Paul Wroe, key witness in Susan Neill-Fraser's last-ditch appeal, grilled by defence

Paul Wroe. Picture: Facebook
Paul Wroe. Picture: Facebook

One of the key witnesses in Susan Neill-Fraser’s last-ditch appeal has denied ever setting foot on the yacht where Bob Chappell was murdered.

Neill-Fraser is serving a 23-year jail sentence for killing her partner on the pair’s yacht Four Winds at Sandy Bay on Australia Day, 2009.

Neither Bob Chappell’s body nor a murder weapon were ever found, which meant Neill-Fraser was convicted by a jury on circumstantial evidence alone.

Neill-Fraser has already unsuccessfully appealed her conviction in the Court of Criminal Appeal and has attempted to have the matter assessed by the High Court.

In a landmark case for Tasmania’s legal system, Neill-Fraser has launched a final appeal in the Hobart Supreme Court, thanks to new state legislation enacted in 2015.

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Justice Michael Brett is tasked with ruling on whether enough “fresh and compelling” evidence is presented to warrant a new trial.

Paul Wroe, 60, of Congupna, Victoria, was living on his yacht Southern Wright when Neill-Fraser’s partner disappeared.

His vessel was moored roughly 1 kilometre south of where Neill-Fraser and Mr Chappell’s ketch Four Winds was moored at Sandy Bay.

Mr Wroe had been living in Tasmania for two years when Mr Chappell died on Australia Day, 2009.

He came to the state after receiving a “considerable” inheritance from his late mother, which he used to buy the Southern Wright.

While in Tasmania, he was convicted of operating his boat under the influence of alcohol and for entering a prohibited area.

Neill-Fraser’s counsel Tom Percy asked Mr Wroe if he had ever been on the Four Winds.

Tom Percy

Tom Percy

“I’ve never been on the Four Winds at all,” Mr Wroe said.

“I’ve never met the doctor or his wife.”

The defence then asked Mr Wroe about his violent criminal history and drinking habit.

“When drinking, do you have a tendency to violence?” Mr Percy asked.

“In my younger years, yeah,” Mr Wroe said.

Director of Public Prosecutions Daryl Coates asked Mr Wroe about his sailing experience, which the witness appeared to suggest was minimal.

I’ve never met the doctor or his wife.

Paul Wroe

“Has anyone ever taught you how to sink a yacht?” Mr Coates asked.

“No,” he replied.

Neill-Fraser was thought to have sunk the Four Winds after murdering Mr Chappell.

Another witness, Grant Douglas Maddock, owned a yacht called Apache, which he lived on at the time of Mr Chappell’s death.

Grant Maddock, c. 2009. Picture: Supplied

Grant Maddock, c. 2009. Picture: Supplied

At Neill-Fraser’s 2010 trial, a witness said they saw a person with long hair in a dinghy heading in the direction of the Four Winds on the night of Australia Day, 2009.

But Mr Maddock, who had shoulder-length hair at that time, said he was rowing his dinghy towards the Four Winds that night, when he thought a man needed help anchoring his boat.

“It’s not too often that somebody comes in around midnight,” Mr Maddock said.

John Hubert Brettingham-Moore, the man in question, corroborated Mr Maddock’s claim.

The appeal was adjourned until March 7, 2018, when, according to Neill-Fraser’s daughter Sarah Bowles, the defence will call its principal witness.