I returned to my work as a Crown Prosecutor for the first time in a year. (In fact it was the second time, the first being cut short by a mischievous press release that promised much but delivered nothing capable of sustaining any charge whatsoever against my son, his girlfriend or me). I was welcomed back with a warm hug from Deputy DPP Keith Alder, whose cordial visit to my chambers and the kind sentiments he expressed left me moved to tears.
My next brief turned up in a wheelbarrow. How wonderful to be back in a role by which I have been enriched for 30 years, supporting victims of sexual and violent crime, and their often bereaved families, through the gruelling ordeal of the criminal justice system.
Many have enquired how I have put in my time since the inexplicable attack upon my family by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption over what they thought was said after a serious car crash involving my son’s girlfriend as she drove home from work early one evening. The crash was not her fault, she was in the ambulance before any police arrived and mandatory blood tests gave a 0.00 result. The only person charged by Police was the at fault motorist, a pizza delivery man. Two months later, ICAC raided our homes and seized our phones desperately searching for some attempt to pervert the course of justice. But they did not seem to realise that there had been no course of justice to pervert. And Sophia had not said a word to Police at the scene as she was already in the ambulance. It was to take 9 months before the High Court declared all of ICAC’s actions toward us illegal. Then, both major political parties having been effectively neutered by ICAC’s attention to members on both sides of the House, the Parliament was bludgeoned into retrospective legislation to deem legal that which the High Court had determined was illegal as outside the powers of the ICAC Act. ‘How corrupt is that?’, one is moved to enquire. So I was sidelined, unavailable to guide crime victims through their legal ordeals (a role for which I am now more keenly attuned), for a further 5 months.
I have taken up boxing, training with my three sons, Steve 27, Matt 25 and Chris 23, several times a week. The boys are all proficient in a range of martial arts and they have the gift for teaching acquired, genetically and by example, from their dear Dad, Greg. It is an incredible joy for a mother of my vintage to participate in organised sport with her adult children. And, in the circumstances of the battle which was launched against us, it was the right training to embrace. It enhanced ‘the ICAC diet’, which renders unpalatable the consumption of any food at all, and my much lighter frame is also a fitter one. My beautiful boys, who have been so gallantly and bravely protective of me throughout the attack on our family, are proud of me.
I have long held a dread fear of motorbikes. I have seen the evidence of many horrific collisions in the course of my work. My children have been forbidden anything to do with them (although there is one which turned up in my backyard a year or two ago which no one is claiming). So it was with some incredulity that I was observed throwing a leather-clad leg over a 1700cc Harley Davidson Softail Fatboy early the other Sunday morning. My friend Martin Killen, who started in the Attorney General’s Department the same day as I did almost 39 years ago and who has since had a long career in the New South Wales Police Force until going into practice as a solicitor, convinced me to ride pillion with him on the Ride for Justice and Peace supporting the Homicide Victims’ Support Group. I am quite sure I would never have had the courage, but for the strength that the ordeal of the last year has brought out in me. Of course the experience was exhilarating and it was extraordinarily uplifting to meet some more of the families whose lives have been devastated by the irremediable crime of murder. Their experiences have kept my family’s relatively inconsequential travails in perspective.
One of the best things about the past year has been the incredible love and support of literally hundreds of friends, both old and new. Much of this support, being public, has been characterised by bravery as well as loyalty. Marta Dusseldorp, a brilliant actress who plays the part of a Crown Prosecutor in Crownies and Janet King, invited me to the AACTA Awards and, when she won for Best Actress, generously acknowledged me and my work in front of the 3,000 strong crowd. My über-sociable friend and fellow Bar Councillor, Jeffrey Phillips SC, took me to dinners, book launches and reunions where I acquired many solicitous and caring new friends.
As I write this page, I have been informed of the sudden passing of one of the treasured people who, although unknown to me before, contacted me to befriend me and offer assistance during this strange, but fortunately vain, attempt at my public annihilation. Roger Gregory, a Director of the New South Wales Masonic Club, suffered a massive stroke and passed away last night with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children around him. It is only a couple of months since he invited me to lunch at the club with some other wonderful people to fortify me in my battle.
Although we could both think of two pretty obvious reasons why I could never be a freemason, he was generous with his encouragement, wisdom and prayers. Vale Roger. My sincere thanks to you and to all of my dear friends. I will never forget your valour and integrity.
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Margaret Cunneen SC is a NSW Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor
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