The Farquharson Case
1. Identify the main elements of the investigative process involved in the case (present accurate information on the key elements of the investigative process that were most relevant at trial)
2. Discuss major flaws, weaknesses or failures that were identified in the police investigative processes which affected the outcome of the case (systematically present and clearly explain)
3. Discuss critical suggestions for ways in which these investigative failures could have been overcome, and how they could be prevented in the future homicide investigations (have clear rationale and are well-framed and supported using appropriate sources)
4. Discuss the role of the media in influencing the outcome of the case (well-framed and supported using appropriate resources)
The Farquharson Case
Robert Farquharson was convicted of murder in 2007 after he allegedly killed his three sons. He had spent Father’s Day with the children and the incident occurred while he drove them back to his ex-wife. Robert veered off the highway into the dam in Winchelsea. He was able to leave his car but Jai, Tyler, and Bailey drowned to death. Farquharson denied the murder charges throughout the investigation, hearing, and trial. He claimed that he had experienced a coughing fit that resulted in him being unconscious and losing control of the vehicle. Nonetheless, he received a sentence of three lifetimes in the Supreme court. Upon appeal, he received a life imprisonment with a minimum of 33 years (Moles, 2009). Since the verdict, there has been questions on the credibility of the verdict the defendant received due to the belief that the results of the police investigations and the media influenced the sentence.
Key Elements of the Investigative Process
There were four key elements of the investigative process, namely incident management, investigation, specialist investigation, and identification of the suspect (National Centre for Policing Excellence, 2006). Incident management, which refers to the first response the police officers take when they are contacted, commenced when the officers arrived at the scene. They identified the extent of the scene of the incident through observation, took photographs and the plans of the area in order to preserve the potential evidence of the incidence. The pictures captured the tyre marks and the rolling prints that were visible in the grass.
The second element that is evident in the case is the investigation. It entails determination of whether an offence is committed, identification of witnesses, and obtaining the relevant information (Brookman, 2005). The sergeant decided to pursue a murder case but not a mere accident. He used the available evidence to make a computer simulation and record a drive through experiment that led to the conclusion that Farquharson had deliberately driven the car into the dam. The officers questioned the owner of the area the accident occurred. Cam Everett stated that although in eight years seven vehicles had gone through his fence, none of them had landed in the dam. There was also the interview of the accused, who claimed that he fell unconscious after experiencing a coughing episode and before the vehicle landed into the dam.
The third element was the specialist investigation, which entails seeking for an expert’s opinion on the evidence surrounding the incidence (National Centre for Policing Excellence, 2006). The doctor that handled Robert’s medical emergency after the accident treated him for cough syncope. The treatment was based on what the patient told the practitioner about his medical history, that he had experienced intense coughs before. The prosecutors also interviewed Dr King, a professor and consultant neurologist, on the incidence of cough syncope. The investigators also looked into the forensics report (Tyson, 2009). They supported Robert’s claim that the children had died as a result of drowning. However, they could not issue proof that Farquharson had coughed himself into unconsciousness before the accident.
Identification of the suspect was also a key element of the investigative process (Brookman, 2005). The police used the information they had collected from the experts and from the scene to determine that Robert was the main suspect. He admitted to having driven the car. The police had also investigated witnesses, such as Atkinson, through whom they got insights on his confession that he had killed his children and his reluctance to rescue them when he claimed to ask for help. He had insisted that the driver take him to his ex-wife’s home but did not show any interest to access a mobile phone and call the emergency number. The suspect was arrested three months after the incidence, for three counts of murder.
Flaws in the Police Investigative Process
One of the major flaws of the process of investigating the Farquharson case was the fabrication of evidence (Moles 2009; Harrison, Cragg & Williams, 2005). Sergeant Urquhart developed the computer simulations based on the evidence of other officers because he did not conduct any survey on the road. He asserted that the vehicle had turned by 220 degrees, thus a controlled movement. He could not verify to the court which marks were useful in the calculation of the movement of the car. Had he been at the scene when the evidence was taken, he would have conducted a more accurate analysis. However, at the supreme court the judge admitted the data regardless of the traffic analyst Axup presenting data that questioned the legitimacy of the information. Although the information resulted in a guilty verdict, the flawed data was a part of the contests made during the appeal process.
Another flaw of the process was handling the evidence late (Ager, 2016). The prosecutor handed in the photographs of the crime scene on the eighth day of trial. The conduct happened regardless of the fact that the pictures had been taken on the day the incidence occurred. The prosecutor brought the defence into awareness of the existence of the materials immediately the police department handed the pictures to them. the presentation of the pictures occurred under the oral agreement that the failure to disclose the pictures would not result in a retrial. The defence did not take time to consider the impact of the photographs to the case even though they would have helped refute the claims that the accused was in control of the steering wheel. As a result, the jury ruled that Farquharson was in control of the vehicle based on the sergeant’s opinion, thus he was intentional in committing the crime.
Thirdly, the police took a major role in ensuring the presentation of a witness that may have altered the evidence (Harrison, Cragg & Williams, 2005)). Greg King had made three different statements at the police station about a conversation he had with the accused a few months before Father’s Day. Although King claimed to have told his wife about the conversation, she said that she did not remember it. The police officers decided to tape King and the accused talking, however, they were only able to make what they termed as ‘dream allegation’. Regardless of the lack of consistency in the statements King made and the tape recordings, the police still pursued his testimony. They collaborated with the prosecutor to protect King from the pending charges he had through issuing a support letter. The erroneous information led to the proof of consciousness of guilt.
Suggestions of Correcting the Investigative Failures
On the fabrication of evidence, the police department should have ensured that the people who collected the evidence would be the ones presenting it in court. Although Urquhart claimed that the steering wheel had made three different movements, including the 220 degrees turn, the opinion of Sergeant Geoffrey Exton, who was present at the crime scene, held a different opinion. He said that according to the wheel marks, the car had left the road at 30 degrees. The court should have taken a role in correcting the eminent failures through avoiding labelling evidence as inadmissible without viable proof. Moreover, there would have been the use of experts in the area in order to issue accurate estimations. The specialists would have given less speculative and impartial information, thus a keen focus on pursuing the truth. In the future homicide investigations, the officers should not only involve experts in their analysis, but also should only be allowed to express their opinion on the basis of their interpretation of the observations they make at physical crime scene (Smith, 2003).
It is the responsibility of the police officers to hand over all available and viable evidence and materials to the prosecution in a timely manner. In the case, the officers had a duty of turning in the photographs with the rest of the evidence they have collected. The judge should have ensured the incorporation of the new materials in the trial to eliminate misconceptions. Although there is no current disciplinary action for officers that submit late evidence, the departments should look for strategies of eliminating the act. For instance, one would require to have adequate reason as to why the evidence acquired early during an investigation gets to the prosecutors late (Smith, 2003). This would help eliminate cases of mistrial or overlooking important materials as in the case of Farquharson, where the defence could not use the pictures to question the validity of Sergeant Glen Urquhart’s opinion.
The police officers also have a duty of producing legit witnesses. They should not influence the statements of witnesses, give false evidence, or engage in any misconduct that reduces the validity of evidence. In Farquharson’s case, Urquhart presented erroneous data while the officers played a part in ensuring that King witnessed even though his statements were not credible. During the case, the judge should have acknowledged the defence rebuttal claims. Farquharson had made numerous statements that he did not act upon. For instance, there was a time he said that he would drive off the cliff but he did not. He suffered from depression. To eliminate such an occurrence in the future, the citizens should be educated on the duty of the police to present accurate data and their ability to pursue a law suit when there is police misconduct. (Harrison, Cragg & Williams, 2005)
Influence of the media
The media has an impact on numerous people that are involved in a case. The media, which includes the television and the social media, act as a platform for sharing views and influencing the opinion of others. In the Farquharson case, magazines, blogs, newspapers, and the television were some of the platforms that aired opinion on the proceedings (Lim, 2015). There is a high probability that the police felt the pressure of solving the case and ensuring a guilty verdict. Some members of the public viewed the accused as a heartless killer that had decided to take the lives of three innocent children. This could explain the tendency to accommodate the statement of King, who was not consistent in what his said or his findings during the tape recordings (Tyson, 2009).
The media could also have an influence on the witnesses. More specifically, Cindy Gambino was at first convinced of the innocence of Robert. She talked about how he was a loving father and could not harm her children. However, she changed her stand during the appeal, where she testified against him (Australian Story, 2011). Another impact of the media was on the appealing. Farquharson could have decided to appeal not only because of the injustices, but also due to the public’s question on whether the court had incriminated a person that was innocent. Moreover, the court dismissed the previous proceedings due to the partiality of the judge, who seemed to direct evidence and witnesses to testifying against the accused. The new jury was careful to do everything the right way, and thus the sentence changed to three life sentences without a minimum to a life sentence with a minimum of 33 (Moles, 2009).
Farquharson case was influenced by both the police investigative process and
the media. The process was flawed in numerous ways, which include the
fabrication of evidence, delaying presentation of evidence in the courtroom,
and use of an unreliable witness. Although the judge could have stopped the
misconduct, she accommodated them and ensured that they helped make a guilty
verdict. Nonetheless, the police department should have a disciplinary action
for misconduct, and present an opportunity for citizens to sue the officers
that willingly engage in misconduct. The media also had a possible influence on
the outcome of the case. For instance, it could have impacted the opinion of
witnesses, such as Cindy, the jury, and Robert’s view on the ability to appeal.
It is important that the criminal justice system eliminates investigative
failures and media influences in order to avoid impartiality when issuing a
Moles, R. (2009). The Queen v Robert Farquharson  VSCA 307. Retrieved from http://netk.net.au/Victoria/Farquarson2.asp
Brookman, F. (2005). Understanding Homicide. London, U.K: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Tyson, D. (2009). Questions of guilt and innocence in the Victorian criminal trial of Robert Farquharson and the fact before theory internet campaign. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 21(2), 182-204.
Ager, M. (2016). Lacson wants stiffer penalties for false witnesses. Retrieved from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/796705/lacson-wants-stiffer-penalties-for-false-witnesses
Australian Story. (2011). Across the night sky – transcript. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2011/s3176010.htm
National Centre for Policing Excellence (2006). Murder investigation manual. Bedfordshire: National Centre for Policing Excellence.
Harrison, J., Cragg, S., & Williams, H. (2005). Police misconduct: Legal remedies. London: Legal Action Group.
Smith, G. (2003). Actions for damages against the police and the attitudes of claimants. Policing and Society, 13(4), 413-422.
Lim, S. (2015). Media influence on courts: Evidence from civil case adjudication. American Law and Economics Review, 17(1), pp.87-126.