There is an enormous amount of supposition about a jerry can of petrol that was found on the property after the fire had been extinguished. In fact, the real circumstances are innocent and have never been hidden. But to those determined to see Jeff found guilty, this happenstance was such a compelling piece of circumstantial evidence that, by throwing in some confused and unsupported claims, they were able to build up the collective suspicions of the jury to work in their favour.
The Jerry Can of Petrol
Jeff explained to the police during the walk-through at the house that he and his father had used a piece of a garden hose to siphon petrol from a car for use in one of the boats. The petrol siphoned was the wrong kind of petrol, so the jerry can containing the petrol to be discarded had been placed outside near the household garbage bins, in plain view.
A New Witness Statement, 12 Years On
Jeff was never asked any more questions about siphoning petrol until 2005, when the fireman that manned the fire truck on the night of the tragedy gave his first ever statement to police. He said that Jeff smelt like petrol and there was an odour coming from his body. This statement became one of the significant pieces of ‘fresh evidence’ that led to Jeff being charged with his parents murders, despite the fact that the accelerant used to start the fire was confirmed to be mineral turpentine (turps).
The Prosecution combined this new information with the initial statement made by a neighbour that he had smelt a “smokey, kerosene smell” on Jeff’s breath, to allege that Jeff’s breath smelt of petrol. They further decided that the reason why Jeff’s breath smelt of petrol was because Jeff killed his family then tried to siphon petrol from a car to set fire to the house.
When the fireman made his statement in 2005, it seems that the Prosecution had already decided Jeff was guilty and were determined to convict him. They presented the idea that Jeff’s breath smelt like petrol, then tried to show that Jeff’s 1993 explanation was a lie (to cover up an alleged involvement in the death of his parents).
There are many points surrounding this issue that concern the Jeff NEEDS Justice team. We describe some of these below, but in summary, we are largely concerned about how an innocent coincidence, albeit unusual, has been manipulated and twisted to convict an innocent man.
JNJ concerns include:
- The reliability of the fireman’s evidence made 12 years after the event and clearly only after the authorities had decided Jeff was guilty.
- The varying statements made by the neighbour on this. In 1993 he said he smelt a “strong smokey, kerosene smell” on Jeff’s breath. In February 2008 (Trial 1) he described it as a “keroseney, smokey smell”.
By October 2008 (Trial 2), it was a “strong kerosene and smoke smell”.
The statements show the neighbour separating the initial single “smokey kerosene smell” into two smells; one of smoke and the other kerosene. He then further explained that he may have misinterpreted the kerosene smell and it may have been petrol as it is more difficult to distinguish the smells of burnt accelerants.
However, if Jeff did have petrol on his breath, it would not have been burnt, so it would have clearly smelt like petrol.
The description of the smell has changed over time with the clear intention of fitting the original observation to a guilty scenario.
- When turps is burnt it releases a dark, thick smoke and smells remarkably similar to kerosene. This is consistent with the neighbour’s 1993 statement.
- Neither the fireman nor the neighbour ever stated that Jeff’s breath smelt of petrol. However, the Prosecution was able to mislead the jury by saying that Jeff’s breath smelt of petrol after he was “unsuccessful” in his attempt to siphon petrol to accelerate the fire.
- The jury were misled into believing that the hose had been “chopped up in the middle” in a desperate and quick act to siphon.
This isn’t true.
A short length (about 2 metres) was first cut from the end of the hose. A second, slightly longer length was then cut afterwards, leaving the remaining base length of the hose (about 11 metres) intact.
- The jerry can, which Jeff freely admits to placing near the bins, contained about a litre of petrol. Yet the Prosecution stated that Jeff was “unsuccessful” in siphoning petrol!
- No one ever determined exactly what type of petrol (ie., leaded or unleaded) was in the jerry can – it was simply described as “pinkish”. The colour of petrol is standardised in Australia, and a “pinkish” colour could easily describe a petrol that is a combination of both super and unleaded petrol. This supports Jeff’s explanation of siphoning the wrong kind of petrol.
- The evidence regarding petrol colours and associated fuel types provided by experts at the trial was misleading and confusing. One expert stated that Lead Replacement Petrol (LRP) was available in 1993, yet our research shows that LRP was not introduced in Australia until 2002.
The Prosecutor changed the expert’s description of the petrol from “pinkish” to “pinkish/purple” to further confuse things.
All the incorrect information about availability of petrol types and colours led to confusion and distracted from the fact that petrol was not used in the fire.
Forensic evidence has shown that mineral turps was used in the house fire, not petrol. If Jeff had wanted to start the fire, he could have easily used the contents in the jerry can for this. Furthermore, he would not have left an incriminating jerry can, still containing a litre of fuel, in plain view for police investigators to find.
Unreliable witness statements and misleading expert evidence have been used to confuse the public, and the trial jury, and thereby cast suspicion over an unfortunate, but innocent, circumstance.