21 Court Cases That Gripped Australia In 2018
Here are some of the biggest criminal trials, defamation showdowns, and legal battles that captured the attention of Australians in 2018.
1. Astro Labe, the Tasmanian DJ who headbutted Tony Abbott
2. The High Court knocks out Labor senator Katy Gallagher
3. Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, aka the Opal card cyborg guy
4. Former MP Sophie Mirabella sues for defamation
Former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella was awarded $175,000 after she sued the Benalla Ensign over a story that falsely alleged she had pushed independent MP Cathy McGowan as they posed for a photo at a nursing home in 2016.
During the six-day trial, which began in Wangaratta in April, Mirabella, McGowan and federal minister Ken Wyatt all took the stand, and Mirabella's barrister Georgina Schoff described the article as "fake news".
5. Tiahleigh Palmer's murderer sentenced to life
In May 2018, Rick Thorburn was sentenced to life in prison over the murder of his 12-year-old foster daughter Tiahleigh Palmer in 2015.
Thorburn killed Palmer and dumped her body in a Gold Coast river after he discovered his son Trent had sexually abused Tiahleigh and also feared she might be pregnant. The murder went unsolved for 10 months, but after an anonymous tip prompted listening devices to be installed in the Thorburn home, recordings revealed Thorburn telling his family to "stick to the story". The whole family was arrested in September 2016.
Thorburn was the last family member to be sentenced in relation to Tiahleigh's murder and will be eligible for parole in 2036. Trent pleaded guilty to charges of incest and perjury and was released in January 2018 after spending 16 months in prison. Thorburn's wife Julene and other son Joshua also spent time behind bars after pleading guilty to perjury and perverting the course of justice.
6. The man who raped and murdered Eurydice Dixon pleads guilty
7. Critically ill children transferred from Nauru to Australia
Angry over the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, advocates spent 2018 taking the Australian government to court.
Multiple lawsuits filed in the Federal Court saw children removed from Nauru on the basis of needing urgent medical treatment in Australia. Many children had attempted suicide or self harm, and others were diagnosed with resignation syndrome, a rare psychological illness in which they withdraw from the world and cease to eat, drink, and talk.
Some removals were ordered by the courts and others were agreed to by the government after court action was filed. The ongoing lawsuits came against a backdrop of growing fury over the children detained on the Pacific island, and a prominent campaign led by doctors, lawyers and advocates to get everyone out of indefinite detention.
In May, there were 137 children detained on Nauru; on Dec. 7 prime minister Scott Morrison said there were fewer than 10.
8. The Dreamworld coronial inquest
9. 7-Eleven axe attacker Evie Amati found guilty
10. Perth father jailed for murdering his son and leaving his adult kids to bury the body while he watched the AFL grand final
In June, Perth father Ernest Fisher was found guilty of murdering his 23-year-old son Matthew Fisher-Turner. Fisher stabbed Matthew to death and then left two of his other children to bury their brother's body while he watched the AFL Grand Final.
His son Joshua and daughter Hannah were convicted of being accessories to the murder. Fisher was sentenced to life in prison with a non parole period of 18 years in August.
11. Bowraville murders retrial bid rejected by the Court of Appeal
12. Gordon Wood loses his lawsuit against the state of New South Wales
In August, Gordon Wood lost his malicious prosecution case against the New South Wales government over his wrongful conviction for the 1995 murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne.
Byrne was found dead on June 8, 1995, at the base of The Gap, a cliff known as a notorious spot for suicides at Sydney's Watsons Bay. Wood was found guilty of her murder in 2008, but his conviction was overturned in 2012.
He has lodged an appeal against the decision.
13. Bourke Street driver James Gargasoulas found guilty
14. Alan Jones and broadcasters ordered to pay $3.4 million in defamation damages
In September, broadcaster Alan Jones and two radio stations broke the unenviable record of facing Australia's largest ever defamation payout.
Jones, Sydney's 2GB and Brisbane's 4BC were ordered to pay $3.4 million to four brothers from the Wagner family after Jones defamed them on air by suggesting they were responsible for 12 deaths during the 2011 Grantham floods, following the collapse of the wall of a quarry owned by the Wagner family.
Justice Peter Flanagan found that Jones' conduct was "unjustifiable" and that he had acted with a desire to injure the reputations of the Wagners.
15. Rebel Wilson's appeal
16. David Eastman found not guilty of murder after spending almost 20 years in prison
Former public servant David Eastman spent 19 years in prison after he was convicted of the 1989 shooting murder of police chief Colin Winchester. But in 2014, his conviction was quashed, following a judicial inquiry that found it had been a miscarriage of justice.
His retrial started in June 2018 and ran for six months in Canberra. In November, a jury found him not guilty and he walked free.
17. Geoffrey Rush vs Nationwide News
18. The Perth baby meerkat heist
19. "Belanglo Angel" and "girl in a suitcase" killer Daniel Holdom jailed for life
20. Informer 3838/Lawyer X
21. Former Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson's conviction for covering up child sex abuse overturned
Former archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was acquitted in December of covering up child sex abuse when a judge quashed his conviction.
Wilson was the most senior Catholic official in the world to have been found guilty of the offence, and was sentenced to at least six months in home detention.
But he appealed the decision and judge Roy Ellis found in his favour, ruling there was in fact reasonable doubt that Wilson had committed the crime.