Anti-male bias by Australian police and courts.
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Anti-male bias by Australian police and courts.

Sarah Jane Parkinson

A man falsely accused of rape by a cunning, manipulative woman spends 4 months in a maximum security jail.

A fake crime scene, a false rape report, a man behind bars. How did Sarah Jane Parkinson get away with so much for so long?

By Kate Legge

 

From The Weekend Australian Magazine

February 1, 2019

Sarah Jane Parkinson dabbed at her dry eyes with a tissue. Pale-skinned, her long, shiny brown hair neatly pinned in a bun, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses lent her a bookish air, but her show of ­empathy seemed too ­little, too late. Sitting quietly inside Canberra magistrates’ court, she listened to the family who had ­welcomed her into their home tearfully describe the devas­tating emotional and financial toll of an ordeal that began when she falsely accused her former fiancé, ­Daniel Jones, of assault and rape.

Profoundly moved by the victim impact statements, magistrate Beth Campbell acknowledged the terrible consequences of Parkinson’s “incomprehensible, wicked behaviour”. Jones, a former ACT prison officer, found himself incarcerated in Goulburn maximum security jail for almost five months, fearing for his life. His parents, married for 32 years, separated under the strain, remortgaging their home for a fight that ultimately cost them $680,000. Police spent an estimated 900 hours investigating multiple false allegations against Jones and later his father Ian, diverting scarce public resources. Most disturbingly, ­Parkinson’s deceit made a mockery of genuine domestic and sexual violence cases.

When Magistrate Campbell this month sentenced Parkinson to three years and one month in jail with two years’ non-parole, Jones, a gangly young man with a Ned Kelly beard, clung to his mother Michelle in a bear hug, while Ian, a marine engineer who has worked in the Australian Navy and Customs with top security clearances, felt numb. Each of them still struggles with fury, frustration and the paranoia that shadowed their every move as the justice system continually let them down.

The Director of Public Prosecutions flipped from prosecuting Jones to defending him, ultimately accusing Parkinson of premeditated fabrication motivated by greed. She wanted possession of their house, worth a modest $380,000, and compensation of $90,000. They’d separated in November 2013 after Jones learnt Parkinson had been having an affair with a policeman at the ­station where she had briefly worked. Emboldened by her police contacts, she trapped Jones in a complex web of lies in the hope he would be locked up and the house would become hers.

The Joneses insist they were treated like “hardened criminals” in a climate of hostility towards male perpetrators of domestic violence while ­Parkinson milked the sympathy these offences deservedly elicit, ensuring she was granted endless legal delays, emergency accommodation and financial support for victims of crime. Decent, trusting people, Michelle and Ian had no inkling of the cuckoo in their nest, showering this young woman with generosity from the day she moved in with them in 2011 so the young couple could save for a deposit. Delighted by the arrival of her future daughter-in-law, Michelle even handed on a ring that Ian had once bought for her to celebrate the engagement.

Ian Jones. Picture: Rohan Thomson

On a scorching hot Canberra day we sit at a cafe as Ian, Michelle and Daniel trawl through memories for the millionth time, searching for clues they may have missed. “She was fun, innocent, and girly,” Daniel recalls. “Even today,” Ian says haltingly, “there’s nothing I look back on and think, ‘Maybe I should have probed deeper’. There were a few little things but nothing where you’d go, ‘Bloody hell she’s a nut-bag’.” He pauses. “But we never met any of her friends.” Michelle nods. “We thought that was unusual.” Tellingly, ­Parkinson had few supporters at court, yet there were barely enough chairs for Daniel’s friends, his family, and their saviour, ACT detective Leesa Alexander, the copper who had sniffed foul play.

Looking back, the Jones family wonder about Parkinson’s back story. She’d mentioned casually in conversation that she’d been sexually assaulted before on a number of occasions, including by an overseas diplomat, a family friend and a previous boyfriend. They believed her. Who would lie about something so grievous? They never imagined for a moment what was about to unfold. Afforded the ­benefit of the doubt at every turn, she didn’t spare them a drop of mercy or display a sliver of remorse for what she’d done.

Daniel Jones met Sarah Jane Parkinson while they were both working at Canberra airport in January 2011. Both aged 24, she was with Qantas ground staff and he was a kennel hand with the Australian Federal Police, a dream job given his love of dogs. Daniel was living with his parents; she resided with her mother, who’d raised two daughters on her own after their father left the family home when Sarah was four years old. “Sarah and I had a good relationship. Like most relationships we did argue, but not excessively,” Daniel says. Two months into their relationship she canvassed the idea of marriage. “She would talk about her dress and which ring she wanted.” They saved $10,000 for a deposit on a house and land package with plans to take possession of their new home in early 2013.

Sarah Jane Parkinson. Picture: supplied

“She and Dan had a really close relationship, very affectionate,” Ian says. “When she came into the family we welcomed her into our lives and our hearts and we both loved her as if she was our own daughter.” He and Michelle had raised two sons, including Daniel’s younger brother Andrew. “Everything was going well.”

In 2012, Parkinson fell over on the airport ­tarmac and ruptured her Achilles tendon, receiving a $70,000 compensation payout when she was unable to return to work. Her capacity to harm herself became almost comical within the Jones household. “She’d often fall over or walk into things,” Daniel says. “My whole family, including Sarah, would often joke about how clumsy she was.” During that year she experienced dizzy ­episodes, collapsing several times, with associated heart palpitations and shortness of breath. She was eventually diagnosed with Brugada syndrome, a genetic disorder associated with cardiac arrest.

In April 2012, Parkinson got a clerical job at a police station in the region, where she began an affair with a police constable. They both swore under oath their affair had started more than a year later, but it was around this time that Parkinson began twisting strands of truth into a hangman’s noose. A mark or a bruise obtained innocently at home was spun darkly at the station where she worked. Daniel suspected nothing.

One day Daniel was at work when Sarah rang to say she’d had a dizzy spell, fainting in the ­hallway and landing on her wrists. Michelle drove her to hospital, where doctors plastered a cast on her wrist to subdue swelling. She came home from work without the cast days later, complaining it was too uncomfortable. The ­family thought nothing more of it. When she later made a formal complaint of assault at ­Gungahlin police station she claimed her wrist had been injured during a heated argument with Daniel, adding that he had forced her to tell Michelle that she’d fainted and fallen.

The Joneses bought a bigger house with a granny flat in September since both sons had moved home with their fiancées. Andrew and Amy took the apartment while Daniel and Sarah got the spare room. Once, when the couple were returning home, Daniel pulled the screen door open and it swung back and hit Sarah in the face, causing a small red mark that bruised. Sarah laughed about the injury when Ian and Michelle came home but in her statement to police she alleged the bruising had been caused by Daniel throwing a heavy book at her and swinging his right elbow into her eye.

Unbeknown to Daniel, her reports of assaults causing bodily harm, acts of indecency (urinating on her in the bath) and sexual intercourse ­without consent were being collated over the course of a year by a Queanbeyan police inspector. The Jones family had no knowledge then of the ­allegations of atrocities piling up against ­Daniel at the police station.

Michelle Jones. Picture: Fabrizio Lipari

Around April 2013 Michelle, who was working as a record keeper for a law enforcement agency, joined Ian, then with the navy, on a cruise to ­celebrate a significant anniversary. “We got back to find everything had hit the fan,” Ian recalls. Daniel was called in to Queanbeyan police ­station for “a chat”. Parkinson told him “it was nothing to worry about”. Ian accompanied his son and they were alarmed when told that police were applying for a court order. Parkinson that very day was moving their belongings, with Ian’s help, into the new house they had built in the mushrooming outer northern suburb of Bonner. The Jones ­family say they had no idea of the specific nature or seriousness of ­Parkinson’s allegations and, inexplicably in hindsight, didn’t find out, tricked by her reassurances. Daniel explains that he went ahead with the move because she claimed it had been a ­misunderstanding. “I believed her. I had no reason not to. She was very convincing. She insisted her police friends were being overprotective and they had got it wrong. She was adamant about this. She was telling us one thing and telling them another.” A photograph taken the day they shifted into the new three-bedroom home shows them happily embracing.

Sarah and Daniel move into their new Canberra home.

For Daniel, a further big regret was heeding his lawyer’s advice to accept the terms of the court order. The lawyer’s opinion had been influenced by a conversation with the Queanbeyan inspector, who’d ­spoken of five statements from police officers ­confirming the alleged assaults.

By now the Joneses were beside themselves with worry. Ian says he knew his son was incapable of such “disgusting, awful acts” but he felt as a father that he had to test their veracity. “I ­wondered if we had possibly missed something in Daniel or that we were too close to see if he did indeed have these tendencies. As hard as it was for me I started making my own inquiries, ­initially with Sarah Jane herself.”

He spoke to Parkinson privately. If Daniel had a dark seam, he wanted to know, offering to work through this with both of them. “She denied everything and said the police were doing it of their own accord, that she had made no complaints, and that she knew Dan loved her and would never hurt her.” Ian sought out Dan’s friends to see if they had observed aggression or rage. “I came to hate myself for asking these questions… but I felt it was my responsibility to do so. I still feel guilty for this.” He also emailed ­Parkinson’s mother, reaching out for guidance, advice, intelligence on what on Earth was going on here.

Daniel’s job was now in jeopardy. His super­intendent stripped the dog handler’s position from him. He was mystified and distraught at why ­Parkinson wouldn’t correct the record. He couldn’t fathom what was happening behind his back and he pleaded with his partner to right this mess as she continued busily stitching him up. According to Daniel’s police statement she assured him she would email a letter to his lawyer clearing him of these offences, which she continued to insist were the result of overzealous police.

She manipulated facts in masterful fashion. Events and incidents Daniel and other family members witnessed were misrepresented to police repeatedly. In July, Daniel was out with a friend when Parkinson called to say she’d been moving a futon to give to his brother Andrew when their dog jumped on the mattress, causing it to spring back and hit her on the nose. Andrew and Amy drove her to Queanbeyan hospital, ­concerned the swelling might require medical treatment. ­Parkinson told Daniel on the phone that she didn’t want people to think he’d assaulted her again so she would tell the doctors and ­anyone else who asked that she’d fallen off the motorbike she was learning to ride. “I thought it was strange for her to make up another story at the time, but didn’t say anything,” Daniel says.

Queanbeyan police attended the hospital to question all three of them. Parkinson’s broken nose was taped. The incident illustrates how she would take a skein of truth and weave another story of assault, later telling police that Daniel had punched her, yelled at her to invent the motorbike alibi and left the scene to have coffee with a friend to create CCTV ­evidence that he was not at the house.

Daniel was awakening to Parkinson’s mercenary nature. In August she told him she wanted a new car and intended ramming her old Ford XR5 into a guard rail because she’d collect more from a write-off than a trade-in. “She told me she was going to tell police that she had swerved to miss a kangaroo.” He discouraged her because it was ­illegal and she could seriously hurt herself. Days later, her policeman lover called Daniel to report Parkinson had been in an accident and was in ­Queanbeyan hospital. When Daniel arrived, “Sarah seemed fine”. Her car was declared a write-off and she bought a yellow Suzuki Swift Sports.

In late 2013, Parkinson resigned from her job at the police station and went to work in an aged care ­facility. Daniel was now employed as a dog ­handler in the ACT corrections system. Intensely suspicious by now of his partner’s infidelity, he ­confronted her in November and her spluttering reply was all the proof he needed. “I wanted nothing to do with her… I didn’t want to be in the same house as her.” So he moved back home with his parents, always intending to sell the house and split the net profits 50-50.

Parkinson’s mother placed a caveat on the house in December to prevent its sale. The next day her daughter escalated her lies, unloading more damning allegations against Daniel.

On December 23, 2013, as Daniel was leaving work, two police cars intercepted him. He was arrested on 24 assault charges, with one count of sexual intercourse without consent. Released on strict bail conditions requiring around-the-clock supervision by his parents, he could not step past the letterbox without them at his side. They took their role seriously, fearful that any inadvertent breach would land Daniel in jail.

Daniel’s mood slumped. His life unravelling, the home he’d bought in dispute, his job prospects nil, his past an unrecognisable litany of sins, he was withdrawn and overwhelmed by “an intense sinking feeling and extreme confusion trying to understand the situation I was facing. It didn’t seem possible or plausible that this was unfolding the way it was.”

On the morning of March 21, 2014, he overslept in the granny flat at his parents’ house. Michelle left for a doctor’s appointment, hearing her son grunt when she knocked on his door. Amy, Andrew’s partner, had arrived with their new baby, Hunter, who’d brought a bounce of joy into this tense household. Amy photographed Dan at about 1pm, looking a little dishevelled in his pyjamas as he sat with Hunter on his knees.

An hour later, 10 uniformed and plain clothes police swept into their yard. Dan was cuffed and arrested on eight new charges, including a violent rape he’d allegedly committed that very morning, when Parkinson had made an emergency call to police claiming she’d been brutally bashed. Police visited her house, noting a head injury, a nearby condom wrapper and an upturned basket of pegs nearby and her jeans undone. She claimed not to recall much of what happened but over the ­following days fleshed out her story, recovering fresh titbits from her reservoirs of cunning. Daniel had pushed her head into a wall, she claimed, causing ­abrasions and swelling on her forehead. He’d raped her and hosed her down in the backyard. Though she told police she’d screamed for help, neighbours heard nothing. A policewoman at the scene noted Parkinson’s hair was neat and tidy and she did not appear dishevelled. She was dry and still wearing skin-tight jeans, although the zipper and top button were undone.

Daniel was flung inside a holding cell at ­Gungahlin police station, where his hands were brown-bagged so that forensics could scrape his fingernails and conduct pubic combings and ­genital swabs. The analysis excluded his DNA from evidence at the scene but, given her past complaints against him, he was transferred to Goulburn maximum security facing charges that could see him jailed for many years.

Leaving Daniel that night was the hardest thingIan says he’s ever done. The image of their son in prison overalls, a restraint cable tied to his neck, strip-searched and distressed, haunts both parents. “He was putting on a brave face but all I could see was Daniel when he was five years old looking lost and frightened,” Ian told the court in January. “That broke my heart… I cried that night… and many other nights over the next four months.”

Friends and family visited Goulburn jail every weekend. They feared for his safety, as did Daniel, since screws are targeted in jail, and though he was kept in a protective wing his trial might not be scheduled for another 17 months. Depressed, he tested the length of the radio cord in his cell as a potential noose. “I’ve never felt more alone or helpless… I was in a constant state of heightened awareness, making up backstories to protect my identity, ­fearing I’d be recognised. It was utterly draining.” Most nights he cried himself to sleep.

The family mustered ammunition on the outside. They still believed that somewhere along the judicial line someone would twig “that ­something wasn’t right, that the absence of any evidence either physical, medical or forensic would be identified, that the lack of any supporting ­statements would be identified”, says Ian. ­Frustrated by what they felt was a “fatally flawed” police investigation, they became expert sleuths. Michelle dug up an address for one of Parkinson’s previous ­targets. She and Ian grew hyper-­vigilant, ­terrified Parkinson would try to ensnare them too. They kept diaries and shopping receipts, ­waving at CCTV cameras in the streets to prove geographical location, ­documenting every move. “There were times when we had no idea what story she was concocting or what would come up next and it was like, ‘Thank God we took that photo, thank God we were with someone that day’,” Michelle recalls.

Parkinson went to police alleging Ian had threatened and tried to strangle her the ­previous year in an attempt to get the complaints against Daniel withdrawn. “I experienced first-hand the blind anti-male bias that exists in court,” Ian says. “I was advised to accept it without question or else I might jeopardise Dan’s defence. That went against every moral and ethical principle I’d ever held.”

The breakthrough came when Detective Leesa Alexander from the ACT criminal unit took over the investigation in April 2014. Parkinson disliked her intensity and told her policeman boyfriend in text messages that she didn’t want to deal with her. A tall, poised blonde, Alexander held her nerve.

Inconsistencies in Parkinson’s statements first caught Alexander’s notice. Surveillance cameras had been installed at a neighbour’s house as part of the investigation and a tracking device in ­Parkinson’s car, initially installed for her protection, also monitored her whereabouts.

Meanwhile, Parkinson kept spinning lies, turning her attention to Daniel’s family now that he was locked away. In June she alleged two men driving the same type of ute as Ian’s had forced her to swerve off the road on her way home from work. She said she couldn’t otherwise identify her alleged attackers but claimed one of them came at her with a serrated knife. She claimed she grabbed the knife with her right hand, causing a small cut. Later, police found a knife at the scene that matched one from a kitchen set she owned. In a separate incident she told police that another driver had forced her off the road and appeared familiar with the case, urging her to recant: “Tell them you made it up. Tell them it’s all lies.”

Ian and Michelle were next accused of stealing Parkinson’s iPad, which was discovered by police in a green Woolies bag on their nature strip. The tracking device in Parkinson’s car revealed she had driven to the Jones house and left it on the verge. When Alexander interviewed Ian and Michelle about the iPad she seemed genuinely concerned for Daniel’s welfare, a marked contrast with every other officer who’d confronted them. They sensed a shift for the first time in this saga.

Within weeks, Alexander made some explosive revelations that put a rocket under the DPP, which hastily arranged a late-night bail hearing to apply for Daniel’s release. He’d been in prison for four and a half months. After adjourning to review the brief, the judge returned, visibly ­rattled by his ­finding that there was not a shred of ­evidence to support Daniel’s imprisonment. ­Daniel was let out the next day and all charges against him were ­subsequently withdrawn. Months later, Parkinson was formally charged with ­making false accusations and public mischief. The case dragged on for another two years, during which Ian and Michelle separated as a result of the friction, fear and mounting legal bills. Ian ­suffered an emotional breakdown.

A court date was set for November 2018. They were all worn down. Even Parkinson had run out of wiles. On the first day of proceedings she pleaded guilty to the false rape accusation, admitting she had staged a crime scene, made a bogus triple-0 call and deliberately injured ­herself to create fake evidence. A forensic psychologist found Parkinson did not suffer any mental impairment. To this day she has never explained her actions, nor has she apologised to the Jones family.

Michelle’s victim impact statement focused on the loss of her marriage, her career and a family unit ripped asunder. “I do not know how I survived,” she said. What kept them going was “the thought that justice might prevail”. Her voice wavered as she turned to thank Alexander.

Ian made the most of his opportunity to roast police, lawyers and judges for their part in this gross injustice, blaming incompetence and an “anti-male bias” that extended Parkinson “every consideration and courtesy at every single appearance, allowing her to delay, obfuscate and try every trick her legal team could employ” in ­contrast with the “obscene haste” that wrongly ­incarcerated a man falsely accused. He and Michelle had encountered an antagonism towards men that unsettled them both. Innocent until proven guilty didn’t apply to their son. “Not once during this prolonged, grossly ­incompetent, financially costly and personally ­detrimental process have we had what I mistakenly took for granted before this wretched woman came into our lives,” he said in an impassioned account of “Parkinson’s reign of terror”. Principles he held dear, shattered. “I used to be a trusting ­person. Someone that saw the good in people… I used to be polite and respectful of ­people and institutions of authority. That is no longer the case. I’ve had to encourage, cajole, push and at times just push over, around or go through people to make them do their job and rectify this grievous wrong.”

Magistrate Campbell delivered a difficult ­judgment speedily and compassionately. She said Parkinson had not provided an explanation for what she did and noted her lawyers did not challenge the prosecution’s case that she’d been “motivated by greed and a desire to cause harm and trauma” in the victim’s life. “There is nothing I can do to return this family to the way they were,” she said, adding that Parkinson’s atrocious conduct had required significant planning over a period of time.

Watching his former girlfriend being led out of court to begin her minimum two-year jail term, Daniel felt no vengeance or hatred. “I don’t feel anything when I see her. Nothing at all. She’s brought this on herself. She has only herself to blame. It’s as simple as that, unfortunately.” He now lives in Perth, where Ian and Michelle grew up. He’s fallen in love again and is getting back on his feet, making up for lost years. Michelle followed him to Perth when her marriage to Ian ended. Anger continues to gnaw at them. They have been under siege for so long that they remain in a defensive crouch. Michelle habitually documents her daily movements. Daniel flinches whenever he hears the rattle of keys or boots on a concrete stairwell. Ian gets by on three hours’ sleep most nights.

Ian and Michelle were lovely to each other in my company. The relief that justice at last has been done has not yet begun to heal them. But they are laughing more these days. ­Living on opposite sides of the continent, they are bound forever by what they have been through. Michelle recalls going with Ian to see the movie Gone Girl, in which a young wife disappears, leaving a trail of clues to frame her husband as a killer. “We gasped and looked at each other. This is our story.” A story you couldn’t make up.

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