A Few Words On The Jill Meagher case

By now, readers will know of the horrific ordeal of Melbourne woman Jillian Meagher, who disappeared a week ago; her body recovered from a shallow grave this morning, and a suspect charged with her rape and murder. It is chilling, it is a tragedy, and it is an opportunity for the community.

I’m not going to say much, and I urge readers to be restrained in their comments (or at the very least, mindful that the matter is now before the Courts, and thus it is imperative that none of us say anything that might prejudice the fairness of the trial).

Like many people in Melbourne — and across the country — I’m aghast at what happened to Jill Meagher; a woman who went out with colleagues for drinks, and never made it home.

It’s a salutory reminder that none of us are as safe as we would like to be, and a reminder too that for whatever good there is in the world, evil exists too.

And sometimes, evil is a force too strong to be reckoned with.

I didn’t know Jill Meagher, but people I have worked with did; as an ABC employee in Melbourne and thus a fellow media industry person, our “circles” if you like overlapped. And so this episode lands fairly close to home; not that that makes any difference.

Social media have assisted Police to identify and incarcerate a suspect quickly and efficiently; it is now to be hoped that the impending trial proceeds expeditiously and smoothly, and that justice is done — and seen to be done.

It is on this point specifically that I urge caution upon my readers; not just in terms of any comments that may be posted here, but in their conversations and communications elsewhere.

Whatever the end result of the judicial process may be, it is unwise to canvass or to speculate upon it; indeed, the only “change” likely to be effected by doing so is to compromise the prosecution case and/or lead to its abandonment — and I don’t think anyone would wish that.

So let us all be very circumspect; there will be a time and a place for recriminations and for opinions.

Yet later, when the time is appropriate, these events may be the catalyst for a community discussion or debate about standards: what degree of punishment is appropriate as a reflection of community standards and expectations, and how the judicial sentencing process might be reformed to better serve those standards.

I must reiterate, for clarity: I am not prejudging anything here, although many will, and some will interpret my remarks as a call for a reintroduction of the death penalty (which, admittedly, I certainly believe appropriate in cases of aggravated rape and murder generally).

But I make the point from the perspective that so often, people complain about the leniency of sentences and the inadequacy of penalties; there are lobby groups built around such sentiments, with violence against children an obvious example that springs to mind.

So whilst there is a lot of anger and grief and a desire for vengeance around this issue — and understandably, if not rightly so — I would call on all readers just to wait.

For now.

And in the fullness of time, the one positive that might come from this week’s tragic events in Melbourne may well be that Meagher’s legacy is to spark a reform of penalties and sentencing in criminal matters, initiated by her peers, to better reflect the expectations of the community at large.

In the meantime, my condolences and thoughts are with Jill’s husband, Tom, and their family; her ABC colleagues and friends, and to all of those around her who, by all accounts, have lost a very special friend.

And to the rest of you, my message is simple: look after each other, and yourselves.

And remember the difference between safety and mortality is sometimes a matter of seconds, or inches, let alone a question of degrees.