Mum's trial by terror

By: Tony Koch

A DISGRACEFUL outrage has been committed by a Queensland Government bureaucracy on an already traumatised Gold Coast mother and her young children.
As reported today, the Mental Health Tribunal's Patient Review Tribunal has approved the release on leave of murderer Claude Gabriel. Just 2 1/2 years ago, Gabriel, then aged 23, came to Queensland from Melbourne on holidays, picked up three young female hitchhikers and took Janaya Clarke, 17, to his unit where he stabbed her to death.
He was arrested and charged, but under the laws unique to Queensland (they exist nowhere else in the British Commonwealth) he was psychiatrically examined and an application made to the Mental Health Tribunal.
That body, headed by Justice Richard Chesterman, found that because of mental illness Gabriel was not fit to stand trial. Instead he was confined as a mental patient where his progress would be monitored by the Patient Review Tribunal, an arm of the Mental Health Tribunal.
Janaya's mother, Robyn, exercising her statutory right, sought permission to attend all hearings at which applications by Gabriel for release were heard. At the original hearing she was not allowed to submit a victim's impact statement setting out the damage Gabriel had inflicted on the living members of her family, so she effectively was not heard. The Patient Review Tribunal refused her request to attend hearings. She could have no input.
On Thursday, she was informed by letter by the PRT that they considered Gabriel was now cured to the extent that he could have ``leave'' at the discretion of his treating psychiatrist. Clarke, who is terrified on behalf of her children -- one of whom is profoundly deaf -- asked just that she be told when Gabriel was on the loose so she could protect her family. Gabriel knows where she lives, that she is a single mum, and that Clarke has publicly condemned him as a heartless killer who should never be released.
She was told by the PRT that she would not be told anything. And further, she was told that under no circumstances was she to give any information to the news media.
This, of course, is all in the interests of the ``patient'' -- Gabriel. How skewed is a ``justice'' system that can continue to torture the mother of a murdered girl -- and claim it is doing so in the best interests of the killer? It is just ludicrous, and evidence yet again to support the fact that this unworkable and unfair legislation should be abolished.
In all other jurisdictions, when a person is charged over the death of another the matter is heard before a jury and the court decides whether it was a case of manslaughter or murder, and whether the perpetrator was of sound mind at the time the incident occurred.
If Clarke goes public -- and that could not possibly be before she overcomes her absolute terror -- she is liable to be charged with being in contempt of court. How incredible it would be to see this poor woman jailed because she feared for her own life and that of her remaining children -- because the crazed killer of her oldest child was allowed out in public and she was not allowed to know when or where.
She has been condemned to a life of continually looking over her shoulder; jumping at every noise in the night; becoming hysterical if any of her children are not home at the appointed time; her hand shaking when the doorbell rings or the phone rings -- for fear that it might be him.
No one cares about Clarke and her children. When a politician is stalked or threatened (remember Prime Minister Howard wearing a bullet-proof vest under his coat when addressing gun lobbyists) no expense is spared in providing security of the highest order. Yet when a suburban mum, unemployed and powerless -- the epitome of the little person without a voice -- asks for something so simple as to be officially informed when a person she quite reasonably sees as a danger to her family is released -- a crazed killer for God's sake -- she is told she won't be informed of anything.
She could face jail if she tells the dreadful news media about it. And why wouldn't this ``open and accountable government'' in Queensland want the public to know that they have approved ``leave'' for a bloke who viciously stabbed a girl to death 30 months ago? They know the public would be outraged.
And what if he repeats his crime? Is Health Minister Wendy Edmond or Justice Minister Rod Welford -- or Premier Peter Beattie -- prepared to stand up and guarantee that Gabriel will not kill again now that he is allowed out of the mental hospital? Of course not.
The glib apologies are rolled out -- the sincere regret. The medicos made a mistake. We are so sorry. How pathetic.
A person who kills another should stand trial, in the tradition that is known through law in the Westminster system. If that person is found to have a mental illness, he should be treated in the appropriate incarceration. He should not -- as has happened -- be able to avoid prosecution for the murder of Janaya Clarke. This system, as it operates in Queensland, makes lifelong victims of the family whose child or spouse was the primary victim of the crime. Clarke should not be sentenced to a life of terror because Queensland insists on supporting flawed legislation that denies the rights of the real victims of crime.