Five Famous Australian Wrongful Convictions

Five Famous Australian Wrongful Convictions


Australia’s criminal justice system has been in no means perfect. While we can take pride in its design and the safeguards provided to minimise wrongful conviction, there have been numerous incidents of this not working. This is becoming particularly true with safeguards such as “presumption of innocence” and “right to silence” becoming less and less strong in recent years.

Lindy and Michael Chamberlain

(Picture from Murderpedia)

One of the most famous wrongful convictions were those of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, whose baby disappeared near Ayers Rock during a family holiday.


Lindy was convicted of murder in 1982, with Michael convicted of being an accessory. They always maintained their innocence, famously insisting that “a dingo took my baby”. Lindy received life imprisonment, while Michael was sentenced to a suspended 18 months.


The investigation was done extremely poorly. For example, alleged blood found in their car turned out to be a sound proofing compound applied at the time of manufacture. Police also ignored vital evidence, such as the observation of other campers and dingo tracks surrounding the tent where baby Azaria was snatched.


The biggest piece of evidence suggesting their innocence came when Azaria’s jacket was found in a dingo lair, during a search for a lost hiker. Lindy was released from prison in 1986, and the couple acquitted in 1988.


Ronald Ryan


Ronald Ryan was the last person to be executed in Australia, sentenced to death for murdering prison guard George Hodson while attempting to escape on December 19, 1965.


Over a dozen witnesses swore that they saw him fire the fatal shot at Hodson, for which he was hanged in Pentridge Prison, Victoria on 3 February 1967.


However, there was persistent doubt about the identity of the person who actually fired the shot at Hodson. Two other guards admitted that they had fired several shots. In 2007, Ryan’s fellow escapee Peter Walker noted that it would have been impossible for Ryan to have fired the shot, because his rifle had jammed.


Ryan’s execution ultimately became the turning point in Australia’s stance on the death penalty, with many outraged by the uncertainty about the conviction.


John Button


John Button, incredibly, was sentenced and imprisoned for murder even after the real killer confessed. In 1963, a 19 year old Button was celebrating his birthday with parents and 17 year old girlfriend Rosemary Anderson. The couple had a fight, and Rosemary left the house.


Button followed her, trying to persuade her to return. Eventually he decided to give her space, and had a cigarette. When he returned, he saw her lying by the side of the road. He took her to the family doctor and she died hours later.


Serial killer Eric Cooke confessed several murders before his death, including that of Anderson. Despite this, Button was convicted and spent five years in prison.


He was only allowed to appeal this 37 years later, when it was finally overturned when he was 56 years old in 2002. He never had the opportunity to learn a trade or study.


Andrew Mallard

(Picture from

Andrew Mallard spent twelve years in jail, for a crime that he did not commit; convicted of killing Perth woman Pamela Lawrence. Lawrence was violently murdered in 1994, in her Mosman Park jewellery shop.


Mallard became a strong suspect, but it later became known that the police withdrew vital evidence from his criminal defence lawyers. In other words, he had been framed for the crime. During a later investigation, multiple findings were handing against two of Western Australia’s most highly respected police officers.


Eventually, analysis of forensic evidence linked the crime to another man who was serving time in prison for the murder of his girlfriend. Mallard describes that he will never fully recover from the ordeal inflicted upon him.


The Mickelberg Brothers


In 1982, Ray, Peter and Brian Mickelberg were arrested and charged for robbing the Perth Mint of $650,000 worth of gold bullion. It wasn’t until 2002, twenty years later, that one of the arresting officers admitted that he and other officers had framed the brothers. They had even stripped and beaten one of them whilst in custody.


A large chunk of gold bullion was dumped at Channel 7’s Perth Network right after their release. This was shown to be from South Africa and entirely unrelated. However, many people belief it was an attempt to further incriminate him.


In 2004, all three convictions were quashed and Ray and Peter (Brian had passed away) were offered $500,000 by the state. The brothers demanded the compensation come directly from the police officers involved, rather than the taxpayer.


So there you go – 5 most famous Australian wrongful convictions. Just remember that being charged with a criminal offence might happen to everyone of us and so we should be prepared. Always try to find out about the laws and rules pertaining to your case or leave it to the professionals like LY Lawyers who will be able to help you regardless of the case.

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