Last week two events occurred that brought the media’s coverage of the so-called “Police Historic Rape Case” back into sharp focus.
The first was the birth James Nicholas, a healthy 3.9kg baby boy. His mother, Louise Nicholas, was one of the brave women who came forward with claims that she had been serially raped by New Zealand police officers. She was not the only woman who claimed systematic sexual abuse over a period of nearly 30 years. She lost her case. The story of the birth was carried in the Herald on Sunday (10 June) in a brief news item on page 12. It was a good news story that was also carried on page 4 of the Sunday Star Times and other Fairfax papers.
On the same day the rather different story, the death earlier in the week of Debbie Gerbich. Gerbich had come forward to the media earlier in the year with copies of a home-made video in which discgraced police offer Brad Shipton appeared to be having various kinds of “congress” with several women. A rather disturbing image of Shipton’s bare fat belly along with his sock-encased feet is permanently seared on my brain.
This story was on page 8 of the Sunday News and the Sunday Star Times editorialised that Gerbich was brave, but in the end succumbed to the depression created by her outing in the rival Herald on Sunday in March 2007. At the time I felt that Debbie’s death might have been suicide, now that’s been confirmed by her partner, Bill McNeilly.
The reporter who outed Debbie Gerbich for the Herald on Sunday sent her some nasty emails which appeared to be threatening; suggesting that her name would be revealed if she did not break her exclusivity with the Sunday Star Times and give an interview.
While a coronial inquest may not prove culpability, I hope that there are some tough questions being asked and remorse expressed over in the APN headquarters today.