The families of three Aboriginal children murdered in Bowraville 24 years ago were failed by the system, according to a NSW parliamentary inquiry, which recommends the government alter the law to make way for a retrial.
Sixteen-year-olds Colleen Walker-Craig and Clinton Speedy-Duroux, and 4-year-old Evelyn Greenup disappeared from Bowraville Mission on the NSW north coast over a five-month period between late 1990 and early 1991.
In 1991, a local man was charged with the murders of Clinton and Evelyn, but was acquitted of murdering Clinton in 1994.
Shortly afterwards prosecutors also dropped the charges relating to Evelyn. After an inquest into her death in 2004, he was once more charged with Evelyn's murder and again acquitted.
No prosecution has run for the murder of Colleen.
The inquiry recommends changing legislation to ensure for the first time the simultaneous trial of the three cases.
“We want to be able to go back to court with all three cases tried together and that’s basically the bottom line,” Mr Speedy's sister-in-law, Leonie Duroux said.
This would provide the victims’ families the opportunity to present evidence that is compelling before the court to convict the suspect.
Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin, who has worked on the case for 18 years, says it is the only way justice will be done.
“To suggest that these three matters are not linked it would ignore the facts that are available to the police,” said Detective Jubelin.
The Upper House’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice recommended that the NSW government review Section 102 of the Crimes Act to clarify the term "adduced". This would assist the family in achieving a successful request for retrial.
“[The committee] were incredibly forthright about the fact that these cases need to be heard at the same time. It is great that they made this recommendation,” said UTS Professor Larissa Behrendt, a Eualeyai-Kamillaroi woman who has been working with the families of the victims for a number of years.
“The next step is parliament to adopt that.”
Premier Mike Baird said the NSW government would consider the report's recommendations and offered his sympathies to the families of the three murdered children.
"Today [we] say to the families we understand you've been through incredibly difficult circumstances," he told reporters in Sydney.
"Our hearts and minds and sorrow goes out to you."
Professor Behrendt says there is bipartisan support for this change to be made.
“They were extraordinarily talking about these changes taking a couple of weeks," she said.
"These changes can take months and months, they can even take years. The parliament said today they made a commitment to the family. That they would try and get these changes moving along in the next two weeks. It’s unprecedented."
Significant amendments to the NSW double jeopardy legislation in 2006 brought fresh hopes that the families may achieve justice and have the three murders tried together. However, their application was refused.
“It makes me quite angry because you see cases like the backpackers murders; Ivan Milat. Imagine what would of happened if his cases were all heard separately,” Michelle Jarret, Evelyn Greenup's aunty, said.
“The guilt, the hurt, the shame you feel behind it all...you know it gave us a great sadness over all of our families,” she said.
Behrendt also says members of the bureaucracy had thought that it was not possible to introduce some of the evidence that had been attempted to be put into evidence in earlier instances.
“And what the parliament said today was that they want to make it clear that by changing the legislation if they want to, that evidence that had not been heard in court before should be considered fresh, and therefore should be available if there is a retrial.”
Chair of the committee, the Hon David Clarke MLC, acknowledged the long battle the family had fought and the toll it had taken on them.
"Throughout our deliberations, the committee has gained an insight into the rollercoaster ride of emotions experienced by the families following the children’s disappearances 23 years ago: their pain and frustration during the initial investigation and subsequent criminal trial were followed by feelings of optimism brought about by the second investigation, which were then dashed after the second trial.”
The parliamentary report noted in its recommendation the importance of the police force to consider cultural differences in investigating matters involving Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.
The NSW Government has six months to act on the recommendations.
A final decision to try the cases together must be made by the Court of Criminal Appeal.
Innocence Betrayed, a documentary that explores the case, will screen on NITV, Channel 34, at 8.00pm tonight.