Former detective Clive Small, who helped put serial killer Ivan Milat behind bars, has pointed what he believes to be numerous serious flaws in the police investigation into the death of Aboriginal teenager Mark Haines in 1988.
The widely respected detective has given BuzzFeed News his opinion on the death of Haines, a 17-year-old who was found on train tracks outside of the NSW regional city of Tamworth, and says there are "lots of questions" that still need to be answered.
Small has also presented three possible theories for what occurred on the night Haines died.
On Friday January 15, 1988, Haines, a popular Gomeroi teenager, spent the night partying with his girlfriend Tanya White and several mates.
On Saturday January 16 at 3:30am he kissed White goodbye and jogged up the street into the darkness.
Three hours later, at 6:30am, the driver of a train leaving Tamworth spotted Haines’ body on the tracks.
What happened in those three hours has remained a mystery, however members of Haines’ family maintain he met with foul play. Two coronial inquiries returned open findings, meaning the death was suspicious, but that no other verdict open to the court could be reached.
The initial investigation by the police was at best basic. Potential evidence was not secured, nor was the family kept abreast of developments.
BuzzFeed News’ intensive investigation into the case over the past year has uncovered almost three decades of lacklustre efforts by the Oxley Local Area Command (LAC), of which Tamworth police is a part, regarding the case.
The latest example was the slow response to new leads uncovered over the past 12 months.
Last April Faye Souter and her daughter Colleen read a BuzzFeed News article with a desperate plea from Haines’ family for any information that could lead to his killer.
They called Crimestoppers claiming that Terry Souter, Faye’s son and Colleen’s brother, may have driven the car that took Mark out to the train tracks.
It was an important lead and one that Small says should have been followed up immediately.
BuzzFeed News learnt in January that, aside from brief conversations over the phone, the Oxley LAC did not conduct in-depth interviews with the women.
“You should never treat a new lead lightly, no matter how old it is," Small told BuzzFeed News. "Some of the most seemingly trivial leads you get could be the most important. So they should always be followed up."
The Oxley LAC has also been accused of not keeping the family updated on developments in the case.
Don Craigie, Mark’s uncle, who is the family representative, says he's had to “fight and fight just for morsels of information over the years”.
In October, barrister and NSW Greens' justice spokesperson, MLA David Shoebridge, was so alarmed at the lack of contact between the police and the family and their “inaction” over leads that he requested a meeting with the Oxley LAC.
After Shoebridge pursued the issue with local detectives in the media while visiting Tamworth, he and Craigie were given an update.
BuzzFeed News put these claims regarding Haines’ family to NSW Police.
In a statement police responded: “Oxley LAC Detectives are continuing to investigate the death of Mark Haines under Strike Force PUNO, including following up inquiries as a result of information provided to police last year.
“Detectives from the State Crime Command’s Homicide Squad have been in Tamworth reviewing the investigation. Detectives are continuing to provide updates to Mr Haines’ family; the most recent contact was yesterday.”
The homicide squad of the NSW State Crime Command (SCC) has agreed to conduct a full review of all investigations into Haines’ case by Oxley LAC over the past three decades.
Small says that's a good start toward solving the mysterious death.
“They'll then determine if there's a further investigation, or [to] reopen the investigation... they will do a thorough job,” Small said.
With the review by the SCC underway BuzzFeed News asked Small to call on his vast law enforcement experience to look at how the case had been handled over the past 29 years.
The Unanswered Questions
Based on documents obtained by BuzzFeed News, he pointed out what he believed were several flaws.
“It's clear that there are a lot of unresolved issues and a lot of answers required to matters [in the case],” Small told BuzzFeed News.
Those flaws include failing to secure potentially crucial evidence.
"It's very difficult to give a comprehensive assessment of the investigation back in 1988, particularly when you haven't... walked through [the crime scene] and all the exhibits," Small said. "But it's quite clear that for example... material gathered near the car that was broken down near the railway line could have been kept more securely. That's one thing.
"It's clear that there should have been further investigation, or attempts to answer questions, surrounding what happened between 3:30[am], when [Haines] was last seen by his girlfriend, and when the body was found on the railway lines.
"[And] I think one of the most significant questions is that... there's reference to a towel being laid out on the railway line, as if he's going to put it down and go to sleep on it. Now we have claims that his head injuries were not sustained by the train and appear to have occurred earlier... For the sake of the family those questions need to be answered."
When Haines was found dead he had suffered a massive head injury and part of his skull had been sheared off by the front of a train.
Despite this, there was barely any blood at the scene. One thing that was at the scene, however, was a towel underneath Haines’ head. This fact was noted by police, State Rail staff and paramedics.
Glenn Bryant, the west Tamworth assistant station master, described at an inquest the towel as being “scrunched up” under Haines' head.
Constable Gordon Guyer and constable Allan Pitt were the first police officers on the scene, and Guyer testified that the towel was a “mysterious sort of thing”.
When asked whether it looked like someone had placed it there, Pitt responded: “It would give that appearance, yes.”
Guyer was then asked: “Assume that another person had been at the scene prior to yourself, other than the deceased. Would it give the appearance that some person had placed the towel under the head of an injured person?”
“It would give that appearance, yes,” Guyer replied.
Despite Guyer and his partner Pitt believing the presence of the towel was unusual, and that it could have been placed under Haines' head, it was never taken into evidence.
During Haines’ coronial inquests it was admitted that the towel was lost, and that the officers were unsure if it had travelled with the paramedic to the hospital. It has never been recovered.
Small said the towel should have been taken into evidence. "We've got to work out why he has that towel – what was it used for? How is he carrying it? Was it wrapped around his head? Was he assaulted earlier, and was this used as way to stop the bleeding?
"I would be asking the question: 'Why would a fellow like Mark be walking up the railway line with a towel? It's pouring rain, [and] he might have put it over his head to save himself from getting a bit wet, but it seems pretty much a waste of time given the amount of rain that was coming down. And why would he be carrying a towel?"
A kilometre from Haines’ body was a stolen Torana. The car had rolled and come to rest on the side of the train line.
Initially police ignored the car, failing to draw a nexus between the dead teenager and the Torana, even though both were on the same isolated stretch of railway track.
The car was never taken into evidence and was left in the spot for around six weeks.
"The car that was broken down near the railway line could have been kept more securely," Small said.
Oxley LAC detective sergeant Dallas Lamey attended the Torana the day after Haines’ body had been found.
Lamey didn’t fingerprint it, saying that heavy rain would have ruined any chance of securing fingerprints or forensic material, even inside the car.
Lamey was asked during an inquest: “When you came to examine the interior of the Torana, some of it had dried by that point, would that be fair?”
Lamey replied: “I don't know, it probably did. My observation of that vehicle, there was nothing in that vehicle that was worth attempting to fingerprint.”
The car sat there for another six weeks.
"I think that was probably a poor decision," Small said. "I understand that it was pouring rain that night and one of the reasons given for not taking fingerprints was that everything was wet.
"[But] I still think it should have been fingerprinted, the inside door handles and so on. Given my understanding of the location of the car, and the railway line, and so on, I think it was too much to be a chance or a coincidence.
"It should have been taken back to police area in a shed where it could have been forensically examined."
The family and Shoebridge claim Haines' death was not afforded a proper investigation, or the same level of scrutiny as if the deceased had been non-Indigenous.
The Oxley LAC's initial theory suggested Haines stole the Torana and went joyriding; crashed the car; walked 1.5km along the railway line into pitch blackness, away from town; and laid on the tracks with a towel under his head.
Haines could not drive, and it was later revealed that a witness saw a group of men standing around the car the day before Haines died.
Haines' uncle Don Craigie said the police suggested the above scenario to him. He said he was told by an officer: “Don, you never know what a 17-year-old boy would do. You never know what a 17-year-old Aboriginal boy would do.”
“It just sort of gave me the impression that they just weren't interested in investigating any further," Craigie told BuzzFeed News.
The Final Hours
Based on Tanya White's account of her and Haines' movements that night, it was roughly the same time they were passing the woman's house.
Shortly after that argument the witness heard a car "speed up the street and briefly screech to a halt" before taking off again.
"The question is, 'Who was driving the car?'" Small said.
Another event in the months following the death raised "serious concerns" for him.
One involved the Aboriginal community liaison officer (ACLO) arranging a mediation meeting between Haines' uncles and people alleged to have been involved in the events of that evening.
Jack Craigie, Haines' uncle, said his family was "sick and tired of being palmed off by the police" at the time.
Craigie told BuzzFeed News that after discovering a list of suspects in the case, the ACLO arranged a mediation between the family and the suspects to "cool tensions".
"We were all in the same room and two detectives supervised," Craigie said. "As you can imagine it didn't end very well and things got heated."
Small said: "I'd have serious concerns about that meeting because if you have a suspect… I don't see how you have a mediation.
"I think there are some serious questions about how that came about, and what would be the legality of that issue if there was a prosecution, and there was an attempt to introduce those conversations into evidence."
Small believes one of three things happened that night in Tamworth.
“Two of them I think are more likely than the third," he said. "The third option is that the young bloke found himself near the railway line, whether in the car or not, we don't know, and then decided to walk along the railway line and got killed.
"[But] I don't think it's quite that simple. The reason I'd reject that line is simply because of the towel.
"It would not surprise me if he was involved in some brawl or some conflict earlier in the night; had the injury to his head; put the towel around it and perhaps stole a car to drive.
"The other [option] is that it was straight out murder.
“I think there is some sort of criminality, but where that criminality lay is another issue. I have difficulty with where the car fitted – if he was driven there it probably would have been by a number of people on the basis that there is a driver [and] someone holding or controlling Mark, so there would be I suspect more than one person involved."
The SCC review is continuing.
Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.
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