The man accused of murdering a wealthy Gold Coast inventor almost three decades ago allegedly admitted to killing him, but his lawyer has told a Brisbane court it could have been “an inside job”.
Philip Stearman, 53, was extradited from Tasmania to Queensland last year and charged with the 1992 murder of Hugo Benscher.
The 89-year-old’s body was found by a friend, bound and gagged on the floor of his Paradise Point canal-front home with serious head injuries.
Mr Benscher, who immigrated from Hamburg to Australia in 1948, invented an inflatable ball bladder used in sporting equipment.
For most of his life he had lived in Sydney but moved to Queensland after his wife died, six years before his death.
Police have previously alleged Mr Stearman, who was living on the Gold Coast at the time, had been involved in a botched robbery of Mr Benscher’s home.
In the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Thursday, Mr Stearman’s lawyer Timothy Ryan made an application to cross-examine, at an upcoming committal hearing, more than a dozen people who had provided statements to police.
The prosecution told the court that some witnesses — including a police officer, separate persons of interest from the time, and Mr Benscher’s son — did not need to testify in person, arguing the defence’s reasoning for calling them was “irrelevant”.
Mr Ryan told the court it was important to test the reliability of the witnesses’ evidence, as the prosecution’s case against Mr Stearman was circumstantial and there was “no forensic evidence at all” linking him to the crime.
“He is alleged to have made admissions to persons who were close to him at that time.
“The issue of the identity of the offender or offenders has always been, and remains, the primary issue in this entire case.”
Mr Ryan said investigations over the years had identified several “key suspects” who had been ruled out, including the friend who found Mr Benscher and other people involved in break-ins in the area at the time.
“A number of different people came under suspicion,” Mr Ryan said.
He told the court that the widow of the friend who found the body should be subject to cross-examination.
Mr Ryan said he believed there was evidence the murder was “an inside job”.
“The persons who committed this crime must have had some idea of what they were looking for,” he said.
The court heard a police officer had also provided a statement to detectives, saying he had responded to a disturbance involving the friend at Mr Benscher’s house one month before his death.
Mr Ryan argued the police officer should be cross-examined, but crown prosecutor David Finch argued questioning the friend’s widow or the officer about that incident would be pointless, as their disagreement had been cleared up in the statement.
“Certainly they had their issues and spats from time to time, but generally it was good.”
Magistrate Belinda Merrin allowed the application and granted leave for nine of the contested witnesses to be cross-examined.
“I am satisfied that there are substantial reasons, in the interest of justice, to permit the cross-examination,” she said.
The committal hearing is set for August.
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The Australian government has been accused on Q+A of “failing at the first hurdle” when it comes to the nation’s vaccine rollout and problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The competence of Australia’s government was called into question over initially choosing the AstraZeneca vaccine
Support for quotas in Federal Parliament was given
The head of the Australian Christian Lobby once again defended Israel Folau and his previous controversial social media posts
The show aired on Thursday night following Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s press conference where he and his team announced the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has a possible link to rare blood clots in a very small number of recipients, would no longer be given to Australians under the age of 50.
Instead, they will be given the Pfizer vaccine, meaning Australia’s already behind-schedule vaccine rollout threatened to slow further.
On Q+A, multiple panellists criticised Mr Morrison for “backing the wrong horse” and not taking a wider approach to acquiring more different vaccines such as those from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
“Australians really set the global standard in looking after one another, locking down in a way that reduced our COVID numbers, and our reward for that was meant to be that we would be able to get back on track and for us to maybe get the jump-start on other countries,” said federal Labor MP Anika Wells, from Queensland.
“It comes down to, I think, the Prime Minister’s judgement about the vaccines that he chose, the numbers of those doses and why.
“When the UK, the US, chose other pathways like Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.”
Asked by host Hamish Macdonald if she was saying the Australian government had “backed the wrong horse”, she responded in the affirmative.
“We’ve been saying since last year, we need more horses in the race. We need five or six different vaccines.”
Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman refuted the claim Australia did not have enough vaccine options and said the government had invested in five.
But Indigenous lawyer Teela Reid also said the government had failed and accused them of being incompetent before also saying they had really failed First Nations people.
“I think the country needs options available to be vaccinated,” Ms Reid said.
“It has been absolutely the people who have come together and kept us safe, locked down and done the right thing — and I just think that, you know, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the majority of us are under 50.
“I think that it’s just been completely reckless and unacceptable in a developed country that we are here now and we’re still waiting for the option to be vaccinated.”
While Ms Reid and Ms Wells took the Prime Minister to task over the rollout, other panellists, journalist Antoinette Lattouf and Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) Martyn Iles, felt the slow rollout was a blessing in disguise when it came to not too many Australians receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Ms Lattouf said this was a good problem to have while Mr Iles said the pivot in the vaccine strategy was not a massive problem before calling on people to leave people who have vaccine hesitancy alone.
“We don’t need to manufacture a crisis over the vaccine when we just don’t have one, ” Mr Iles said.
“It’s turning out that there’s some benefits of watching the rest of the world go just a little bit ahead of us.
“There are people in the community who have vaccine hesitancy and feel as though they, in good conscience, can’t take the vaccine.
“I actually want to go in to bat for them, I think we can respect someone’s conscience and achieve public health outcomes possibly at the same time.
“Everyone who wants it should get it [but] there’ll be some people who don’t want it, I reckon leave them alone, because the protection of conscience matters.”
‘Melanin count doesn’t change my access to truth’
Issues of gender bias in the halls of Parliament have been front and centre of late and one issue that has been raised is quotas.
Most of the Q+A panel was for the possible introduction of them except for Mr Iles, who drew scorn for, as he put it, being “the stereotypical white guy”.
“Quotas say a couple of things,” Mr Iles said.
“Some of them might be good, but some of them I’m concerned about.
“One of the things it says is that a parliament that is majority man or majority women, or majority one race or another cannot govern in the common interest, cannot govern for the common good, cannot actually seek after what is right and true.
“The melanin count in my skin doesn’t change my access to truth, it doesn’t change my ability to do good.”
It was then that Ms Lattouf immediately called him out.
“But it changes your lived experience,” she said.
“It changes your lens, it changes where you are in terms of privilege.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t have empathy, it doesn’t mean that you’re not clever and good at your job but you don’t have skin in the game when it comes to women’s issues, when it comes to Indigenous issues.
Regardless of quotas, Ms Reid said they were not the major issue and said other issues should first be examined.
“If you look at the experience of some women at the top, take for example Julia Gillard, that was a horrendous experience to witness as a young woman, but also I can’t even imagine what she’s experienced, and that’s looking at a white woman,” she said.
“I wouldn’t even want to know what a black woman experiences in those contexts.”
Iles defends ACL support of Folau
Mr Iles, who has long been a staunch supporter of former rugby league and union star Israel Folau, featured prominently throughout the show.
In 2019, Mr Iles stood side-by-side with Folau and even helped launch a fund to support the then-rugby star in his legal battle with Rugby Australia after fundraising site GoFundMe pulled down his page asking for financial help for the fight.
Rugby Australia said they had sacked Folau for breaching their social media code of conduct for religious posts he made which also preached homophobic views, before the sides eventually settled.
This week, the Australian Christian Lobby spent a large sum of money on an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph to pressure the NRL into allowing Folau to return to rugby league.
Mr Iles was asked to defend that use of money and his relationship with Folau and the ongoing support he is receiving from the ACL.
Mr Iles began by saying Folau had been misrepresented in the media.
“The media have repeatedly said that Israel condemned homosexuals to hell, that is not the overall point of the post that he made.
“What he said was that sinners are destined for judgement, and yes, Christians understand that as hell … but then he turned to the other side of the coin and he said, ‘and forgiveness awaits to all who repent and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ’.
“He said all of that in his post. Either you believe both sides of that coin — in which case, you are free, you have condemnation and salvation, you have judgement and release, you have repentance, you have faith — or you believe neither side.
Mr Iles rejected a comment by Ms Latouff that Folau had spread hate, saying that was not his motive.
But Mr Zimmerman, who in 2015 became Australia’s first openly gay MP, said that was in his view not the case with Folau.
“I’m not a religious person, but I was brought up in a religious family in the Uniting Church. It may not have been about hate, but it was certainly about love.
Mr Iles then went on to take aim at Rugby Australia and accused them of lying during the 2019 battle with Folau.
“He did not break a contract or a clause, if he did, it would have been relied upon by the tribunal that disciplined him.
“It wasn’t relied on because it didn’t exist.
“That’s a lie that was put out, I believe, by Rugby Australia to try and ruin his reputation.”
Watch the full episode of Q+A on iview.
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A Canberra man will next week lodge formal complaints against six other men, accusing them of engaging in sex acts within Parliament House.
An inquiry was launched after vision emerged showing a Coalition staffer masturbating on a female MP’s desk
Two of the people the complainant will accuse of inappropriate behaviour are currently employed by Coalition MPs
Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch said he hopes police investigate the man and his motivations for making the allegations
The Department of Finance is investigating the allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviour.
The inquiry was triggered after Channel 10 obtained vision showing a Coalition staffer masturbating on a female MP’s desk, an incident the Prime Minister Scott Morrison labelled “disgusting and sickening”.
The complainant, who has never worked in politics but admits to having had sex within Parliament House himself after meeting a man on gay dating app Grindr, claims he has extensive evidence to support his allegations, including messages, photos and videos.
Two of the men he will accuse of inappropriate behaviour are currently employed by Coalition politicians.
Two others are former government staffers – including the man who was sacked over the desk masturbation incident – while the other two are public servants.
“After talking with senior officials from the Department of Finance and [Finance Minister] Simon Birmingham’s office, I’ve agreed in principle to supply written evidence,” the man told the ABC.
“Whilst I am not sure if all the people named in texts, pictures etc are aware that they were placed in compromising positions, that will be for the inquiry to determine.”
Concerns images could amount to revenge porn
Some staff in Parliament House and a few MPs believe the man’s initial decision to share the desk masturbation video with Channel 10 amounts to revenge porn.
Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch said he hoped police investigated the man and his motivations.
“I absolutely still believe this is revenge porn,” he said.
“This man was involved in sharing explicit images of sexual acts with his friend. He had a collection. Now he’s turned on him and publicly dragged him through the mud because this friend wanted to stop sharing information because he had a new partner.
“In the frenzy to claim another scalp, I worry about how this has all been reported.”
The complainant denies his actions were revenge porn or designed to damage the federal government.
He said he only ever wanted to call out inappropriate behaviour in Parliament House and would not provide the images and videos he has to the inquiry.
“I have not, nor do I intend to, hand over the evidence I have to the inquiry, as agreed at this stage,” he said.
“I will, however, transcribe [the content of images and videos] as best I can into my statement.”
The case has also triggered scrutiny of openly gay staff members in the Coalition government.
Some men have told the ABC they feel the unresolved allegations have put several people under an unfair cloud of suspicion.
They say this was exacerbated after Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin alleged orgies had been held inside Parliament House.
In the hours and days after the desk masturbation video emerged, several ministers expressed their fury. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham warned anyone found to have committed lewd acts would be sacked.
“The actions of these individuals show a staggering disrespect for the people who work in Parliament and for the ideals the Parliament is supposed to represent,” he said.
However, after some of the men alleged to have been involved in sexual acts denied the allegations and the revenge porn claim was made, the government has appeared to be much more cautious in its public comments.
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Six-week-old baby Matthew Riley Baxter died of severe brain injuries in hospital in 2011.
His father Nicholas Aaron Baxter pleaded not guilty to manslaughter, in a two-week, judge-only retrial.
Crown Prosecutor Nigel Rees argued that when Mr Baxter was alone with his son he shook or struck him, causing internal injuries.
But Mr Baxter’s defence barristers argued the prosecution’s case relied on theory not evidence, and that the injuries could have been caused by seizure.
It’s the second time Mr Baxter has faced a trial over his son’s death.
In 2017 he was acquitted of a murder charge by a jury, who found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
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A man accused of mowing down an employee at a scrap metal yard in Adelaide’s inner-west has told a court he was being chased by a man with a machete at the time and was trying to drive away.
Shane Anthony Matherson is facing charges of endangering life and failing to stop
He allegedly drove a van into an employee after being told the recycling business was shut
Mr Matherson told the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court he was acting in self-defence
Shane Anthony Matherson has been charged with endangering life and failing to stop at the scene of an accident following the incident outside Denron Metals in Thebarton on March 6.
Police prosecutors told the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court Mr Matherson arrived at the scrap metal yard at closing time but was told by an employee that the business was closed.
The court heard the Blair Athol man then allegedly drove his van into an employee, knocking him to the ground before turning the vehicle around in a dead-end street and driving back over the man “at speed”.
“It appears he did not suffer any broken bones so he was very lucky in terms of his injuries,” the police prosecutor told the court.
Mr Matherson told the court he had phoned the business earlier in the day and was trying to drop off two fridges, a barbecue and some copper piping five minutes before the scrap metal yard was due to close.
“[An employee] walked up to the car and pointed at me and said, ‘F off, we are shut’ and I said … ‘I just want to drop it off that’s all, I don’t want the money’,” Mr Matherson said.
“Next minute they’re all saying get out of the effing car and there was six or eight men with tattoos on their arms, huge.
Police reject machete claim
Mr Matherson told the court he would contest the charges as he was acting in self-defence.
“Then this guy … six-foot-eight, as round as a barrel … he ran out of the scrap metal yard … and with his left hand smashed my windscreen and nearly put his hand through it,” Mr Matherson told the court.
“I took off on an angle, he hit the side of my car and fell onto the ute that was there.
“I did a quick U-turn because it was a dead-end street, there was no other way out.
“I drove by, the machete hit my windscreen and I drove away — it was as simple as that.”
He told the court police had found the machete and that his version of events would have been captured on CCTV — vision which, the court heard, had not yet been obtained by police.
But police prosecutors disputed the allegation.
Magistrate Jayanthi McGrath adjourned Mr Matherson’s application for bail to give police time to source and review CCTV of the alleged offence.
The matter will return to court next week.
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A man accused of co-running a terrorist network that sent Australian fighters to Syria has been identified as Brisbane dog trainer Gabriel Crazzi.
Crazzi, a 34-year-old father-of-three, could spend decades in jail after being arrested south of Brisbane on Thursday.
His alleged accomplice Ahmed Talib, 31, was taken into custody in Melbourne at the same time.
Australian Federal Police allege the men were part of a sophisticated terrorist syndicate based in Queensland’s south-east that helped get Australians to Syria where they joined terrorist groups fighting against the government.
Those groups included Jabhat al-Nusra, also know as al-Qaeda in Syria.
One of the men the group helped was Ahmed Succarieh, believed to be Australia’s first suicide bomber.
He blew himself up when he drove a truck loaded with explosives into a military checkpoint in Syria in September 2013, killing 35 people.
AFP counter-terrorism commander Stephen Dametto said the pair arrested on Thursday were part of a group that had tentacles in Australia, Turkey and Syria.
Police believe that between 2012 and 2014, as many as seven Australian fighters were helped to reach Syria.
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A man was set on by a police dog, Tasered twice and still managed to flee from officers in what a magistrate described as the “biggest resist [arrest]” he’d seen in his career on the bench. Jason Buckley, 39, had been on the run since November for an incident in which he is accused of dousing his partner in methylated spirits and threatened to set her alight with a cigarette lighter. A first instance warrant was sworn against Mr Buckley, who managed to elude detection for more than three months until this week, when he was arrested in Bonner and appeared on Friday before Magistrate James Stewart. Police alleged that in November 2020, Mr Buckley had several arguments with his partner before threatening her with injury. He left the house but returned, when the arguments resumed. This time, they said, he splashed the woman with methylated spirits and threatened to set her on fire with a lighter held in his hands. READ MORE: As the victim attempted to flee the house in her car, Mr Buckley jumped on the bonnet and smashed the windscreen, police said. She escaped and returned home, where he again confronted her. Seeking Mr Buckley on four charges, police had been on patrol in Gungahlin on Thursday afternoon when they saw him standing in a doorway. He allegedly ran away and police began a systemic patrol search of the area, finally spotting him hiding in some bushes. As Mr Buckley rushed at one officer, a police dog grabbed him. He somehow managed to wrestle the dog off and continued advancing toward police, who fired the first Taser. Buckley fell to the ground “momentarily incapacitated” but when police attempted to handcuff him, he wriggled free, ran at another officer and received a second Taser shot. He was eventually apprehended by a second group of officers approaching from another direction. “That’s the biggest resist arrest I’ve seen in my career,” Magistrate Stewart said in court. Mr Buckley appeared on a number of family-violence related charges including one count of an act endangering life, reckless threat to inflict grievous bodily harm and resisting a public official. Mr Buckley’s defence attorney sought bail, and said that his client would be pleading not guilty to the family violence charges. However, Magistrate Stewart said that Mr Buckley was already serving an intensive corrections order in NSW, “clearly had no fear of police”, and there was the strong likelihood of him harassing the complainant. He was remanded in custody to appear again on May 11. Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
A man was set on by a police dog, Tasered twice and still managed to flee from officers in what a magistrate described as the “biggest resist [arrest]” he’d seen in his career on the bench.
A first instance warrant was sworn against Mr Buckley, who managed to elude detection for more than three months until this week, when he was arrested in Bonner and appeared on Friday before Magistrate James Stewart.
Police alleged that in November 2020, Mr Buckley had several arguments with his partner before threatening her with injury. He left the house but returned, when the arguments resumed. This time, they said, he splashed the woman with methylated spirits and threatened to set her on fire with a lighter held in his hands.
As the victim attempted to flee the house in her car, Mr Buckley jumped on the bonnet and smashed the windscreen, police said. She escaped and returned home, where he again confronted her.
Seeking Mr Buckley on four charges, police had been on patrol in Gungahlin on Thursday afternoon when they saw him standing in a doorway.
He allegedly ran away and police began a systemic patrol search of the area, finally spotting him hiding in some bushes.
As Mr Buckley rushed at one officer, a police dog grabbed him. He somehow managed to wrestle the dog off and continued advancing toward police, who fired the first Taser.
Buckley fell to the ground “momentarily incapacitated” but when police attempted to handcuff him, he wriggled free, ran at another officer and received a second Taser shot. He was eventually apprehended by a second group of officers approaching from another direction.
“That’s the biggest resist arrest I’ve seen in my career,” Magistrate Stewart said in court.
Mr Buckley appeared on a number of family-violence related charges including one count of an act endangering life, reckless threat to inflict grievous bodily harm and resisting a public official.
Mr Buckley’s defence attorney sought bail, and said that his client would be pleading not guilty to the family violence charges.
However, Magistrate Stewart said that Mr Buckley was already serving an intensive corrections order in NSW, “clearly had no fear of police”, and there was the strong likelihood of him harassing the complainant. He was remanded in custody to appear again on May 11.
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France’s foreign minister has accused Britain of “blackmail” against the European Union over COVID-19 vaccine deliveries, saying the UK was under pressure because it lacked doses for second vaccine shots.
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A Gold Coast mother accused of killing two of her children for financial gain described her son as “a potato” with “no life” and said she “wanted to put something in his drink”, a committal hearing has heard.
Maree Crabtree is charged with the murders of her son Jonathan Crabtree, 26, in 2017, and her daughter Erin, 18, in 2012.
Both deaths were initially considered suicides.
Ms Crabtree is also charged with torturing and attempting to murder another woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, over a seven-year period, as well as charges of fraud and obtaining a financial benefit by deception.
Police have alleged Ms Crabtree forced all three to take prescription pain medication over a prolonged period, which caused them to suffer from health and developmental problems.
It has also been alleged Ms Crabtree used their disabilities, and her children’s deaths, to claim close to $1 million in insurance payouts.
Former neighbour Gemma Buchholz was cross-examined at the committal hearing in the Brisbane Magistrates Court over statements she had made to detectives investigating the deaths.
The court heard Ms Buchholz told police Ms Crabtree said to her: “Jonathan’s like a potato. He has no life. I just want to put something in his drink so he will just not be here.”
Jonathan Crabtree had been in a coma in 2015, following a serious car crash.
Defence barrister Angus Edwards told the court the alleged comment would have been made while Jonathan was in hospital, but suggested Ms Buchholz changed her statement to claim it was made closer to the time of Jonathan’s death.
“You said it closer to the time he died to make it seem like she had killed him,” Mr Edwards said.
Ms Buchholz replied: “I’ve made mistakes but I’m true to what she said to me.”
The court heard Ms Buchholz had also told police about a conversation at her child’s birthday party that Maree Crabtree attended.
Ms Buchholz told detectives Ms Crabtree insisted on being called “Nanna Marie”.
“Just her saying that and stating that, my hairs on the back of my neck raised up,” Ms Buchholz said.
But Mr Edwards again cast doubt on the witness’s recollection.
“You’re twisting my words,” Ms Buchholz said.
The defence barrister replied: “Your words change because you can’t keep your story straight”.
On Tuesday, the woman allegedly tortured by Ms Crabtree was ordered to hand over her phone, which was alleged to contain crucial evidence.
The charge of torture against Ms Crabtree related to allegations she forced the woman to take prescription medication for years.
The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, originally told police Jonathan Crabtree had committed suicide because he had received “bad news”, but two years later she wrote a letter claiming Ms Crabtree had killed him.
The woman told the court at the time of Jonathan’s death she was under a lot of stress and “couldn’t think straight” and decided to write down what had happened.
“I wanted to remember everything more clearly,” she said.
Under cross-examination, Mr Edwards suggested to the court that the woman had not remembered anything, and had instead made up the details.
“I did remember, but I decided not to talk to anyone until that time,” she said.
“I remembered, but not much, just like the small details … I didn’t remember them until I wrote all of them down.”
The court heard that in the letter the woman said she saw Ms Crabtree give her son a drink laced with an opioid drug called Oxynorm on the night he died.
“I remembered seeing her do it,” she said.
The court heard she told a friend what she had recalled and then spoke about it with her over social media, and also called another woman and told her over the phone.
The court was also told the woman was refusing to show police and prosecutors the social media messages between her and her friend.
“Everything was deleted before,” she said.
“I just don’t want anyone going through my phone — I own it.
“It’s private … it’s only for my eyes.”
Mr Edwards said the woman had “told lies”, and threatened to subpoena her phone.
“It’s a bit hard to accept what you say just on the basis that you say it — someone has to check it,” Mr Edwards said.
The woman is expected to continue giving evidence when the hearing resumes on Thursday.
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