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Pressure to find Rayney answers
Picture: The West Australian.

When the most highly anticipated verdict in WA's history was delivered in the Supreme Court this month, it was more than a proclamation that Lloyd Rayney was not guilty of murdering his wife, Corryn.

In a 369-page published judgment, visiting justice Brian Martin made cutting criticisms of some who had appeared before him. Justice Martin did not mince his words and he must have expected that those words would not simply hang in the air after he departed Perth.

He acquitted Mr Rayney but left a stench over his future legal career, describing him as a barrister who had engaged in "disreputable conduct" by lying to a magistrate, swearing a false affidavit and in arranging a phone tap.

Mr Rayney "was prepared to engage in an unlawful activity which was the antithesis of the ethical conduct expected of a legal practitioner," the judge found.

Within days of those words being published, the Legal Practice Board and Barristers' Board announced that they would review Mr Rayney's privilege to practise in their profession.

Criticism of WA Police by the former Northern Territory chief justice was withering.

In emotive language that must have made Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan's teeth clench, Justice Martin described the conduct of some of the detectives as ranging from "inappropriate to reprehensible".

(Frustratingly, he did not spell out in his lengthy judgment exactly which of the behaviours was "reprehensible" - but there were many examples of his disdain for the investigators' tactics.)

He criticised a range of conduct by detectives, among the most serious the dealings with forensic pathologist Gerard Cadden and lawyer Clare O'Brien, who appeared as prosecution witnesses.

Justice Martin found that Ms O'Brien had been wrongly threatened with arrest back in 2007, when police discovered Mr Rayney had secretly recorded his wife's phone calls with the help of someone whose phone number had been provided by Ms O'Brien.

He described it as "totally unacceptable behaviour".

Further allegations by Ms O'Brien, in a similar vein to that criticised by the judge, have been made in an interview published in the news pages of _The Weekend West _ today. Perhaps the most pervasive of those allegations is that the police became so desperate to obtain statements against their target, who they genuinely believed to be guilty, they were willing to pressure a witness to say anything to help win their case.

Ms O'Brien, an experienced criminal lawyer, said that in December, detectives flew to Sydney and placed enormous pressure on her to - in her words - "bury Lloyd" and when she refused, telling them she had "given them everything I had", was threatened and intimidated.

She alleges that a detective attempted to "force me to make a statement against Lloyd to save myself . . . I felt like they were wanting me to just tell them anything".

Those who have witnessed and studied injustices know that coerced statements frequently result in tainted evidence and unreliable verdicts.

Ms O'Brien, who worked alongside police as a Crown prosecutor for 10 years, said she could in some ways sympathise with the detectives.

"I'm sure it's been really tough for them, dealing with Corryn's family all the time and knowing (what) they so firmly believe in their heart of hearts - but there has to be a better way that this can be done," she said.

"In big cases like this, the pressure on police is huge to just find anyone, to solve it and charge someone. That pressure corrupts the process and it corrupts the police officers involved because there's so much riding on it."

She said that if she, as a former member of the WA Supreme Court Criminal Practice Committee, felt intense pressure under these circumstances, imagine the vulnerability of witnesses and defendants with no experience or power in the legal system.

Ms O'Brien has detailed her dealings with detectives to me, to prosecutors, to superiors in her workplace and expects to testify at any future inquiry resulting from Justice Martin's judgment.

If Mr O'Callaghan has not yet referred it to the Corruption and Crime Commission, he should do so today. It is indisputable that it should be examined.

But a few things should be noted here: the judge did dismiss the most serious of allegations made against the police: that the detectives did not investigate viable suspects other than Mr Rayney and, most importantly, that the crucial forensic evidence - the seed pods found in Mrs Rayney's hair - were planted. His judgment also stated: "Care must be taken not to jump to a conclusion that because some officers behaved in a manner which was inappropriate, therefore all the evidence given by those and other officers is necessarily suspect."

This should not be an exercise in "cop bashing". The Rayney investigation was particularly complex and demanding.

A large number of hard-working police dedicated days, months and years to solving the case. They have given Mrs Rayney's family hope and have been working to achieve an outcome in the case.

But it appears that as WA Police have in other high-profile cases, most notably the Claremont serial killings, they have been found wanting. We need to learn some lessons.

An inquiry into police conduct is not the only review needed: the quest to solve Mrs Rayney's murder should not be over.

As he did in the Mallard case, Mr O'Callaghan needs to hand the file to an independent expert to conduct a cold-case review and more inquiries.

Under the direction of English professor David Barclay and then a cold-case team led by Detective Anthony Lee, WA Police were able to find fresh evidence in that case.

The result of such a review, if it did not culminate in another criminal charge, could be aired at a coronial inquest.

Corryn Rayney, a mother of two and a respected registrar of the Supreme Court, is dead.

The recriminations over this failed prosecution are necessary but Mrs Rayney should not be forgotten: the hunt for her killer must go on.