Martin Bryant's Mother Speaks Out
Exclusive to "The Strategy"
|The much maligned Martin Bryant, allegedly
the Port Arthur gunman has never had a fair trial, has
never had a proper investigation of the circumstances and
in fact was convicted without evidence proving beyond a
Cases of this type are invariably trial by jury, but in the case of Martin Bryant there was no trial -- only a sentencing hearing conducted by Chief Justice Cox and prosecuted by Chief Prosecutor Damian Bugg QC. In itself, these circumstances demand a lot of answers, not the least being -- no trial, yet a Chief Prosecutor?
Who really was the blond man?
On 28 April 1996 at Port Arthur in Australia, some of the best combat shooters in the world used a total of only 64 bullets to kill 35 people, wound 22 more, and cripple two cars. The first 19 victims in the Broad Arrow Cafe each died from a single 5.56-mm bullet to the head, all fired in less than 20 seconds from the right hip of a fast-moving combat shooter. This awesome display of marksmanship was blamed on an intellectually impaired young man called Martin Bryant, who had no shooting or military experience at all. In the months and years following Martin's arrest, much of the public and private strain fell on his widowed mother Carleen.
This is a very small part of Carleen Bryant's profoundly disturbing story.
Tasmanians are a hardy breed and Carleen Bryant is probably one of the hardiest of them all. Her idea of "taking a break" this year was to navigate her camper van alone from Tasmania to Western Australia with only a CB radio for company, drive half way around WA looking at the sights, then drop in on us for the afternoon before starting back eastward across the Nullarbor Plain. Not being a radio buff, she was disappointed that her CB "wasn't working too well" but a quick twist of the squelch knob fixed that, and Carleen slowly accelerated out of Perth, happily listening to about twenty truckies chattering incoherently over her CB loudspeaker on channel nine.
Life has been hard for Carleen, probably hardest of all when she realised that her son Martin needed speech therapy as a child, and other remedial help later which led to an invalid pension. As a mother she handled difficult situations well enough but her husband Maurice found it much harder. He was a devoted husband and father and a highly organised man, but Carleen says "it was more difficult for him. Martin was his son and fathers expect their sons to be normal." Hard though Maurice tried over the years he slowly but surely became depressed and "mentioned" suicide on a number of occasions. Then without warning in 1993 Maurice took his own life at the family farm at Copping, but long before his death had already taken steps to minimise its impact on Carleen and their children. Carleen was dreading all of the paperwork after his death "because Maurice always looked after that', but was astonished to find all of the documents she needed placed in a single neat pile where she could easily find them.
Even more astonishing, months earlier Maurice had transferred the Hydro account from their joint names to Carleen alone, ensuring things would run automatically after he died. "Maurice was a very thoughtful man" Carleen says, which indeed he was.
Life then continued as normally as possible until 8 p.m. on the evening of 28 April 1996 when two burly plain-clothes police officers knocked on her door in Hobart and asked, "Do you have a son called Martin Bryant?" When Carleen said yes, the officers took her down to headquarters and bombarded her "with questions about Martin's big house in Newtown and his trips overseas". But despite being at Police Headquarters during the exact period when a telephone conversation was allegedly in progress between her son at Seascape and police negotiators in the same headquarters building, Carleen was not asked to assist police by identifying her son's voice. She says that at that point in time she did not know the conversation was taking place, but was later provided with the name of the person who "assisted" police by identifying her son's voice at 7 p.m. the same evening, a name she provided for the author in confidence. But Carleen says it made no sense because this particular person "hadn't spoken to Martin since he [Martin] was twelve years old and would not know what his voice sounded like anyway."
Shades of JFK
Bearing in mind that even the police marksmen in position around Seascape did not discover Martin Bryant's identity until he stumbled out of the building with his back on fire the next morning, how was it possible for Carleen to be asked detailed questions about her son's large house and his obscure overseas trips, at Tasmanian Police Headquarters more than twelve hours before he first stumbled out of Seascape into the arms of waiting police? Carleen's version of events, if chronologically correct, proves that at least one stratospherically-placed police officer in Hobart was already well ahead of the game. Though this sequence appears to indicate direct police involvement in the mass murder itself, there is a more likely explanation which Carleen was not aware of before she visited Perth.
Shortly after the murder of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, a Christchurch, New Zealand morning newspaper printed a detailed story it received on the New York news wire about Kennedy's "assassin" Lee Harvey Oswald. There was a major problem with this news story, because at the time the New Zealand newspaper went to press in Christchurch, Lee Harvey Oswald had only just been arrested in a Dallas cinema for the alleged murder of a Texas policeman called Tibbet. Several more hours passed before Dallas police even accused Oswald of the murder of President Kennedy. So the Christchurch newspaper inadvertently printed an impossible story, a concocted lie "seeded" onto the New York news wire too early by the real murderers, who forgot that international time zones and thus real-time would allow the New Zealand newspaper to print their pre-arranged cover story hours before the events happened. That single critical planning error proved conclusively Lee Harvey Oswald was only a fall-guy, a patsy arrested and charged on cue by the unwitting Dallas Police Force.
It was impossible timing and too many background details which proved conclusively that Lee Harvey Oswald was a patsy, and the same impossible timing and background details prove conclusively that Martin Bryant was used for identical purposes. While Carleen was being interrogated at Hobart Police Headquarters at 8 p.m. on 28 April, all the terrified staff and survivors at Port Arthur knew for sure was that the shooter was a man with long blonde hair. There are thousands of men with long blonde hair in Australia, each equally likely to be the man on the trigger, so there was no innocent way police could possibly have already singled out Martin Bryant or obtained knowledge about his obscure overseas travels. So between the time of the mass murder at 1.30 p.m. and Carleen's interrogation at 8 p.m., someone very carefully pointed the finger, and "seeded" Tasmanian Police Headquarters with an impossible amount of personal information about her son, many hours before he was first positively identified stumbling out of Seascape the next day. Ever since that frightening interrogation more than three years ago, Carleen Bryant, mother of the accused, has been denied a copy of, or even access to, the telephone tape alleged to contain a long rambling conversation between her son and police negotiators. Why?
Nothing could prepare any mother for what happened next. When Martin was transferred from the Royal Hobart Hospital to Risdon Prison as a remand prisoner, Carleen had visiting rights but no privacy with him at all. She was shocked to see her son, badly burned in the Seascape fire and still in great pain, bound to his wheelchair by leather straps. Martin told her that he had asked to have the painful restraints removed but was refused. When Carleen asked who refused, her son nodded towards the prison officers, one of whom then leaned towards Carleen and said "you cannot discuss the [Risdon Prison] staff". Carleen, suitably intimidated, fell silent. In fact under the Prisons Act a remand prisoner can be restrained on the orders of the Prison Superintendent, but only if under escort outside the prison, or if he poses "a significant danger to others". By no interpretation could an entirely passive intellectually impaired young man with third-degree burns to his back and left side, isolated behind bullet proof glass, be considered a significant danger to others. But at that time Carleen Bryant did not understand the prison rules and was unable to help her son ease his pain.
Nowadays the only coherent reason for Martin's illegal restraint is obvious. Prison officers and psychiatrists, in the manner of the Spanish inquisition, were determined to intimidate and physically punish intellectually impaired Martin Bryant until he finally "confessed" to a series of crimes in which he played no active part. That such obscene and barbaric treatment is illegal under Australian and international law, and justifiably condemned by Amnesty International as both physical and psychological torture, does not appear to have impeded the Tasmanian authorities at all.
It was only at this point while describing the treatment of her son in Risdon Prison that Carleen's composure slipped for a second and she shed a tear or two. "He was so terribly lonely" she said, briskly wiping the tears from her cheeks before continuing. It was a cry from the heart of a mother who had been unable to help her son in distress, a cry that went home on this author as surely as a razor-sharp knife.
Next Carleen discussed Martin's actual injuries, because those reported by the media were wholly inconsistent with the official story of the day, i.e. that Martin Bryant had set fire to Seascape, panicked, then fought his way out of the blazing building. Carleen didn't know exactly why I was asking, but confirmed that the burns were restricted to "his back and left hand side", pointing to her own left side to illustrate exactly where. "Were there any burns at all to his face, chest, arms or hands?" I asked. "Oh no, none at all" Carleen replied confidently. As any fireman will confirm, the official story of the day is mission impossible. Any person fighting his way out of a burning building does so head-first so that he can see where he is going, arms and hands held high to protect his face from the flames and to deflect burning debris away from his body. It is an instinctive survival response that we all use in life-threatening fire situations.
Minor first-degree burns are enough to make anyone retreat from a fire immediately, the split-second that nerve endings send warning impulses to the brain. Despite this known fact, Martin Bryant remained inside Seascape until burning debris had caused horrific third-degree burns to his back and side, but not to his face, chest, arms or hands. How? The only possible scientific answer is that Martin was lying face-down, either comatose or drugged, and remained that way as burning debris from the first floor above (where the fire started) fell onto his back until the intense pain finally forced him back to consciousness. This is confirmed by video footage of Martin leaving the building, stumbling along like a dazed drunk. Those readers asking themselves "but who else could have started the fire if Martin Bryant was unconscious and the only man left alive inside Seascape, and how did they do it?" might like to consult standard Army manuals under the chapters headed "incendiary devices" and "radio detonators".
Carleen continued to visit Risdon Prison and made little lists of questions she wanted Martin to answer, but most of the time felt so intimidated by officials that some of the more important questions remained unanswered. She says constant bombardment by officials pushing the story that "Martin did it" started to make her believe her son may have been responsible for the crimes, but for a number of very substantial reasons could not work out how he could have physically committed them. Although "Martin was making money cutting lawns and selling his crayfish", Carleen added "Maurice did not approve of guns and took Martin's air rifle away. He [Martin] did not know how to shoot properly and never owned any real guns."
Carleen was also mystified by the "cache" of weapons allegedly found inside a piano at Martin's house by police several days after the mass murder. "When he was away on trips I used to go round there, clean the place up and poke around as mothers tend to do" she says, "Martin knew this and he also knew I didn't approve of guns. He would never have dared keep any in the house." Carleen Bryant is not the only person mystified by this impossible evidence. Soon after the mass murder, two journalists from a prominent newspaper illegally entered Martin's house searching for clues. Their search included the piano in question, which contained only piano parts. Planting false forensic evidence after the crime to "prove" guilt is far from new and has occurred many times in the past, including the last high-profile case the author investigated, which was the murder of Policewomen Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London during April 1984. The Libyans were wrongly accused of shooting her, and after the Libyan diplomats left the Embassy to return to Tripoli, a specialist army clearance team was sent into the building to search for booby traps or other weapons. The team carried out one of the most intensive searches in British Army history, from the basement of the building to the roof, but found absolutely no trace of guns, ammunition, explosives or any other incriminating materials. So imagine the Army's stunned amazement when one week later the Metropolitan Police Service announced that its members had just found two loaded handguns, machine gun spare parts, and more than three thousand rounds of ammunition inside the Libyan Embassy!
It is beyond doubt that a person or persons unknown illegally entered and "seeded" the Libyan Embassy with damning false evidence, sometime during the week separating the army and police searches.
For Carleen things got worse at Risdon Prison, but she vehemently denies the claim of Tasmanian journalist Bingham that "she told Martin that unless he confessed to the crimes, she and his younger sister Lindy would commit suicide." in Carleen's view by that late stage any intervention of this sort by her would have been unnecessary. "The continual pressure [from officials] brainwashed Martin to the level where he may have started to believe he was guilty." This is hardly surprising. Stalin's communist thought-police in Russia crafted false beliefs like these into an art form, and could eventually convince even the most intelligent of men they were guilty as charged or they wouldn't be in Lubianka Prison in the first place, would they?
Carleen's last visit to her son was during November 1997, when she was told by prison officials and psychiatrists that "Martin no longer wants to see you, which is his right", but at no time has Carleen been able to establish this message actually came from her son. Martin could, for example, have told her face to face but did not. He could also have told her over the telephone but did not. Finally although not a fluent writer, Martin could have sent her a brief note, but did not do so. Outraged by this procedure Carleen says she called the prison and asked "what about my rights as a mother?" Her question went unanswered and the line was disconnected. Neatly manoeuvred into a subservient position by the Tasmanian authorities, Carleen was then circumstantially forced to ask a prison psychiatrist, whose name she provided in confidence, what she should do next, "Write to him" was the answer and Carleen proceeded to do so, at least once and sometimes twice a month. Still she received no word from her son and during a later visit to the named psychiatrist, Carleen asked what had happened to her last letter. The psychiatrist flicked through his clip board and found her opened letter to Martin near the bottom of his papers. "I sent that three weeks ago" Carleen protested, to which the psychiatrist merely said, "sorry".
It is highly relevant here to ask why any psychiatrist should still be communicating with her son and handling his mail. After all, the crux of the psychiatric evidence against Martin Bryant was that he was "fit to plead", i.e. of sound mind. A prisoner of sound mind has rights, one of which is the right not be to forced to act as a guinea pig for psychiatrists busily writing learned papers for local or international psychiatric journals about a crime he could not have committed. Had Martin Bryant been found to be of unsound mind and incarcerated in a mental hospital instead, one might reasonably expect such close psychiatric attention, but not inside Risdon Prison as a convicted felon serving life imprisonment. The psychiatrists will probably defend their intrusive and manipulative position by claiming "Martin Bryant asked to speak to us." No doubt he did, after contact with all other prisoners and visitors was first effectively severed, i.e. de-facto solitary confinement. No man including Martin Bryant is an island, and all normally need periodic verbal interactions with others to remain sane in the long term. If the only other humans you are allowed to meaningfully interact with are psycho-scientists, the chances are you will eventually ask to speak to them.
The bizarre behaviour of the psychiatrists involved in the Port Arthur case has presented their profession with an impossible credibility problem. Setting aside meaningless psychiatric mumbo jumbo and double talk, the act of entering a historic site and killing or wounding fifty-seven citizens is perhaps the ultimate hallmark of absolute insanity, rendering the perpetrator permanently unfit to plead. Indeed, it is difficult for most normal people to imagine a more insane act. So when Tasmanian and Victorian psychiatrists declared Martin fit to plead, i.e. sane, at the same time they acknowledged he could not have committed the crimes.
Nowadays Carleen Bryant wonders why the police did not go to the trouble of properly verifying her son's new guilty pleas in early November 1996 using standard police procedures. Many people plead guilty to crimes they could not have committed, a situation that routinely presents police forces around the world with a big problem, especially if the guilty pleas are entered by a person who is intellectually impaired or otherwise mentally deficient. Standard procedure in these circumstances is to take the suspect out to the crime scene and ask for details of exactly how he committed the crime(s), i.e. where each victim was standing, what sex, how many bullets, where the weapon was reloaded, etc etc., all recorded on continuous (Time-stamped) video. The Victorian Police Service observed this standard procedure meticulously in the case of Julian Knight at Hoddle Street during 1987, as did the New South Wales Police Service after a street shooting in Wollongong in 1998. Both suspects provided ample accurate details at the respective crime scenes on continuous video tape without prompting by police, and both were then properly and fairly dealt with. Nearly three years after Martin inexplicably changed his pleas to guilty in November 1996, the Tasmanian Police Service has still not verified his guilt using this standard procedure, and its continued refusal to do so can realistically be taken as proof of Martin Bryant's innocence.
When Carleen left Tasmania some weeks ago she was unaware that others had recently spoken out on behalf of her son, most prominent being Brigadier Ted Sarong DSO OBE, the former head of Australian Forces in Vietnam and one of the world's leading experts on counter-terrorist techniques and their application. In an interview with Frank Robson in the Sydney Morning Herald on 10 April 1999, Brigadier Serong makes it plain that Martin Bryant could not have been responsible for the mass murder at Port Arthur. "There was an almost satanic accuracy to that shooting performance" he says. "Whoever did it is better than I am, and there are not too many people around here better than I am". He continues "Whoever did it had skills way beyond anything that could reasonably be expected of this chap Bryant ... if it was someone of only average skills, there would have been many less killed and many more wounded. It was the astonishing proportion of killed to wounded that made me open my eyes first off." Brigadier Serong believes more than one person was involved and directly infers that the mass murder at Port Arthur was a terrorist action designed to undermine Australian national security. "It was part of a deliberate attempt to disarm the population, but I don't believe John Howard or his Government were involved. Howard is being led down a track. He doesn't know where it's leading, and he doesn't much care . . ."
Some readers might consider that as a soldier Brigadier Sarong is not qualified to comment on police matters, but they would be wrong. In addition to his acknowledged military achievements he also raised, trained, organised and directed a police force larger than all the police forces in Australia combined. After returning to Australia, as he notes in his book Defence of Australia Analysis: "I did gently but firmly decline a suggestion that I be Victoria's Chief Commissioner of Police." Brigadier Ted Serong is thus far better qualified to comment on the chain of events at Port Arthur than the current commissioner of the Tasmanian Police Service, who commands a total force of less than one thousand men, none of whom has any knowledge of international terrorism or practical experience of counter-terrorist techniques.
Having broken the ice and had her say in this report, might Carleen now move on to bigger and better things, perhaps an article in the Melbourne Age or maybe even a television interview with the fabled Ray Martin? She says not. "After it happened I had all those [media] trucks parked at the end of my street for a week, they wouldn't leave me alone and kept asking for pictures." Even now Carleen Bryant remembers one persistent female reporter who simply refused to take no for an answer. "She kept jumping over my front fence" Carleen says, "then she would walk around the outside of my house, tapping on the windows and calling out my name." Carleen feels only pity and contempt for all members of the local and international media who so brazenly vilified her son and nearly destroyed his and her lives.
As I stood by the side of the Great Eastern Highway in Perth waving goodbye as Carleen's camper slowly accelerated towards Kalgoorlie at the start of her lonely 2,000 mile trip back to Tasmania, I must admit to feeling a little sorry for the Tasmanian Government and other officials when they are finally forced to release her son Martin, which they must. Bound by his oath as protector of the public interest, the Attorney-General in particular is obliged to fully investigate all fresh evidence promptly and openly or face serious legal sanctions. There are no political escape clauses whatever. The longer the Attorney-General tries to bury fresh evidence under the parliamentary carpet in Hobart, the more severe those legal repercussions will be.
The only offence Martin committed on 28 April 1996 was that of being gullible enough to be lured to Seascape by others under false pretences. Though certainly unwise behaviour, gullibility is not yet a felony punishable by strict life imprisonment. When Martin Bryant is released, the Tasmanian Government and other officials will have many people to answer to: First the millions of Australians deliberately misled into believing that thirty five of their own countrymen were slaughtered by an intellectually impaired young man when they demonstrably knew this was a blatant lie; then perhaps to Martin Bryant himself who they treated as sub-human and discreetly tortured behind the dark forbidding walls of Risdon Prison. If the Tasmanian Government and other officials find these unpleasant prospects daunting, I can assure them there is something far worse looming on the horizon: Eventually they will also have to answer to Martin Bryant's angry mum. Rather them than me.
(The author is an independent investigator
with thirty years direct experience of international
military and oilfield operations).