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Police interrogation endangers child murder case

Broadcast: 19/09/2007

Reporter: Hamish Fitzsimmons

In Western Australia there are recriminations over the handling of a child sexual assault case in
2003 which saw the charges dropped and the accused go on to commit a brutal murder. It has led to
calls for an overhaul of law enforcement tactics in Western Australia and an acknowledgement by
police that improvements need to be made.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: There is a lot of soul searching going on inside the criminal justice system in
Western Australia, after the guilty plea this week by a man named Dante Arthurs to the shocking
murder of an eight-year-old girl in a Perth shopping mall toilet last year.

Almost four years earlier police had charged Arthurs with sexually assaulting another young girl,
but the Director of Public Prosecutions then dropped it because he ruled the police interview was
too aggressive. In this week's murder case, the Supreme Court dismissed the police interview, once
again, for exceeding acceptable boundaries. Police acknowledge improvements need to be made and
there are mounting calls for a major overhaul of law enforcement tactics.

Hamish Fitzsimmons reports.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: It was a routine shopping trip that turned into a crime which shocked the
nation. In June last year, eight-year-old Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu was brutally murdered in a
toilet at this shopping centre in Perth's southern suburbs. She was out of the sight of her brother
and uncle for just 10 minutes. The violence of the attack shocked even the most hardened police.

KARL O'CALLAGHAN, WA POLICE COMMISSIONER: The girl has got some shocking injuries, including broken
bones and it's a very disturbing crime, and as I said, it's one of the worst that I've ever seen.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: On Monday, the man accused of the crime, 22-year-old shopping centre worker
Dante Wyndham Arthurs, pleaded guilty to murder after the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped
charges of wilful murder and sexual assault.

ROBERT COCK QC, WA DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS: We have a conviction by a plea of guilty to
murder and there will be a life sentence imposed. That's not a bad outcome.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: The family is relieved to be spared the trauma of a trial.

FAMILY SPOKESMAN FOR FATHER BRYAN ROSLING: Well, they are relieved in the sense that they don't
have to be involved with the ordeal of a long trial and that their son, Gabriel, who is only 15,
will be spared having to be a witness. But they're very disappointed and saddened by the
downgrading of the charges through the plea bargain.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: But the question now being asked of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the
police is, could this murder have been avoided? In 2003, Dante Arthurs was charged with sexually
interfering with an eight-year-old girl in a park near his home.

VICTIM'S MOTHER: She was covered in blood and black dirt. Her hair was a mess. Tears all over her.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Arthurs confessed to the attack, but the matter went no further.

KARL O'CALLAGHAN: The DPP made the decision not to proceed with that case because they thought the
detectives' questioning of Dante Arthurs was robust. We disagree with that, we disagreed with it at
the time, we disagree with it now.

VICTIM'S MOTHER: It was just devastating to know that nothing was going to be done about it. It was
just dropped and I was angry. I think it was inevitable that he was going to do it again.

ROBERT COCK QC: Well, I think it draws a very long bow to suggest that had he had been dealt with
for that offence, this offence may not have happened.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: But the handling of the Arthurs murder case came close to failure last month.
The defence had a win in the Supreme Court when a videotaped police interview with Arthurs was
ruled in admissible because of the aggressive interrogation yet again.

ROBERT COCK QC: The questioning by police went beyond the wind in this one, it wasn't just close to
the wind. It exceeded the limits of a fair interrogation such to produce an interview which was not
admissible in court. So, in that respect it went too far.

KARL O'CALLAGHAN: We have to understand that firstly there were no admissions made in that
particular interview, so it wasn't necessarily as key as we think it might be.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Dante Arthurs pleaded guilty, therefore saving another potential embarrassment
for police. In recent years, Western Australia has seen a string of high-profile cases result in
defeat and sometimes red faces for law enforcement. In 2002, deaf mute Darryl Beamish was freed
after serving 16 years in jail for murder.

In 2004, the Mickelberg brothers conviction for a multi-million dollar gold swindle were overturned
after more than 20 years. In 2005, Rory Christie's conviction of his wife's murder was overturned
and in the same year, Andrew Mallard's 1995 conviction of Perth jeweller Pamela Lawrence was
quashed, and it's now the subject of a Corruption and Crime Commission inquiry.

MAN: I'm coming to pick you up boy, I'm coming to pick you up.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Earlier this year, three men were acquitted of the murder of Phillip Walsham in
1998.

KARL O'CALLAGHAN: I think we have to be very careful in drawing conclusions that because a case is
lost, the police have not done their job, or the investigators have not done their job. That's not
true.

ROBERT COCK QC: I think it's unfair to put in a bundle, about seven or eight high-profile cases
that have been delivered recently - although depending on trials that have happened over the last
40 years - package all them up and say therefore you haven't learnt anything, I think it's unfair.

KARL O'CALLAGHAN: Look, I don't want to sound overly defensive about policing. I think that we do
have some improvements to make, we've done a good job, but we do have improvements to make.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Many in Perth's legal community believe there needs to be a radical overhaul of
the law enforcement culture, even after a royal commission into police conduct which reported in
2004.

TOM PERCY QC, BARRISTER: I haven't seen any major changes in the last 20 years, 30 years of any
real significance at all.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Tom Percy is a Queen's Counsel who has been practising criminal law in Western
Australia for three decades.

TOM PERCY QC: It's time that the whole culture of the police and the DPP was examined, and examined
by someone who doesn't have a culture within the DPP or the police, someone from the outside had a
good look at it, because as long as the people who've been part of the system for many years are in
charge, we're unlikely to see anything change.

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Western Australia's Attorney-General, Jim McGinty, has announced the State
Government will abolish the offence of wilful murder to bring it in line with other states. But
regardless of any reforms, the family of Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu will always be haunted by the
question, what might have happened had Arthurs been convicted in 2003.

FATHER BRYAN ROSLING: The family are horrified that their little girl had to lose her life before
this man was apprehended.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Hamish Fitzsimmons with that report.