Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Top lawyer sues WA govt over suspect tag

Prominent Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney is suing the West Australian government after police named him as the prime suspect in his wife's murder, resulting in his mail being scrawled with the word "killer" his lawyer says.

Mr Rayney's estranged wife Corryn Rayney disappeared on August 7, 2007 after a bootscooting class. Her body was found in a bush grave in Perth's Kings Park nine days later.

Mr Rayney on Tuesday filed a writ in the West Australian Supreme Court suing the government for comments made by Detective Senior Sergeant Jack Lee, who was heading the murder investigation, on September 20 last year.

Lawyer Martin Bennett said his client was suing for defamation over Det Snr Sgt Lee's statements outside Mr Rayney's home and at a media conference that day.

"The statements weren't simply that Mr Rayney was the prime and only suspect," Mr Bennett told reporters.

"Detective Lee went further. He said they had sufficient evidence, it was a matter of just seeing how it all fits."

Det Snr Sgt Lee had also said the murder occurred at the Rayney home, Mr Bennett said.

The writ claims the police officer's statements were "grossly and falsely" defamatory.

"The statement ... unarguably conveys the imputation (that) Mr Rayney murdered his wife," Mr Bennett said.

"That's how every member of the community has seen it. That's why strangers take his mail out of the letterbox and write the word 'killer' on it and put it back in his letter box.

"That's why his children are teased, how he has been taunted and treated as he goes in the street and his everyday business."

Mr Rayney is suing the government, which is responsible for civil wrongs committed by police, for general damages, capped at $250,000 in WA, and for special damages for the loss of income as a barrister.

There is no set limit to special damages, and Mr Bennett said it was a "fair inference" the figure could run into the millions of dollars.

"We're talking about the potential destruction of an earning capacity for life," he said.

Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan has previously said Det Snr Sgt Lee named Mr Rayney under media pressure.

Mr Bennett said if that was the case, the police officer could have apologised immediately and indicated he did not mean to say it.

Mr Rayney has offered not to continue to prosecute the writ if the government is prepared to make an offer of compensation.

However, if the government decides to defend the case, it may have to prove the truth of the allegations that Mr Rayney was the "prime suspect" in his wife's death.

The burden of proof in such a civil matter

would be less than in a criminal court.

The government would not have to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" Mr Rayney had killed his wife, but that it was "more likely than not".

Mr Rayney has pleaded not guilty in the Perth Magistrates Court to a commonwealth charge of tapping his wife's phone.

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