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Friday, 16 May 2008

Gary Redding is no longer a suspect in the death of "Sydney model" Caroline Byrne - Gordon Wood is - but his April 2004 conversation with The Sydney Morning Herald journalist Kate McClymont is striking:

"We used to congregate at [Joe's] cafe at 9 o'clock in the morning and have some breakfast before Rivkin used to go off and do his jobs. I'd set the alarm for half seven every morning, grab a coffee, jump in the shower and go over there at 9 o'clock.

"So, I wakes up, put the coffee on, just about to jump in the shower and George Freris phones me. 'Gary?' - 'Yes.'

"'There's been a tragedy.' - "'Who? What?'

"'Gordon's girlfriend Caroline was killed last night.'

"And I said, 'What?' I said, 'How?' And he said, 'a car accident'."

Later that day Redding was told it was suicide.

"I said, 'I don't believe she would commit suicide.' And they said, 'Yeah, she jumped off The Gap'. And I said, 'No way'."

Wood has just (2008) been granted access to legal aid so that he can be adequately represented. He has been living with his mother in Sydney since being extradicted from Europe a couple of years ago.

This is a very Sydney story. It is alleged that Wood threw Byrne over The Gap (pic) because she was able to reveal information about his involvement in a case of arson - the Offset Alpine fire - that netted Rene Rivkin a fair amount.

In another story, also from 2004, the main problem is clear:

Byrne's body was found just over nine metres from the base of The Gap. Physicists from the University of Sydney conducted tests for police, using a mannequin, and concluded that she was probably thrown, most likely by two men.

The Gap is sandstone - like most of Sydney. In fact, the only granite is found west of the mountains. Sydney's warm, yellow stone was used by early builders for their most serious constructions.

The Gap, too, is famous. Actually, it's notorious. When I lived around there thirty years ago you heard sirens not infrequently, attached to cars and ambulances speeding along Old South Head Road - one of two major arteries. It runs along the cliffs past Macquarie Lighthouse, the WWII gun emplacements, and eventually down the hill into the - once - quiet hamlet of Watsons Bay.

The Gap, Watsons Bay, photo by Peter Rae, SMH, Friday 16 May 2008
In the photo the shattered rock facing the Tasman lies tumbled as if broken off with a giant hammer. Those blue ladders were placed there by emergency crews who abseiled down the face of the cliff. It is easy - in this spectacular photo - to see that a woman jumping off the verge at night could not have landed where she did.

Or could she not? Perhaps, tumbling and bouncing off the ledges, she just eventually got to this point through the agency of natural forces. Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC thought otherwise when he addressed Burwood local court (from The Australian, 13 June 2007):

He said experiments conducted by Professor Cross would show that a "spear-throw" - where a person is grabbed by the groin and neck and thrown from chest height using a shot-put action - was the only way Byrne's body could have achieved the necessary speed and orientation to land so far out.

It all comes down to (a) physics and (b) motive (money, of course).

Professor Cross said a body of 61kg required a launch speed of 4.5m per second to reach 11.8m away from the face. Byrne weighed 57kg.

Dense foliage at the top of the cliff in 1995 meant there was only a 4m run-up, effectively preventing a jumper from reaching the necessary speed.

Professor Cross said a two-person throw or an underarm throw by one person would not reach the required launch speed.

In the old days, they were just jumpers. Maybe. This case puts in a different light all those quiet nights by Gibsons Beach, waiting to fall asleep. Sirens in the distance. Were others thrown? As children, such thoughts never occurred to us as we pitched our tents, boiled our billies, or rambled through lantana and wattle.

The cliffs on the Bay side - cut onto the rock to make way for trams that once terminated here - were climable. And there was one, particularly secret, cave - almost invisible from outside - you just saw a shadow under a rock. But inside we would find, from time to time, traces of others' pastimes: fire ash, pornographic pictures, food wrappers.

If you went up the hill a bit you came to the crematorium (in fact, it's still there) where granny's interred.

Caroline Byrne, an attractive blonde, has been dead 13 years and still the case rumbles along, like a swell crossing the Tasman.

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