How fake allegations landed an innocent man in jail

The plan was to say that he had raped her. But Canberra prosecutors told a court on Thursday that the 28-year-old woman had begun spinning  the stories she would later tell to police a month earlier.

The man spent more than three months in a Goulburn jail on the false allegations his ex partner made about him. Photo: Supplied

The man spent more than three months in a Goulburn jail on the false allegations his ex partner made about him. Photo: Supplied

The couple's relationship had ended when in February 2014 the woman's ex partner started a court case to sell their Bonner home. The next day the woman’s mother put a caveat over the house, and the day after that the woman complained to police of domestic violence. Her ex partner was arrested in uniform and in front of his colleagues at his job as a corrections officer at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. He was given bail though the court imposed strict conditions.

But the domestic violence allegations were only the beginning. “How it can be manipulated so easily is astonishing,” the victim said at a sentence hearing on Thursday, of a justice system that failed to detect the woman's lies.

One day in March 2014, the woman sent a blank text message - an agreed distress signal - to her new partner, a NSW police constable. She also called triple 0 but did not speak when the call was answered. She sent another blank message to her partner, and ignored the call he made to her phone. At some stage she had turned her mind to the scene of the crime she would allege happened. She knocked over a peg basket, ripped a condom packet, unbuttoned her jeans and bumped her own head. She lay on the tiled floor and waited.

When police arrived they heard a woman groan. The woman, who was a NSW police administrative worker, told the officer her ex had come to the house, made her kneel on the ground outside and hit her head on a retaining wall. She claimed not to remember how she got inside, but as prosecutors would later argue she was planting the seeds that would eventually lead to her alleging her ex had raped her. Because her jeans were undone police sent her to hospital for assessment for a sexual assault. Later that night when police returned to the house, she drip fed officers more of the story. He had actually hit her head twice on the retaining wall. He had come in and grabbed her and yelled how he was not "f--king going to jail" because of her. She had blacked out and then crawled inside.

The victim, who had that morning been sleeping in the granny flat at his parent's house, was arrested again in front of his family and charged with assaulting the woman. This time he was refused bail, and because of his job was sent to Goulburn SuperMax prison where he was confined to a cell 23 hours a day on charges he did not commit and in constant fear the other inmates would discover who he was and kill him.

The woman staged a fake crime scene that included a condom wrapper.  Photo: Supplied

The woman staged a fake crime scene that included a condom wrapper. Photo: Supplied

As more "memories" came back to the woman she gave another statement. She knocked the peg basket at the victim as he approached. He had grabbed her throat with one hand and held a brick in his other. He dragged her to the retaining wall. He pulled down her jeans and threw a condom packet at her. He raped her while she struggled. Later testing showed there was strong support that DNA on the condom wrapper came from the woman, while the victim's DNA was excluded. It was also excluded from forensic swabs.

The woman turned her attention to the man's family. She told police a man had run her off the road and used a knife to attack her. She said he had a car like her ex partner's father. Police found a steak knife at the scene but it matched the ones at her house, and regardless the allegations were inconsistent with her injuries. She pointed the finger at her ex partner's family as suspects in more crimes. She alleged they had broken into her home and stolen her iPad. Police found the iPad wrapped in a dishtowel and in a plastic bag on the grass verge at the ex partner's family home. She denied going there that day but the GPS on her car - installed by police to protect her - said otherwise. These stories raised police suspicions and caused them to reassess the rape claim and later charge the woman with making fake allegations.

The self-inflicted injury above the eye that the woman said were from her ex partner. Photo: Supplied

The self-inflicted injury above the eye that the woman said were from her ex partner. Photo: Supplied

The fake allegations left a family broken and their trust in police, prosecutors and the court shattered. Their voices burned with anger and frustration as they addressed the court at Thursday's sentence hearing. They blamed the woman - who avoided their glares from the witness box - but they were also brutal in their assessment of NSW and ACT police, lawyers and the judiciary and the justice system. Their son was not afforded the presumption of innocence, they accused. The victim’s dad stood as he delivered a devastating account of the miscarriage of justice they had suffered following the complex and calculated allegations levelled at them by the woman, once she learned police were a "gullible and willing accessory". The ending of a 36 year long marriage, some $300,000 in legal fees and associated costs of dealing with the fallout. The family had learned to keep diaries and photographs of their daily activities in constant vigilance, to wave at surveillance cameras and log every movement in case she sent yet another allegation their way. They reserved praise only for the detective who later picked up the case and saw it through to the end.

False allegations, particularly of rape, are easy to make and difficult to prosecute, prosecutor Trent Hickey told the packed ACT Magistrates Court on Thursday. This was a crime committed not just against one family. It was committed against the community and against real victims of assault and domestic violence. Fake allegations are a waste of valuable police time and resources, in this case the price was some 900 man hours and $43,000. Such prosecutions are so rare that before now there is not one example of a person in Canberra being sentenced for the crime.

Forensic psychiatrists diagnosed no mental illness in the woman, leaving Mr Hickey to conclude that she was motivated by greed and "plain old maliciousness". The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had no criminal history but her lawyers had little to offer in mitigation: references from family who continue to support her, and a plea of guilt though it had come years after the fact.

Part of the "crime" scene was a knocked over wash basket and pegs. Photo: Supplied

Part of the "crime" scene was a knocked over wash basket and pegs. Photo: Supplied

Before she was sentenced the woman stood in white pants, red floral top and flat tan shoes, with her dark hair pulled back into a neat bun. The gold chain with a cross around her neck, a gold watch and earrings had already been removed and handed to family. The charges were of public mischief, for the allegations against the family, and making a false allegation, of assault against her ex partner. Magistrate Beth Campbell sentenced the woman to just over three years in jail, setting a non-parole period of two years. The woman did not react.

"The administration of justice in the territory has been significantly damaged by the offender's conduct," Ms Campbell said. The magistrate also said the woman had exploited how seriously police and the justice system now took such allegations and at the same time had undermined the process and all victims of domestic violence. The family’s victim impact statements were moving and distressing. They were deeply and justifiably aggrieved. She told the family that their complaints of the failings of the legal system had not fallen on deaf ears; they had been a sobering reminder of the responsibilities of all involved.