Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Remembering Shandee

The Mackay community was shocked by the murder of 23-year-old Shandee Blackburn in 2013, with Shandee’s life and legacy celebrated on the ten-year anniversary of her death on Saturday.

While the assailant is yet to be brought to justice, the incident has united the Mackay community and shone a light on certain failings of the Queensland justice system.

“I felt it was important for Shandee on the ten-year anniversary of Shandee’s death, to come back to Mackay and show you all that we are still fighting for justice for Shandee and justice for our community,” Shandee’s mother Vicki Blackburn said, addressing and thanking the supportive crowd on Saturday.

“We haven’t given up and we hope that you all will keep on supporting us in this fight and we can make some changes.”

In 2021, Ms Blackburn was approached by journalist Hedley Thomas who, after reading the findings of the 2019 inquest into Shandee’s death, decided to lead a podcast investigation into the case.

“Before you can breathe life into an idea for an investigative podcast series, it can take a year, a year and a half to develop,” Mr Thomas said.

“It’s vital to have the support of the victim’s family, and in Vicki Blackburn, I’ve been supported every inch of the way.”

Vicki shared an external hard drive containing documents and case material with Hedley, with one document leading him to Forensic Scientist Dr Kirsty Wright.

“Finding Kirsty, thanks to a simple Google search, and showing her the documents from Vicki’s hard drive relating to the appalling conduct of Queensland’s DNA testing laboratory, changed everything in Shandee’s story and potentially in Shandee’s case going forward,” Mr Thomas said.

“The damning findings a couple of months ago from the public inquiry … tell the story of a DNA lab which had effectively perverted the course of justice and allowed violent criminals to avoid detection.

“None of it would have been known but for Shandee and the bravery of Vicki and Dr Kirsty Wright.”

When Dr Wright read the documents from Hedley, she realised something was very wrong with the investigation into Shandee’s case.

Dr Wright and Mr Thomas’ discoveries contributed to an independent Commission of Inquiry into Forensic DNA Testing in Queensland, with the report delivered on December 13, 2022, by Mr Walter Sofronoff KC.

“We were all just so shocked at what we found with the inquiry,” Dr Wright said.

“We not only found bad science, scientific misconduct, deliberate deception of the police and the courts, a complete disregard for quality, new methods weren’t tested properly before they were used on crime scene evidence, and we found proof that Shandee’s samples, they were put on this process that was failing.

“Shandee’s case didn’t get a fair go because of this lab.”

Member for Mackay Julieanne Gilbert said the Queensland Government accepted Mr Sofronoff’s recommendations within two days.

“Since then, and as we speak, Queensland Health, Queensland Police Service, the Department of Justice and Attorney-General have been powering ahead with a multi-pronged hundred-billion-dollar effort to ensure these failings never occur again,” Ms Gilbert said.

“At the conclusion of this transitionary process, Queensland will have a world class forensic science agency.

“Queensland will have a forensic DNA service it can be proud of and a more trustworthy justice system.

“That will be Shandee’s legacy.”

Councillor Pauline Townsend and Vicki Blackburn

Member for Whitsunday Amanda Camm and Journalist Hedley Thomas

Member for Dawson Andrew Willcox and Mackay Regional Council Mayor Greg Williamson

Proceeds from the event were donated to Mackay Women’s Services

Local organisations such as Crime Stoppers and Mackay Police were present

Bubbles were blown at sunset in memory of Shandee. Photo credit: Sam Gillespie

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