Judge fed up with cops 'making things up'

Karen Sweeney
·2-min read

It will take a lot of persuading to convince Victorian Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth that a police officer involved in a 2005 murder investigation is not an "outright liar", she says.

The judge has revealed serious issues with the credibility of former homicide detective Warren Ryan over the investigation into the death of lonely widower Elia Abdelmessih in Melbourne in 2005.

The 69-year-old's bludgeoned body was found next to a tin of mangoes and a Virgin Mary statue in his Kew home in September that year.

Susan Reddie - who had been exchanging sex with him for money - was initially identified as a suspect, but Katia Pyliotis was charged with his murder.

She was tried four times and convicted in 2018, but is facing a fifth trial after the Court of Appeal overturned her conviction on appeal earlier this year.

Central to the case is Mr Ryan's evidence that Ms Reddie, who has since died, had confessed to the murder but later recanted to him in a supermarket car park.

A diary he has long-claimed would back up his claim was uncovered earlier this year and actually showed further confessions, rather than any support for a recantation.

Lawyers for Ms Pyliotis, who is on bail, are arguing for a permanent stay of proceedings.

Justice Hollingworth unleashed on several witnesses in the hearing on Tuesday, telling off officers for speculating.

One officer, Wayne Walsh, suggested Ms Reddie - a cognitively impaired alcoholic - might have concluded from questions about objects in Mr Abdelmessih's house that he was killed with a religious statue.

Justice Hollingworth said she was "fed up" with police speculating and "making things up".

Officers were persuasive professional witnesses who would "state a proposition as if it's God's own truth" and need to be asked three or four questions in order to focus, she said.

Justice Hollingworth revealed concerns about a fair trial if defence lawyers are forced to "bore the jury rigid for a week or two" to make their case, a forced strategy that might alienate a jury.

"I think a judge would have no trouble dismissing most of this evidence - it's so selective and so convenient," she said.

"I have serious issues about Ryan's credibility and I might well find he's an outright liar," Justice Hollingworth said.

She later described him as "extremely unimpressive" while also criticising the evidence of Superintendent Wayne Newman.

"The smirking superintendent did not cover himself in glory," she said.

Justice Hollingworth has suggested prosecutors consider if they actually want Mr Ryan as a witness in the case, or if removing problematic evidence might be an alternative approach to the stay application.

She said Ms Pyliotis' barrister Dermot Dann might then consider another appeal to Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC "about not prosecuting this".

The case is expected to continue on Wednesday.