WA Police to reopen Josh Warneke’s murder case after Gene Gibson is set free

Tim Clarke and Daniel EmersonThe West Australian
VideoPolice will restart their investigation into the murder of Josh Warneke from scratch.

UPDATE: Police have revealed they will restart their investigation into the murder of Josh Warneke from scratch, after WA’s Court of Appeal today threw out the manslaughter conviction of the man who had confessed to the killing Gene Gibson.

The State’s highest court today ruled that conviction unsafe, after his lawyers successfully argued that mental impairment and justice system bungles had combined to send the wrong man to jail for five years.

WA Police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan today said he “deeply regretted” the part his officers had played in that miscarriage of justice. He said he was willing to meet with Mr Gibson personally to express his regret.

And now the state’s special crime squad will be launching a new investigation into the murder of Mr Warneke, whose battered body was found on the side of the road in Broome in 2010.

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Artist’s sketch of Gene Gibson.
Camera IconArtist’s sketch of Gene Gibson. Credit: WA Supreme Court

Mr Warneke’s mother, Ingrid Bishop mother said the freeing of Mr Gibson was one of the most "profound moments of my life."

"Today is a great day as it’s the beginning of the next stage of Gene Gibson’s life as a free man after nearly 5 years in gaol. I am so happy for Gene and his family,” she said.

The Commisisoner also revealed that three of the 11 officers involved in the original investigation who had been censured by WA police over their conduct have not accepted their punishments.

This means they will now face an internal disciplinary process – involving a hearing before an assistant commissioner – to explain themselves. This could result in fines or demotions for the officers involves.

VideoAn illiterate Aboriginal man jailed for the killing of Josh Warneke on his own confession has had that conviction overturned.

Mr O’Callaghan said that was personally disappointing, as he said those officers appeared to show no contrition for their part in putting an innocent man in prison.

Last week, during an hearing at WA’s Court of Appeal, some of WA’s leading lawyers – acting without pay for the Pintupi man – argued that Gibson’s own confession should be deemed unsafe.

They said his plea was induced by “false or materially unreliable evidence”, and Gibson’s “cognitive defects” and language difficulties “significantly compromised” his ability to understand what was happening to him after he was arrested, charged and remanded.

Today, the three judge panel headed by Appeal Court president Justice Michael Buss unanimously agreed that the conviction should be quashed.

With no prospect of a retrial, that means Gibson is a free man and will be released from Casuarina prison as soon as today.

Ms Bishop was not in court to witness the decision handed down. She has previously said she wanted to be outside the prison when Gibson is released.

The long-running case into Mr Warneke’s death, codenamed Operation Aviemore, was beset by bungles and led to 11 police officers facing disciplinary or managerial action over their conduct.

Broome man Josh Warneke was killed while walking home from a night out in 2010.
Camera IconBroome man Josh Warneke was killed while walking home from a night out in 2010.

A scathing report by the Corruption and Crime Commission found the problems with the case were a symptom of wider “failures and weaknesses” in the WA Police handling of major cases.

The original murder charge against Gibson was downgraded to manslaughter after video-recorded interviews conducted without an interpreter or lawyer present were ruled inadmissible.

A guilty plea to manslaughter was accepted, despite Gibson persistently maintaining that he did not kill Warneke as he originally said he had.

The Court of Appeal last year granted leave to appeal and fast-tracked the hearing.

Last month, speaking to ‘The Weekend West’, Mrs Bishop said she now felt “completely and utterly hoodwinked by WA Police.”

“There is no one else who will fight for justice for Josh and to get Gene Gibson out of jail,” she said.

“It has to be done and if no one else is going to do it, I’ll do it.”

“I think 2017 is going to be a great year because Gene Gibson is going to go free and there will be another investigation. I can’t wait for the new team to be appointed. Then we can start from scratch.”

Having watched their young family member, Mr Gibson’s family left court smiling but saying little.

Michael Lundberg, solicitor and partner at law firm King Wood and Mallesons, who took up Gibson’s appeal case, said the 25 year-old was “very happy” with the decision, and also thanked Mrs Bishop for her support in the appeal.

“There are no winners in this case. And although Josh and Gene have never met, their lives are now forever intertwined,” Mr Lundberg said.

VideoMan who admitted killing Josh Warneke in Broome to learn this morning if he will be released from jail

Premier Mark McGowan reacted as news of the quashed conviction emerged during a doorstop interview with media this morning.

He said he was aware of criticism of Police handling of the case, but it was too early to comment on the potential for compensation.

"I think there was obviously some serious concerns that the court has taken account of," he said.

"We need to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again.

"I don't know what the court has determined but you should never, in a modern community like WA, have miscarriages of justice against people simply because they don't understand the language or they suffer from a mental impairment and if the outcome today guarantees that that hasn't happened in this case and hopefully guarantees it doesn't happen in future cases, well then that's a good thing."

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