Man accused of inventor’s Gold Coast murder in 1992 granted leave to re-examine witness evidence


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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Police believe other parties involved in disappearance of missing campers as two shovels taken into evidence



Police have taken two shovels into evidence in their search for missing Victorian campers Russell Hill and Carol Clay as detectives continue to believe other parties were involved in their disappearance.

Investigators widened the search area today to include Mount Hotham after the elderly couple mysteriously disappeared more than a year ago.

Missing Person Squad detectives and Search and Rescue officers began combing the area near the Great Alpine Road from 9am to pursue any clues.

Missing Persons Squad Detective Acting Inspector Tony Combridge said it was not clear how significant the discovery of the shovels was.

“At this stage I’m aware of the discovery, as to the relevance or its importance to the investigation, that is still to be determined.”

The shovels will be assessed by investigators.

Police are considering all possibilities with regard to the mysterious disappearance of the pair.

“I think the most likely scenario is that there are other parties involved in this,” Detective Acting Inspector Combridge said.

He said the reason for investigators turning their focus to Mount Hotham came from multiple sources.

“The accrual of that information when put together as part of a bigger picture has helped us make the decision this might be a high-value area for us.”

Detective Acting Inspector Combridge also said there were “no actual suspects at the moment” but an “enormous” amount of information had been received.

He added police wanted answers for the families of Ms Clay and Mr Hill.

“To be honest we don’t know what we’re going to find until we’ve searched it,” he said.

“The area is of interest to us because of information we’ve uncovered.

“We want to find some answers.”

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Labor staffer allegedly involved in foreign interference plot claims evidence was illegally obtained


Australia’s foreign interference laws will be tested in the High Court in Canberra today, when former Labor adviser John Zhang challenges the validity of warrants used to seize his passport, phones and computers.

Mr Zhang has not been charged with anything.

But Australian Federal Police (AFP) seized material from him during an investigation into an alleged Chinese plot to infiltrate the New South Wales Parliament through the office of Labor backbencher Shaoquett Moselmane.
 
Mr Zhang used to be an adviser to Mr Moselmane.
 
The AFP said it is investigating whether Mr Zhang and his accomplices used a chat group on the Chinese social media platform WeChat to encourage Mr Moselmane to support Chinese government interests, while concealing or failing to disclose to him they were collaborating with the Chinese state.

Mr Zhang has categorically denied the claim.

Submissions from his lawyers say the warrants were invalid on several fronts.

“In respect of the stated offence under [the law] the warrants did not identify the target with precision,” the submission reads.

Mr Zhang’s lawyers submitted that the foreign principal is identified only by implication as the Chinese government, the ministry of state security and the United Front Work Department.

Mr Zhang will also argue the laws interfere with the implied constitutional right to freedom of political communication.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and John Zhang at an event in 2018.(

Supplied

)

But the government submissions say, even if that is the case, the laws are still valid.

“The purpose of the provisions — protecting Australia’s sovereignty by reducing the risk of foreign interference in Australia’s political or governmental processes — is not only legitimate, but serves to preserve and enhance the system of representative and responsible government,” the government’s submission reads.

“The provisions are reasonably appropriate and adapted to that significant purpose.”

Zhang seeks return or destruction of seized items

Another key battleground will be over what happens to the items and materials seized under the warrants.

Mr Zhang wants them returned or destroyed.

The phones, passport, hard drives and other personal items were collected by police during three searches, including at the NSW Parliament.

Government lawyers will argue that even if the warrants weren’t valid, police should get to keep the material, citing the recent judgement in the case of former News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, where police were allowed to keep the material they gathered, even though the warrants were overturned.

In that case, the judges said:

“… It has long been accepted that the courts will refuse to exercise their discretion to grant equitable relief when to do so would prevent the disclosure of criminality which [would] be in the public interest to reveal.”

Mr Zhang’s case escalated tensions between Australia and China, with three Chinese journalists who were part of the WeChat group known as FD (Fair Dinkum) leaving in June last year shortly after being questioned by ASIO.

Another two scholars had their visas cancelled.

The diplomatic crisis also saw the ABC’s Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith evacuated from China.

The High Court hearing is expected to run for a day.

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Andrew Laming upskirting allegations: Queensland police find ‘no evidence of criminal offence’



Queensland police will take no action against federal backbencher Andrew Laming, who was accused of taking an inappropriate photograph of a woman while she was bending over. 

A number of people were interviewed as part of the investigation and a police spokesperson said detectives found no evidence to indicate an offence had been committed. 

“Investigators, having considered the interviews and all other information considered as part of the investigation, have determined there is no evidence to indicate a criminal offence,” a QPS statement said.

The woman involved in the incident lodged a formal complaint, and police said she has been advised of the outcome. 

Dr Laming has also been accused of – and has admitted to – harassing two female constituents and is now on leave to undergo empathy training at the request of Scott Morrison. 

Pressure continues to mount on the prime minister to expel the LNP MP for the Queensland seat of Bowman from the coalition. 

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said Dr Laming’s position in the coalition party room was untenable. 

He compared the circumstances to the handling of a rape allegation against NSW state MP Michael Johnsen

Mr Johnsen was booted from the coalition party rooms after the allegations came to light. 

Mr Turnbull said the same approach must be taken towards Dr Laming. 

“It’s pretty obvious that he should be sitting on the crossbench,” Mr Turnbull said. 

“His behaviour is so out of order.” 

Mr Johnsen has since resigned from parliament, after further allegations this week that he had invited a sex worker to visit him inside state parliament. 

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Daryl Maguire may face charges for giving ‘false or misleading evidence’ to ICAC



The former boyfriend of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian could face criminal charges after a damning report by the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption found former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire gave false or misleading evidence to the ICAC during an investigation into alleged corruption at Canterbury Council.

The ICAC handed down its report into Operation Dasha on Monday, recommending the Director of Public Prosecutions look at whether charges should be laid against the man who was Ms Berejiklian’s secret lover for five years.

Mr Maguire became embroiled in the probe into Canterbury City Council when he was caught on phone taps asking for payment on behalf of a property deal he hoped to secure for a Chinese developer.

The ICAC found Mr Maguire should be considered for prosecution for two offences – “giving false or misleading evidence at the public inquiry on July 13, 2018”.

The ICAC also concluded that former Canterbury City Council councillors Michael Hawatt and Pierre Azzi, and then director of city planning Spiro Stavis, engaged in serious corrupt conduct by dishonestly and partially exercising their official functions through misusing their positions.

The 2018 investigation sparked the separate ongoing ICAC probe into Mr Maguire’s business dealings that led to the revelation he was in a secret relationship with the premier.

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AstraZeneca says it finds no evidence of increased blood clot risk


London: AstraZeneca on Sunday said on Sunday (Monday AEDT) that it had conducted a review of people vaccinated with its COVID-19 vaccine which has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

The review covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and United Kingdom.

Norway has halted its rollout of the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.Credit:Getty Images

“A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and UK with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country,” the statement said.

Authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended the use of the vaccine over clotting issues, while Austria stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots last week while investigating a death from coagulation disorders.

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Ireland on Sunday temporarily suspended AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine “out of an abundance of caution”.

The drugmaker said additional testing has and is being conducted by the company and the European health authorities and none of the re-tests have shown cause for concern.

There are also no confirmed issues related to quality of any of its COVID-19 vaccine batches used across Europe and rest of the world, the company said.

Reuters

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Meghan Markle ‘requests evidence’ of bullying allegations


Meghan Markle has reportedly demanded to see any of the documents, emails, and text messages related to the bullying complaints lodged against her.

The Duchess of Sussex has “written to request the evidence” included in the Buckingham Palace probe into the allegations, a senior royal source has claimed.

Meghan is assembling her defence to squash the “calculated smear campaign based on misleading and harmful misinformation”, the UK’s Mail on Sunday reports.

RELATED: Prince Harry failed Meghan by not sharing the reality of royal life

RELATED: Queen breaks silence after Oprah interview

It comes after Buckingham Palace reportedly decided to bring in a third-party law firm to conduct the investigation into bullying claims made by both current and former royal aides.

The allegations came to light when an email from the Sussexes former press secretary sent in October 2018 was leaked to The Times newspaper.

Jason Knauf said: “I am very concerned that the Duchess was able to bully two PAs out of the household in the past year. The treatment of (omitted) was totally unacceptable.

“The Duchess seems intent on always having someone in her sights. She is bullying (omitted) and seeking to undermine her confidence.

“We have had report after report from people who have witnessed unacceptable behaviour towards (omitted).”

It was forwarded onto Prince Williams’s private secretary Simon Case after Knauf had discussed the matter with the palace’s head of HR, Samantha Carruthers.

Knauf claimed that Carruthers was united in his stance, and “agreed with me on all counts that the situation was very serious” although he “remained concerned that nothing will be done”.

However, the complaint was not pursued by the HR department.

RELATED: Meghan ‘flew into rage over blankets’

Two senior members of staff came forward in February this year, alleging that they had been bullied by Meghan.

One former employee claimed they were personally “humiliated” by the 39-year-old, while two other employees alleged they were bullied by her.

The claims include Meghan becoming upset at being given only a wing of Admiralty House, the Australian Governor General’s official Sydney residence during the couple’s 2018 Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji Toyr, rather than the whole property.

On another occasion she is claimed lost her temper with an assistant and a hot drink was knocked over.

Meghan has continuously denied the claims and is believed to have written to the palace to request her and Prince Harry’s involvement in the inquiry.

However, the Sussexes are not expected to be included in the examination, that royal officials are believed to be keen to keep under wraps.

Insiders claim they are determined it should “not be played out in public” to ensure all those involved can “feel comfortable”.

A Palace spokesman said: “Our commitment to look into the circumstances around the allegations from former staff of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is being taken forward but we will not be providing a public commentary on it.”

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission



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Fight to include evidence of ‘significant importance’ in Scott Johnson murder trial


A legal fight is brewing over the admissibility of “significant” evidence in the murder of Scott Johnson that could derail any future trial, a court has been told.

The New South Wales Supreme Court today heard the case against the alleged murderer, Scott White, would be “sustainably” weakened if the evidence was ruled inadmissible.

Mr White is accused killing Johnson in 1988, in one of the state’s longest-running and most high-profile gay hate mysteries.

Mr Johnson’s body was found at the bottom of cliffs near Manly, on Sydney’s northern beaches, and the 27-year-old’s death has been the subject of three coronial inquests.

Wearing prison greens, Mr White today appeared via audio link from the Hunter Valley’s Shortland Correctional Centre.

His case was listed for arraignment, but Crown prosecutor Brett Hatfield said that could not happen because of pre-trial issues over evidence.

Detectives arrested Scott White in Lane Cove last year.(

ABC News

)

Supreme Court Justice Robert Hulme asked whether a trial could go ahead if certain evidence was ruled out.

“From what I have read, there is a pre-trial hearing proposed of three to five days,” Justice Hulme said.

“That is in relation to admissibility of some evidence and it is suggested that that be determined before fixing trial date.

“Is that because if evidence is ruled to be inadmissible there would be no trial?”

Crown prosecutor Brett Hatfield said if certain evidence was ruled inadmissible then it “would certainly substantially reduce the Crown case”.

“It is of significant importance to the Crown case,” he said.

He added that if the evidence was excluded “we would need to assess if it proceeds”.

The court was also told estimating the length of the trial would be difficult.

“It has been the subject of three inquests and there are a large number of other possible suspects and it could run for many, many months … three months at least,” Mr Hatfield said.

The first inquest found Mr Johnson’s death was a result of suicide, the second was inconclusive and a third in 2017 ruled the death was the result of a gay hate crime.

In court today, the judge agreed it was “pointless to fix a trial date without the pre-trial matter being solved”.

Mr White pleaded not guilty in January to murdering Mr Johnson.

Five days has been set aside for the pre-trial hearing from July 12.

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Judge warns medevac refugees’ detention may be unlawful, orders evidence from Peter Dutton


A federal court judge has described Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s handling of some medevac refugee cases as disturbing and potentially unlawful, while his department says plans are in place to fly some detainees back to Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

A government solicitor today told the court a charter flight is set to return up to six refugees to Nauru within a fortnight, after cases were brought against the federal government by refugees who said they had not received the medical treatment for which they were brought to Australia.

The latest hearing comes as more than 20 refugees in Darwin and Brisbane were released on temporary bridging visas after up to a year in Australian hotels or immigration detention.

On Wednesday, the court heard several refugees who have asked to be returned to PNG and Nauru — from where lawyers say they would resume efforts for third-country resettlement — have been waiting for up to nine months.

Justice Geoffrey Flick questioned Mr Dutton’s handling of the refugees’ requests to be removed from Australia, saying the appeals seemed to “fall into a black hole” until court action was brought against the Commonwealth.

“What is disturbing me is a picture seems to be emerging that [the minister] is not taking any steps at all to give effect to a request made by someone in detention for removal until this court intervenes,” Justice Flick said.

Justice Flick said while he would hesitate to make a formal legal finding along those lines, “it seems to be emerging as a pattern.”

Refugee advocates in Darwin have protested against the indefinite detention of the medevac refugees.(

Sowaibah Hanifie, ABC News

)

Justice Flick issued orders for Mr Dutton to provide evidence of all medical treatment provided for the refugees and all steps taken to process requests for them to be removed from Australia.

Judge says government should consider possible compensation

Government solicitor Peter Macliver told the court a flight to Papua New Guinea was also being organised subject to information from the PNG government.

Justice Flick said there appeared to be little progress in organising a flight for another refugee who first sought to be returned to Papua New Guinea in June last year.

“It shouldn’t take the court to impress upon Mr Dutton the importance of complying with his statutory obligations,” he said.

Justice Flick also said the government should consider compensating the refugees for their time in detention, if evidence shows no steps were taken to provide the required medical treatment.

“If it were to be concluded, and on this I have no firm view at present, that these people have been detained without proper authority and for significant periods of time, I could only urge upon the minister to consider whether an ex gratia payment should be made to these applicants.”

Mr Dutton’s office has been contacted for comment.

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NSW police drop investigation into alleged rape by cabinet minister, citing insufficient admissible evidence



New South Wales Police Force says it will not proceed with an investigation into a historical rape allegation against a sitting cabinet minister in the federal government.

In a statement on Tuesday, the force said there was “insufficient admissible evidence to proceed” following the woman’s death.

The incident is alleged to have occurred in 1988 when the woman was 16.

The woman went to NSW police last year, but the investigation was suspended when she took her own life in Adelaide in June 2020 after telling authorities she didn’t want to proceed.

More to come.

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