Graham Stafford meeting Paddy Hill and Gerry Conlon in June 2010
Graham Stuart Stafford born 1963, was a sheet metal worker from Goodna, near Ipswich, Queensland who was convicted in 1992 of the murder of twelve-year-old Leanne Sarah Holland, born 1 October 1978. Leanne Holland, the younger sister of Stafford’s former partner, Melissa Holland, was murdered in September 1991. Her viciously mutilated body was found three days after she was reported missing in nearby Redbank Plains. It is possible she was also sexually interfered with and tortured with a cigarette lighter.
Stafford appealed to the Queensland Court of Appeal, but this appeal was rejected on 25 August 1992. In 1997, the Queensland Court of Appeal re-examined the case after Stafford lodged an application for pardon with the State Governor on the basis of evidence gathered by private detective, Graeme Crowley. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal again by a two-to-one majority on the grounds that there was still enough evidence to convict. Two applications for special leave to the High Court of Australia subsequently failed.
Stafford was released in June 2006 after serving over 14 years in prison. Stafford, who was born in England and does not have Australian citizenship despite having migrated to Australia in 1969, faced deportation in November 2006.
Some people, including Professor Paul Wilson of Bond University believe that Stafford is a victim of a miscarriage of justice. The Queensland Attorney-General, Kerry Shine, has agreed to closely consider any request on Stafford’s behalf concerning a petition to clear him of the murder conviction. In April 2008, the Queensland Attorney-General referred the case to the Court of Appeal for a very rare second appeal for pardon.
On 24 December 2009 the Court of Appeal overturned Graham Stafford’s conviction and ordered a retrial by a 2-1 majority. The dissenting judge wanted an immediate acquittal. On 26 March 2010 the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions, Tony Moynihan SC announced there would be no new trial of Graham Stafford for the murder of Leanne Holland.
Evidence leading to conviction
The judgment in the 1992 appeal set out the following evidence relied on by the crown which led to the conviction.
- During the day on which the Crown claims Leanne was murdered, Leanne and Stafford were alone in the home they both lived in with Leanne’s father and sister.
- Blood of a rare type was found on several items in the boot of Stafford’s car. The blood type was shown to be of the same type as Leanne’s.
- A strand of hair was also found in the car boot which was of similar length, colour and texture as Leanne’s.
- A maggot of the same type and age to those found on Leanne’s body was also found in the boot. This was later found to be incorrect, the maggot was actually of a different age.
- Blood consistent with Leanne’s was found in several places around the house.
- Car tracks of the same type as Stafford’s car were found on the track leading to Leanne’s body.
- Stafford lied during police interviews.
- A fold-up chair usually kept in the boot of Stafford’s car was found inside the house.
New evidence presented at appeal
The following evidence was available and called to the court’s attention in the 1997 appeal.
- Evidence demonstrating that Graham Stafford could not have committed the murder at the time when the Crown contended he had had the opportunity to do so was available to police at the time. This included transcripts of interviews with four separate witnesses and a shopping docket and car wash receipt showing incompatible times.
- Experts disputed that the blood evidence was consistent with the Crown’s case due to the lack of a substantial amount of blood and the lack of a foul smell from the boot.
- The hair found on a sponge in Stafford’s car boot was not found by the officer taking evidence. It was found during a laboratory examination after the sponge had been on the floor.
- The time of death based on the maggot’s development was changed to Tuesday morning from the original Wednesday evening estimate due to an incorrect ambient temperature reading. Stafford was at work on the Tuesday.
- The trial judge referred to “large quantities of blood” around the house. This is inconsistent with the very small amount of blood found in the bathroom, which was consistent with ordinary household use.
- Several relevant pieces of information relating to the tyre tracks and the missing hammer were either not presented or were misrepresented during the trial. The type of tyre tracks found at the murder scene was also quite common.
A Brisbane Sunday Mail examination of the police investigation revealed that an Ipswich computer store worker provided information to the police about a man who had entered the store on the same day as Leanne’s body was dumped in nearby bushland. The worker claimed that the man had been behaving in a peculiar manner and had blood stains on his hands and trousers when he entered the store. Furthermore, reports of Leanne having been seen alive on the day after the police allege she was murdered were ignored. A report of a vehicle other than Stafford’s being sighted near the body was also ignored.
Forensic scientist, Angela van Daal, gave evidence at trial that helped convict Stafford of the murder. She has since stated that the blood identified as Leanne’s could have come from another family member. Although the frequency of the blood type matching anyone in the general population was only about one percent, the frequency among relatives is as high as 25 percent. Around the time of the murder, Leanne’s brother Craig had slashed his hand in a pub fight and had bled freely in the family home, also Leanne had recently cut her foot and had walked through the house.
It has also been revealed that another twelve-year-old girl was murdered less than one kilometre away from where Leanne Holland lived within thirteen days of Leanne’s murder. The man who was charged with the second murder had been known to Leanne. Furthermore, daughters of a police informant in the Leanne Holland case have come forward claiming their father sexually abused them at the murder site, burnt them with cigarette lighters and showed them crime scene photographs of Leanne’s body.
On 27 April 2010 Tony Koch in The Australian reported “Doubt turned prosecutor Vishal Lakshman off Graham Stafford case”.
He said: almost 20 years after Graham Stafford was convicted of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in Ipswich, one of Queensland’s most experienced crown prosecutors has revealed that he declined to prosecute at the trial because he did not believe the accused committed the crime. Vishal Lakshman, 74, who retired in 1992 after 30 years, during which he prosecuted dozens of rape, murder and manslaughter trials in Queensland, is writing an autobiography detailing his life as an immigrant to Australia and the criminal trials with which he was involved. The only prosecution from which he ever withdrew was the 1992 Supreme Court trial of Mr Stafford, who was charged with the sadistic mutilation murder of schoolgirl Leanne Holland. “I wrote the chapter about Mr Stafford a year ago and my family encouraged me to speak out now because it was my belief and theirs that he was not guilty of the crime of murder,” Mr Lakshman said. “Among the many records I kept and from which I drew to write my memoirs is a copy of a memo I wrote on December 4, 1991, to the then director of prosecutions, Royce Miller QC. “At the time, I wrote: `I refer to our brief discussion regarding this matter. Stafford has been committed for trial and the evidence is entirely circumstantial. There are features in this case that give rise to some doubt that Stafford is the offender in this crime’.”
Among the many high-profile murder cases Mr Lakshman prosecuted were the cases of Bevan Meninga, brother of rugby league great Mal Meninga; Barrie Watts, killer of Sian Kingi on the Sunshine Coast in 1987; child murderer Barry Hadlow, who was released after serving life for one child murder, then murdered another at Roma in western Queensland; and Ernest Knibb, who murdered ABC scriptwriter Miranda Downes on a beach north of Cairns in 1985. Mr Lakshman’s detailed memo to Mr Miller concluded: “I have done many circumstantial evidence cases over the years and this is one of the few in which I find myself having some reservations as to whether the accused is the perpetrator of this crime. “I may not entertain any such view after some discussion with you but it would be desirable if you would be good enough to look at the material yourself and let me have your comments some time next year.”
Mr Stafford said yesterday he was devastated to hear of the memo Mr Lakshman wrote and questioned why the Director of Public Prosecutions did not make the information available to the defence team at his trial or subsequent appeals. “It is gut-wrenching – this whole thing could have been sorted out before it started if we had known,” Mr Stafford said from his Sunshine Coast home. “We knew there was something amiss when my counsel from the committal was changed, and so was the prosecutor.”
At the time of the murder, Mr Stafford was living with the Holland family and was engaged to Leanne’s older sister, Melissa. He was alone at home with Leanne on the day she went missing. At his trial, the prosecution alleged he beat her to death with a hammer, kept her body in the boot of his car for two days, then disposed of it in the bush several kilometres from the Hollands’ home. Her body had burn and stab marks consistent with having been tortured. Stafford, now 45, was convicted and served 15 years of a life sentence before his release in 2006.
He consistently maintained his innocence and a support team took up his case while he was in prison, organising several appeals. Last December, the Queensland Court of Appeal set aside Stafford’s conviction, on grounds of a miscarriage of justice, and ordered a retrial. But Director of Public Prosecutions Tony Moynihan SC said the crown would not conduct a retrial because in the 20 years since the offence, “evidence had been adversely affected”. So Mr Stafford is left in limbo. His conviction has been set aside and his innocence presumed, but he has served 15 years in prison and the state is not liable for compensation because he has not been found “not guilty”. Mr Stafford said yesterday: “I am indebted to the honesty and decency of Mr Lakshman for coming out now as he has done, but the fact is it would have made a huge difference to my appeal team or at my original trial if we had been made aware of it. “I am just devastated now to hear that this important opinion was available but was kept from me.”