One of the most scandalous defamation cases the country has ever seen is due for hearing next year. It relates to Gordon Wood who was convicted by a jury of 12 of his peers of killing Caroline Byrne but later acquitted by three judges on appeal. If the rumours are right, this will make a lot of high-profile people such as Ray Martin, Graham Richardson and Eddie Obeid very nervous to say the least.
Mr Wood is suing News Corp in a situation that will put the jury in a position to again determine if he killed Caroline Byrne. The reason I say the matter is scandalous is because there is no doubt in my mind that Gordon Wood killed Caroline Byrne and he should be in jail not suing for defamation.
I always thought it was highly likely that Gordon Wood at some stage would withdraw his claim. But given he hasn’t at this point it looks as though the case will go to hearing as planned next year.
The murder, why she was murdered and the players
Gordon Wood was convicted in 2008 of the 1995 killing of his then girlfriend Caroline Byrne. The trial took place after the 2006 arrest of Mr Wood in London. (Click here to read more) How and why it took so long for the police to arrest and charge Wood needs investigating itself.
Caroline Byrne apparently was killed because she knew too much about the Offset Alpine Printing fire which looked like a massive insurance job. The late Rene Rivkin bought Offset Alpine from Kerry Packer in 1992 for $15.3 million. It was floated on the stock market and insured for $53.2 million which was over 3 times it true value. It burnt down on Christmas Eve 1993 and the share price sky-rocketed
So who benefited? A list on Wikipedia of some of the shareholders:
- Rene Rivkin, a Sydney stockbroker and entrepreneur
- Graham Richardson, a former Labor Senator and associate of Kerry Packer
- Eddie Obeid, a Labor politician
- Trevor Kennedy, a businessman and former Packer executive
- Rodney Adler, an entrepreneur
- Sean Howard, a businessman and one of the founders of internet company OzEmail
- Bill Hayden, a former Labor leader and Governor-General of Australia
- Ray Martin, a television personality who appeared on the Packers’ Nine Network
“The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) commenced an investigation into the ownership of a 38% stake in the company via secret Swiss bank accounts. Rivkin denied any knowledge of the ownership of the stake at the time, but in 2003 ASIC discovered that he himself, in partnership with Richardson and Kennedy, had been using Swiss bank accounts to trade in Offset Alpine and other companies. Rivkin committed suicide in 2005, before the investigation was completed, after being jailed on an unrelated insider trading matter. In January 2006 after a two year legal battle, ASIC gained access to the relevant Swiss banking records. In September 2006 it was revealed that Richardson had almost $1.5 million in Swiss accounts which he had failed to declare to the Australian Tax Office.” (Click here to read more)
Gordon Wood was Rene Rivkin’s driver at the time of the “Jewish Stocktake” at Offset Alpine Printing and apparently told his then girlfriend Caroline Byrne about the scam. It was decided to kill her because she knew too much or as some have said that she planned on telling the authorities what she knew.
I used the term “Jewish Stocktake” because that is a direct quote from Rene Rivkin who called it that himself. Rivkin did this at a seminar where he was one of the speakers along with Mikhail Gorbachev, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap etc. that was in Brisbane in the late 1990’s. My jaw hit the ground when I heard him say that in front of thousands of people because it was basically a confession to arson and fraud.
The meaning is: “The process by which a shopkeeper destroys their own shop in a self-lit fire, in order to claim insurance. The payout from the insurance is invariably higher than the projected profits from the shop.”
E.g. Shopkeeper: “Business hasn’t been doing so well the past two years.”
Accountant: “Perhaps it’s time for a Jewish Stocktake.”
The conviction and the appeal
Gordon Wood was tried for the murder in 2008 and “After five full days of deliberation on 21 November 2008 they found Wood guilty. On 3 December 2008 Wood was sentenced to a custodial sentence of 17 years, with a minimum time in prison of 13 years. Wood lodged an appeal to the conviction.”
Wood was convicted of throwing Caroline Byrne to her death off a cliff at The Gap in Sydney.
Some of the key evidence that had Wood convicted was:
1. Wood claimed that he had chauffeured Graham Richardson to an appointment on the day of the murder. Richardson denied this and said he was at lunch with rugby league identity Peter Moore
2. Wood denied killing her and said he was at home at the time of her death. But somehow he knew where to find Caroline Byrne: “Wood has said he did not know Byrne’s whereabouts but was led by what he termed “telepathic communication” to The Gap.” (Click here to read more)
Wood’s appeal was heard in 2011 by the then Chief Judge at Common Law Peter McClellan, Justice Megan Latham, and Justice Stephen Rothman. In February 2012 the judges quashed his conviction and Wood was released from jail. (Click here to read more)
I found it very disturbing that Wood’s conviction was quashed which meant there was no retrial. The judges could have upheld his appeal and ordered a retrial if they had wanted to. Why they did not is very strange given there was more than enough circumstantial evidence alone to convict Wood.
Justice Peter McClellan now heads up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Given his decision in the Wood matter I have always had doubts about his suitability as a commissioner of the Royal Commission.
The Father and the High Court
There was no appeal by the DPP to the High Court although Caroline Byrne’s father, Tony Byrne, did consider appealing himself but later changed his mind. (Click here to read more)
The defamation case
Mr Wood instituted defamation proceedings in June last year against Nationwide News (News Corp), Channel Seven Sydney, Harbour Radio, which owns stations including 2GB, and Radio 2UE, which is owned by Fairfax Media. (Click here to read more)
On Friday (17/11/14) Mr Wood’s barrister, Sue Chrysanthou, told the court the Nationwide News (News Corp) case is now the “last one standing” after a string of settlements including settling with Channel 7. What the settlements were is unknown.
Next year’s hearing
The chance of more evidence coming to hand during the trial next year is a real possibility as Wood is ducking and weaving and avoiding answering interrogatories.
“The court heard on Friday that Mr Wood had been resisting providing written answers under oath to questions, known as interrogatories, served on him by Nationwide News as part of its preparation for the case.”
“At least one of the questions related to his movements on the night of Ms Byrne’s death and his answers would form part of the evidence in the trial.” (Click here to read more)
If further evidence is revealed during the trial it might not only be about the murder but also the Offset Alpine fire. So there are a lot of people who would be very concerned. The appeal judges could end up looking even worse than they do now as their decision to quash Wood’s conviction was very contentious.
Then there are the shareholders of Offset Alpine who would also be worried if evidence came to hand that it was arson and Byrne’s death was somehow linked as suspected. Poor Eddie Obeid has enough to worry about at the moment with all the corruption findings against him at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
If the court case does make it to hearing it will be big and maybe settle a lot of unanswered questions. It’s a big roll of the dice by Woods but maybe he thinks he has nothing to lose.
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