Murder case grips Kellyville students

The true story of a young Sydney man convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in a Bulgarian jail has become a fascinating case study for year 11 legal studies students at Kellyville High School.

Walkley-awarded ABC reporter Belinda Hawkins, who wrote the book Every Parent's Nightmare on the case after five years of investigation, spoke to the students about the events which led to Jock Palfreeman's conviction.

She covered the court proceedings that followed a street fight which left a Bulgarian law student dead, her interviews with his grief-stricken parents and with Jock's father, who had come to distrust the media.

"Simon Palfreeman and the Palfreeman family had seen horrific examples of bad journalism that had been, and I believe continue to be, detrimental to their son's case," she said.

"I didn't know if his son was guilty as charged or not. But I did know there was . . . a young Australian just turned 21 who was arrested and charged with probably the worst count of murder in the Bulgarian code.

"Whether he was guilty or not I knew the instinct of a young person to travel and that things can suddenly go wrong in an instant and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

‘‘My Bularian researcher and I nearly went insane trying to piece together the parts. Then when we saw this [CCTV traffic] footage we went ‘whoa, now that didn’t come out in court’.

Ms Hawkins said the case exemplified the sloppy elements of police investigations, prosecutorial work and court processes.

"By looking inside the workings of the police investigation, then of the trial and the appeal, as a reader you see moment by moment where it is becoming unravelled — where the mistakes are being made, how it could have been done so very differently," she said.

Legal studies teacher Sasha McHardy said the case fitted in well with the year 11 curriculum, which asks students to study a case involving an Australian in another jurisdiction, either interstate or overseas.

‘‘The story was compelling,’’ she said.

‘‘From a legal studies point of view we were looking at the inquistorial system which is very different to ours.

‘‘One theme that runs through the whole syllabus is the sense of justice and how you achieve justice. They [students] were gobsmacked that it wasn’t as black and white as they had assumed it was going to be.

‘‘You could hear a pin drop in class and they had lots of questions. 

''You want them to think critically, you want them to probe the information. Some of them said ‘but how do you know that that is an objective account of what happened?’It was just brilliant.’’

Other elements of the course include human rights, why crimes are punished, and the rights of individuals in the criminal system.

‘‘The story has had an impact,’’ she said.

‘‘One of our students actually wrote to Jock. He replied and she was just over the moon. That made it even more real for her.’’

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