I wrote not long ago about a man in Washington who had spent some 17 years in prison based on the false testimony of sexual abuse extracted under duress from his children who were eight and five years old at the time. He was finally released thanks to several factors including their recantation of the charges, the lack of any other incriminating evidence and the withholding of exculpatory evidence by the police. Perhaps the salient feature of that case was that the goading of the youngsters into making their claims came from the man’s ex-wife as part of her revenge for his extra-marital affairs. That, plus the connivance of one particular police detective sealed his fate. Now this case shows some remarkable similarities (Sydney Morning Herald, 11/29/10).
Australian pilot and businessman Fred Martens was in the middle of a divorce and custody case about three years ago when he found himself arrested and charged with the rape of a 14-year-old Papua New Guinean girl. He was convicted and spent 940 days in prison, during which time he lost various business ventures in PNG, including the Royal Flying Doctor Service. But his conviction has recently been quashed due to his innocence. It turns out that he couldn’t have harmed the girl because, on the two occasions he supposedly was with her, he was demonstrably elsewhere.
The girl claimed she had flown with Mr Martens twice in 2001, in April and September, and that he sexually assaulted her on the second occasion.
However, official immigration records obtained by his legal team under a Freedom of Information request show he was in Australia on the first occasion while PNG civil aviation records show he could not have been with the girl on the September dates.
So Martens is suing the Australian government.
Australian Federal Police officers concealed evidence and submitted false documents in the prosecution of an Australian pilot on child sex charges, resulting in his wrongful conviction, the man’s lawyers claim.
If that’s not bad enough, Martens’ daughter Stephanie died of malaria in PNG during his legal battles with Australian prosecutors. Martens believes he could have saved her life if he could have flown her to Australia, but he was kept there against his will, his bank accounts frozen and his passport confiscated. Just like the Washington case, there looks to have been a suspicious connection between Martens’ wife Raina and the police officer who arrested him, Tania Stokes. Indeed, if what Martens alleges is true, it was Stokes who swore in an affidavit that official records placed him in the girl’s presence at the time of the alleged crime. That has now been proven to have been impossible. Martens basically claims that the police and prosecutors worked hand-in-glove with his ex-wife in her custody case. She initiated the claims, set up police interviews and apparently Stokes was willing to perjure herself in order to assist in Raina’s custody bid. It seems that, when it comes to claims of child sexual abuse, the police are often enough willing to promote the interests of one parent at the expense of the other. That would be natural if the claims had some basis in fact, but in Fred Martens’ case, they plainly did not. Even a cursory glance at readily-available public records would have demonstrated his innocence. Not only did the police ignore those records, Stokes seems to have directly contradicted them. That goes far beyond vigorous enforcement of the law into the realm of malice. What the article doesn’t say is what part the girl played in all this. Was she offered something in exchange for her testimony that was clearly false? It’s an interesting part of the story that the linked-to article doesn’t explore, likely because those facts aren’t yet known. But count on it, they will be. The process of civil discovery should be very interesting to follow. And follow it we will.