8 December 2009

Austin Allan Hughes granted parole - where is justice for the victim of a merciless child killer?

The name Austin Allan Hughes probably wont mean much to most readers - but it does to me. I remember his name vividly, etched in my memory along with the name of his partner - a little boy's mother. Legally, her name can not be published, even though it was still being published up until 2007 - but I know it.

Just for now, let's go back to 1991 and the murder of the brilliant and much loved heart surgeon Victor Chang. Dr Chang's life was tragically cut short by two shots to the head in the leafy Sydney suburb of Mosman. The nation lost a man who had saved many lives, and no doubt would have saved many more.

Phillip Choon Tee Lim was was convicted of Chang's murder following a jury trial in 1992 and sentenced to a maximum of 24 years in prison.

Co-accused Chiew Seng Liew, was sentenced to a maximum of 26 years' jail.

Lim was due for release on parole recently after serving a minimum sentence of 18 years. There was a huge outcry with the media and politicians from all factions calling for his release to be overturned. The media coverage almost reached saturation point, driven by current affairs programs and talk-back radio.

Move forward to August 1993 and a tearful mother and her partner speaking to the media. Wiping away tears she explained how her six year old boy John Ashfield, had been set upon by a gang of youths and beaten to death.

It was a lie.

The little boy had been beaten to death by his mother and her partner. The assault lasted several cruel, painful, unrelenting hours. They even involved the other children - in more ways than one. The oldest boy, then aged eight, went on national television to back up their story.

I will not give details of what they did to the young lad - it is horrifying beyond belief. The word "bastards" does not come close to adequately describing Austin Allan Hughes and the boy's mother.

At the time, the crime affected me deeply. When it became clear their original story was a pack of lies, I waited for them to be charged. I then waited for all the preliminary and committal hearings. When the date of the trial was announced, to me it seemed a lifetime away.

However, the trial finally arrived - both were convicted. They were both jailed for 21 years, which was reduced on appeal to 19 years with a non-parole period of 14 years. The sentences for the unbelievably cruel murder of a little boy who was set upon as soon as he arrived home from school, were less than for the murder of a well known adult.

So too is the outrage at the news that Austin Hughes could walk free from prison before Christmas after he was granted parole.

There has been very little discussion on the radio, it wasn't featured heavily on prime time news (as was the parole granted to the killer of Dr Chang). Yes, there is discussion but nowhere near the sustained media pressure and public outcry that forced the justice system to "vacate" the parole of Dr. Chang's murderer. The U Turn came after a judge decided community expectations of the justice system would not be met if Lim was released.

I am part of that community, and I and many others strongly feel that our expectations of the justice system would not be met if Hughes were released on parole.

Dr. Chang was everything a doctor should be but so often are not. His tragic death was a great loss not only to his family, but to Sydney, to Australia and to the global medical profession. However, the question needs to be asked, (as indeed it was in some quarters at the time of the announcement of Lim's parole ) does the community expect harsher sentences for the murderers of a well know celebrity than they do for those who take the lives of "ordinary folk?

More than for the merciless killing of a six year old boy who was beaten almost non stop for hours on end?

Where are the politicians calling for Hughes release to be "vacated" Where is the high-voltage outrage from the media and talk-back radio?

Where is the justice in a man who took a little boys life, walking free before Christmas?

He may have a merry Christmas, but what about John's siblings - such as his sister who witnessed the attack and wants the boy's mother and Hughes to remain in jail?

State Parole Authority chairman Ian Pike said Hughes had shown remorse.

Remorse? He showed no remorse whatsoever at any time during the sustained attack on John, that lasted longer than a working day. It is that fact that should be taken into account, not the belated remorse of a man trying to get an early release from jail.

Pike went on to say, "The authority is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the release of the offender is appropriate."

Balance of probabilities? What the hell does that mean? We are talking about the death of a child and the ruined lives of his siblings - not a bloody maths problem.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports, "Mr Pike said the family’s submissions had been moving" adding ‘‘The authority was extremely moved by the eloquence of those submissions and how they described so movingly the grief still being felt today as fresh as when the young boy was killed in such a cruel manner.’’

So on "the balance of probabilities" you let the bastard walk free just before Christmas.

While Hughes celebrates his early release from a prison he should never be allowed to leave except in a box, Melissa Ashfield, John's now 19-year-old sister, said her family would not be celebrating Christmas this year. ‘It’s going to be screwed up.’’

Screwed up - just like the NSW justice system and a media that is quicker to jump to the cause of a celebrity than to a six year old boy.

Copyright Mike Hitchen Online, Lane Cove, NSW, Australia. All rights reserved