, apart from the child victims of Power, has a more valid legitimacy to make a Victim Impact Statement that a woman who was wrongfully imprisoned for 10 years because of Power?

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About the Author

Bernie Matthews is a convicted bank robber and prison escapee who has served time for armed robbery and prison escapes in NSW (1969-1980) and Queensland (1996-2000). He is now a journalist. He is the author of Intractable published by Pan Macmillan in November 2006.

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