By Mary W Maxwell, PhD, LLB
Yesterday Australia was treated to an all-new look at “mass-killer” Martin Bryant. By some sort of law in Tasmania, no one is allowed to visit, write to, or telephone this man at Risdon Prison. However the Murdoch press seems to have got around the barrier! Thus they were able to give us the “inside” report. We’ve learned that the prisoner is fat, bald, and crazy. We are also told that he exchanges “family chocolate blocks” for the privilege of “performing sexual favors.” Amazing, eh?
No part of the media’s September 13th story is subject to any verification, much less comeback. Martin’s mother, Carleen, “declined to be interviewed for this story.”
Dee McLachlan and I are a bit worried that we may have caused this bludgeoning of the public with information about the monster. (One headline yesterday was Monster Inside. Another was Pure Evil.) Is it a way of demonstrating that persons who care about justice in Oz are a bit thin on the ground? As you know, we push the issue here at Gumshoe, and our 2014 Adelaide Fringe show had a skit on Martin Bryant’s outrageous incarceration. (He, being retarded, was wholly incapable of committing the mass murder.)
Let me give just one quick reminder of the voice of the real Martin Bryant, and then, below, suggest that ABC took part in a crime regarding the prisoner. This was printed in the book by Keith Noble, available online. The P is the police; the M is Martin, the date is 1996:
P – I mean do you think that people should accept the consequences of what they do?
M – Yeah I do. I spose I should for a little while for what I’ve done. [He is referring to a carjacking that he admits to.] Just a little while and let me out, let me live my own life. I’m missing my Mum. I really miss her actually, what she cooks up for me, her rabbit stews and everything.
P – Martin, unless there’s anything else that you want to tell us, we’re going to ahh, stop the interview now. As Mr Warren explained to you, this is the last opportunity you’ll have to speak to us. You’ll be at your next court appearance, charged with twenty murders, I’m sorry, thirty five murders and …
M – Just that.
P – … And approximately twenty attempted murders and several wounding charges as well.
M – Attempted murders.
P- And also
M – You mean attempted, they weren’t hurt?
P – Ahh, yes they were hurt. Some of those people. You’ll also be charged with the arson of Seascape. Do you understand all that?
M – How months will it get me in?
P – Well that’s not a, a question I can answer.
M – It’s great to have someone to talk to. And you guys won’t be in again?
P – No.
M – To have a talk.
P – No.
M – I’ll miss yas.
Below is a transcript of an ABC Background Briefing conducted by ABC’s Ginny Stein on the first anniversary of Bryant’s imprisonment, in 1997. It gives me the impression that Ms Stein was trying to encourage someone to kill Bryant in the prison. She even showed how it could be done in a part of the prison yard that was not covered by cameras. Remember: this came from “YOUR” ABC. I will bold the bits that prove my point.
ABC Radio National – Background Briefing: 16 March 1997 — Managing Martin: The Jailing of Martin Bryant
Ginny Stein: Background Briefing is the first program to be given access to Risdon, to see how the prison is managing its most difficult, disturbed, and mentally impoverished inmate. [Was he really difficult? The ‘most difficult’?] It’s almost a year since Bryant carried out his murderous spree at Port Arthur. On that day, he killed 35 men, women and children, in a premeditated and calculated manoeuvre, shooting many of them as they cowered. Later when he himself was cornered, he set himself alight, by accident or design it’s not known. [Surely he did not set himself alight.]
Dr Wilf Lopez is the Head of Psychiatry at Risdon. He says Bryant isn’t easy to deal with. Every day Bryant reminds his jailers of who he is and what he’s done.
Wilf Lopez: I’ll give you one example. One of the nurses happened to be talking to him, and Martin as usual in a very childish way said, ‘Have you got any children? How old are they? Will you bring them to come and see me?’ And when this particular member of the staff — I’m not saying nurse or officer — said, ‘Oh, I’m not going to bring them’, he just put his hand out and said ‘Click! Click!’ – you know, making the suggestion of a gun.
[Query: why won’t Lopez say if it is a nurse or officer? You know it can’t be national security. You know it can’t be to cover Bryant’s right to privacy! Maybe it’s to “protect the feeling of those who lost their loved ones”?]
Ginny Stein: That was not an isolated incident. Bryant has said many terrible things to staff. He’s even offered to be a sperm donor. [I wonder how that came about?] Staff at Risdon were allowed to refuse to work with Bryant, and some did. Security issues were so difficult in the beginning that officers were handpicked. [Really?] His meals were specially prepared by nursing staff within the hospital to minimise the risk of someone tampering with his food. [Seriously?]
Wilf Lopez: A normal person would have seen that “I’ve done a terrible thing. Everybody must be hating me.” But somehow or other, it doesn’t seem to have sunk in. [Kind of hard to sink in, if you know you didn’t commit the crime.] He stills feels, “I want to be friends with people. Why don’t they allow me to mix with other prisoners?”
Ginny Stein: Last year,… there was a great clamour for the death penalty to be returned, for Bryant to be strung up. And while the age-old question of why such a person should be allowed to live was being discussed, there was political pressure from Tasmania’s Attorney-General, Ray Groom, to move him out of the Prison Hospital and into the Yards, as maximum security is known.
In the Yards, prisoners are housed in blocks: two tiers of single cells flanking a common exercise area known as the Yard. In the Yards, things happen, and it’s not always possible to see who did it — prisoners know that. [Note: no sign of criticism of Groom here, from our ABC narrator.]
Rod Quarry is the Chief of Security. He’s overseen the introduction of cameras in Risdon and knows their strengths and limitations.
Rod Quarry: You see the glass, the clear glass section right in the middle there? And there’s a mesh cut out. In behind there, there’s a pan tilt and zoom camera – It’s really good with that sort of equipment. The other one is a fixed camera on the other end of the Yard, right up high. So I’ve got a picture of both ends.
Ginny Stein: Effectively those cameras couldn’t see what’s happening in the under cover areas, or even in the cells.
Rod Quarry: Not most of them — there are blind spots underneath, and in the shape of this sort of yard, you would need cameras in every little corner to pick up all the blind spots. But this gives us a good coverage. Don’t forget you’ve also got an officer in here, all day, every day.
Ginny Stein: Attorney-General Ray Groom made his position very clear. He said Bryant would one day have to have contact with others in the maximum security section of the jail, and he said, ‘He must pay the price, and that is what will occur.’
There are rules amongst inmates, and Bryant has broken them all. The lowest life-form is someone who has killed children. To kill with a gun, unless you have the physical prowess to back it, reduces the standing of a prisoner even further. [And to think I did not even know about that till now!] Bryant is at the bottom of the lowest heap.
Ray Groom: There are a lot of tough people out there; there are very violent men. A number — probably 20 or more — murderers out there at the present time. So it is a pretty tough environment and things can happen.
Ginny Stein: Death threats have been made against Bryant. They’ve been delivered by mail to the prison and over the phone. When he was first sentenced, people wanted him dead and there was an expectation that for the term of his natural life wouldn’t be a very long time. Graeme Harris is the General Manager of the Risdon Prison complex. He admits security would have to be reviewed if Bryant was ever to be moved there. There is an expectation in the community that he won’t be here for long, that if he’s ever released into the Yards, someone will get to him, that eventually it will happen, no matter what you do here in terms of security.
Ginny Stein: …obviously the same level of antagonism is not directed to any other prisoner in Risdon.
Graeme Harris: Not to the extent it is to Bryant.
Paul de Bomford: … we actually designed this cell as a suicide-proof cell.
Ginny Stein: The attempts that he has made to take his life — one happened here when he wrapped bandages around his neck.
Paul de Bomford: That was in the period when he was physically sick and being treated for his burns, and there was another bed in here. So it did have bedrails on it, but at the time he was under constant observations, he was able to start the attempt but he certainly wasn’t able to finish it.
Ginny Stein: There has been another attempt — what happened there?
Paul de Bomford: He tried to swallow a rolled-up toothpaste tube, and fortunately it became lodged in his throat, and it was removed by ambulance staff that attended. [Just wondering: when someone swallows a toothpaste tube, do they get any kind of counselling?]
Ginny Stein: Last century in Port Arthur prison, hardened criminals the mentally ill were locked up for long periods in solitary confinement. The intention of isolation was to subdue, reform and render harmless prison inmates. The reality was that it sent people insane. Bryant spent his first eight months in almost complete isolation, locked in a bare cell with yellow walls and no natural light. It began to get to him.
Wilf Lopez (Psychiatrist): If you don’t do the basic things, there’s likelihood that he would develop some sort of psychosis. Being isolated is enough, it’s a process like brainwashing, and there were a few signs of that happening. Fortunately we were able to intervene at the right moment….
Ginny Stein: Can you tell me about that?
Wilf Lopez: A few days ago he did become very suspicious, thought the television was talking about him; there were items in the paper that related to him. He also heard some car horns being tooted in the middle of the night, which to him signified a special message. He also felt that I was going to torture him, pull out his nails. [Poor Martin, a total patsy, like James Earl Ray.] So he was becoming psychotic. This lasted about two days. In fact he was so upset the next morning we saw some bruises on the forehead, nose and chin, and I asked him why he did that, he said, ‘Well, I thought I was going to be killed.’ [Did “Dr” Lopez leave it at that?]
Authorities at Risdon don’t allow inmates to speak to the media, but one man who understands prison culture and how Bryant would fit in is Dr Rod Milton. [As usual, a handy expert witness.]
Rod Milton: I suspect they’d have a lot of trouble dealing with their feelings about him. One is that in prison terms, he’s a great achiever; another one is that they have the ordinary human feelings of him having caused a lot of harm to a lot of people. So they’re going to be in quite a bit of conflict over the contact with him.
Ginny Stein: You say a great achiever, but isn’t it true that in prison culture someone who has murdered young children and older people is held in extreme low regard? In light of that, is there that great security concern that someone would be prepared to do him harm if he’s being held up as an achiever?
Rod Milton: I think sometimes people seek to do others harm out of a sense of rivalry; in prison, a lot of the ordinary values are turned through 180-degrees, and it may be that someone has a sense of rivalry and tries to attack him for that reason.
Ginny Stein: They would gain notoriety for knocking him off?
Rod Milton: Yes, or for just belting him one. They’d probably get some kind of kudos for that. [Well, well, well.]
Rod Quarry: I spent a lot of time with him, going backwards and forwards in the Court van, backwards and forwards to Court. All he wanted to talk about was the crime, the impact of the crime, how big it was, how special he was. [I am guessing this to be an out-and-out lie; it does not go along with his biography.]
Ginny Stein: Bryant in the flesh is not the same man the media portrayed. With his hair shaved off, he no longer resembles in any way the photographs that appeared in the press. But seeing him, knowing what he had done, I wanted him to go away. I didn’t like him looking at me.
Wilf Lopez: I think gradually the gravity of what he has done seems to be sinking in, and it is quite obvious now when he talks, he does express words that convey the feeling that he probably regrets what he has done. Not because he’s jailed, but in general. For instance he starts talking about “Should I write to those people and say how sorry I am?’” [Hmm. Would they let him do this?]
Ginny Stein: At the same time, Bryant wants to know what’s being written about him, but no-one is telling him. But for those who work at Risdon, they know what’s being said about him. When they leave work at the end of the day they can’t escape the general public. Hate mail continues to be directed to Bryant from right around Australia and from overseas. Most of the letters say he should be dead.
Time is likely to be Bryant’s greatest enemy. In his high security hospital ward, if anyone harmed him, in all likelihood they’d be caught, either on camera or carrying out the act. In the main accommodation block of the jail, in the Yards, it’s a different story. There are now more cameras and less guards. Cameras watch, but they don’t record. They aren’t linked to video recorders. [Is she saying “Go ahead and do it; the government will wipe the film?”]
As Tasmania’s Attorney-General Ray Groom said, “People are killed in jails – it does happen.” [Does a nominee for an Attorney Generalship get vetted in any way?]
Ginny Stein: In the words of a young man currently inside Risdon and relayed to Background Briefing, Bryant may be a hero to some, but there are plenty inside who’d like to do him. This is a re-enactment of what that young man had to say:
Man: Bryant’s a hero amongst some of them you know, someone like him who shot all those people. I’ve seen him when I was in the Prison Hospital. I asked him to play chess. He’s a real arrogant shit, fucking useless at chess though. He thinks he’s shit hot, but he wouldn’t last a minute out in the Yards. There are blokes there that would do him, for sure. I heard some of the guys talking about the way he chased those two young kids.
Some of the guys are just talk, but if they thought they’d get away with it, they’d do him for sure, and I’m not talking about just bashing him one either. There’s only one screw watching the Yard most of the time. All he has to do is get him out of the way, and they’d have him. No-one would be game to say nothing either.
Ginny Stein: Background Briefing’s Co-ordinating Producer is Linda McGinness; Research, Suzan Campbell; Re-enactment today by Damon Herringman. Technical Producers, Jeremy Moore and Mark Don. Executive Producer, Kirsten Garrett.
(I abridged the transcript by about 60% — MM)
— Mary W Maxwell hopes you will buy the book Truth in Journalism, and invite her and/or Dee McLachlan to speak on this fascinating subject.