ACT News


From reasonable digs to a history of violence

A flat four storeys above the one that was shot at early yesterday was once the home of sitting senator Reg ''Spot'' Turnbull of Tasmania.

That was the early 1970s, when the Stuart Flats in Griffith were just over a decade old.

Tenants of the flats back then included public servants and ANU academics. The flats were near the then Soviet embassy.

By 1990 the despair that has made the flats among Canberra's most notorious had well and truly settled in. Fed up with violence and drug use on the 12-block public housing complex, a residents group was formed to fight the ''welfare ghetto mentality''.

A report in The Canberra Times in 1990 described how ''residents, predominantly elderly people and young single mothers, want the right to sleep in peace, the right to walk to their homes without being attacked by hoodlums, and the right to let their children play in an area not littered with waste and potentially deadly syringes''.

Since then, few months have passed without Stuart Flats being linked to a crime or tragedy.


The most infamous incident was the murder of Ulrike 'Ricky' Conway in May 1997. Conway was the estranged wife of a federal police officer, John Conway.

She was killed at her Evatt home with a lethal dose of heroin that had been given to her by two Stuart Flats residents.

The men, Barry Steer, then 29, and Daniel Scott Williams, 22, had been introduced to John Conway by his lover, Kathy Marie McFie, who was also a resident of the flats.

The court heard that John Conway deliberately used McFie to recruit ''other extremely vulnerable residents of Stuart Flats'' to kill Mrs Conway with the promise of $11,000. Steer and Williams pleaded guilty and were sentenced to 18 years each. McFie was sentenced to 20 years and Conway 24 years with an 18-year non-parole period.

In 2000 the flats were in the news for a milestone of policing in Canberra - the first use of capsicum spray by ACT officers. A man had been wielding a 15-centimetre knife and asking police to shoot him, before he was sprayed.

One story involved the discovery of the naked body of Englishman David Landale outside the flats in mid-2006. The homeless man who had been staying in the flats died of an overdose of what was found to be home-made heroin.

A year later the sister of a well-known windscreen washer, David Edwards, called for an inquest into his death after he was found hanged in the flats.

He had mental health problems, which his sister believed were not adequately addressed.

Just last December police investigated the bloody death of a 40-year-old man, which was later ruled accidental.

Last month Andrew Haigh, 41, was charged with setting his own unit alight.

It was during catastrophic fire conditions and caused $100,000 damage.