Leith Ratten was a convicted murderer from
Echuca, Australia whose case ignited controversy and national interest
in the 1970s. Leading lawyers were convinced of his innocence. He died
in January 2012.
On May 7, 1970 members of the Victoria Police
stationed in Echuca responded to an emergency call at a home in
Mitchell Street. They found a heavily-pregnant woman, Beverley Ratten,
lying dead in the kitchen from a shotgun wound to the torso. Her upset
husband, Leith Ratten, was removed for questioning. Beverley would
later be interred in the Cheltenham Memorial Park, Melbourne.
During interview Ratten said he was cleaning an old
rusty double-barrelled shotgun brought in from the garage when it
fired, hitting his wife under the left armpit while she was in the
kitchen at lunchtime.
Ratten could not explain how the gun discharged or
how it came to be loaded. Subsequent investigations revealed that
Ratten was having an affair with Jennifer Kemp, the wife of a family
friend, and had spoken to her on the morning of the shooting. He had
also applied for a twelve-month posting to a base in Antarctica.
Trial and appeals
Ratten was committed to trial for murder and the
hearing took place in August, 1970 in the nearby town of Shepparton,
Victoria. Despite the assertions of Ratten's defence counsel that the
shooting was accidental and evidence against him was circumstantial,
the jury found Ratten guilty and he was sentenced to death. This was
later commuted to 25 years' prison.
Following the case, Ratten's lawyers undertook four
separate appeals on various grounds, one of which involved the
exhumation of Beverley Ratten's body in 1973. All four appeals were
dismissed. Despite the failure of his appeals there was considerable
doubt about Ratten's conviction, many believing he was found guilty
for the questionable morality of his marital infidelity rather than
concrete evidence. His case was widely discussed among the legal
fraternity while his cause was taken up by many notable lawyers and
politicians, such as Don Chipp.
Don Chipp said that in 1971 Henry Winneke had told
him the convicted murderer Leith Ratten was innocent. In 1981 when
Ratten had yet to be released, Chipp said Winneke denied the
conversation had taken place. Later, a member of the Supreme Court at
the time of Ratten's trial, told Tom Molomby Winneke had wanted to
remove the jury from the trial. Such a move would require a belief
that the evidence would not support a guilty verdict.
Ratten served his sentence, was a model prisoner
and was released in 1983. He worked as a surveyor in Queensland.
However, in 1981 he had been advised he would likely be released and
was given time on release to find a job, which he did. Then he heard
via the radio that he would not be released. Politicians making the
decision had allegedly been pressured by the police force. Further
examination of the unfired cartridge was undertaken and he was
released soon aft.
Ratten's family had been advised that he would be
released early if there was no fuss.
But in the late 1970s ABC TV did a program on
Ratten in its "Beyond Reasonable Doubt" series. The program was
researched and scripted by Tom Molomby who later organised a campaign
lobbying politicians on Ratten's behalf.
A Sunday Observer beat up was severely criticised
by the Press Council of Australia.
A book, The Web of Circumstance, by Tom Molomby in
1978 argued Ratten was innocent. And Professor Colin Howard of
Melbourne University wrote:
"After reading his scrupulous and impartial
account I share the author's belief that there can be no doubt left
that Ratten did not murder his wife".
Leith Ratten dies still claiming to be innocent
of murder of his wife
By Keith Moore - The Herald Sun
February 3, 2012
THE man at the centre of one of the most
controversial murder cases in Victorian history has died maintaining
Family members also remained convinced Leith Ratten
was wrongly convicted in 1970 over the shooting death of his pregnant
wife Bev in the kitchen of their Echuca home.
Ratten died late last month in Brisbane at 73.
His brother, Gream, 84, said Ratten should never
have been jailed and claimed Bev Ratten was killed when Ratten's
shotgun accidentally discharged while he was cleaning it.
A death notice in the Herald Sun this week
referred to Ratten as the "loved husband of Bev".
What it didn't say was that Ratten was sentenced to
death by a Supreme Court jury in Shepparton in 1970 for the murder of
his wife, eight months pregnant with the couple's fourth child when
she was shot.
Or that in rejecting an appeal to the High Court by
Ratten in 1974, the then Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, said the
case against Ratten was very strong and there was evidence he meant to
shoot his wife.
"There was ample motive for the pressure on that
trigger to have been deliberate," the High Court judgment said.
"The applicant was infatuated with another woman to
the point that he had agreed on her pressing suggestion to leave his
wife and children and set up house with her."
Ratten's death sentence was commuted to 25 years,
but he was released in 1983 after serving 13.
Barrister Tom Molomby, SC, and politician Don Chipp
were among many who campaigned for years for Ratten's freedom.
Mr Molomby wrote a book called Ratten, subtitled,
"The Web of Circumstances: how an innocent man was found guilty of
Greame Ratten this week said his brother had found
love again after moving to Queensland and was survived by his partner,
The family were struck by tragedy again in 1988,
when Ratten's daughter, Wendy, 22, collapsed and died at her office
desk as a result of blood clots on her lungs.
Ratten ran the prison radio station 3NP in
Pentridge and appeared in The Herald in 1981 with entertainer Ernie