Victim's families reveal anger at Australian justice system in documentary

NewsBy Lynne Kelleher
Tragic: Jill Meagher
Tragic: Jill Meagher

MOVING to Australia is a dream for hundreds of thousands of Irish people seeking a fresh start in the sun, but it turned into a nightmare for three emigrants brutally mur­dered in Melbourne within the space of a year.

The heartbroken families of Irish nationals murdered in Australia be­tween 2012 and 2013 have revealed their anger at a system which allowed convicted criminals to brutally kill their loved ones after being freed from prison.

The hard-hitting new RTÉ documentary – Murder in Melbourne – catalogues the chilling similarities in the horrifically violent deaths of David Greene (30), Jill Meagher (29) and Dermot O’Toole (64) within 10 months of each other.

Dublin widow Bridget O'Toole, who moved to the town of Hastings, outside Melbourne, in 1972 with her husband Dermot, had a happy marriage until her husband was viciously killed in a frenzied stabbing in their jewellery shop, as he desperately tried to protect his wife.

In the RTÉ documentary, the mother-of-three broke down as she gave harrowing details of the day a hooded, convicted criminal repeatedly stabbed her, before inflicting fatal wounds to her 64-year-old husband as he lay helpless on the shop floor.

She said: "He was just screaming, unmerciful screaming like a wild animal. He grabbed me and stabbed me several times and was literally trying to gut me. I was jumping back, trying to concave my body, and he kept trying to plunge the knife at me.

"Dermot came running out to try and get him off so he fired me through the air into a glass cabinet. It exploded like a bomb. I saw him attacking Dermot, who was defenceless on the ground. He moved around Dermot and plunged a knife into him. Then he took off."

Dermot and Bridget with their sons

One family friend spoke of their happy marriage, saying: "They were the perfect couple. I never saw a couple like Bridget and Dermot."

Her devoted husband was described as a happy-go-lucky Irishman known for his easy wit and abundance of charisma.

"We were exceptionally happy," said Bridget. "People who came into the shop would remark it to us. Sometimes we never shut up."

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, a deeply shocked and hysterical Bridget desperately rang for help, but she told the RTE documentary how Dermot died as ambulance personnel desperately tried to resuscitate him.

She said: "I just lost it. I was screaming, I was hysterical. I was just rocking back and forth. They were doing CPR on him. There was just so much blood. I remember trying to bargain with God to spare him.

"The more they worked on him there were just volumes of blood coming out of him. Eventually I just said 'I know he is dead you can stop working on him'. Dermot had gone.

"All I cared about at that point in time was I should be dead with him because the pain of losing him like that and what we had endured and seeing him die like that in front of me, it was just unbearable. I quite willingly would have died with him."

The armed robber, Gavin Perry, already had over 200 criminal convictions when he was released on parole just five months before carrying out the violent, failed robbery while high on drugs.

Bridget's children told how their injured and terrorised mother had rang them all that afternoon desperately telling them to come to the shop as she feared their father "wasn’t going to make it".

The documentary focuses on the unsettling similarities of three Irish people killed in the city within a 12-month period between 2012 and 2013.

Dermot was stabbed to death on July 12, 2013. Less than a year earlier, the murder and rape of Louth woman Jill Meagher in Melbourne, on September 22, 2012, sent shock waves across Ireland and Australia.

It became one of the highest profile murders in Australia in living history because of the brutality of her attack and because her murderer, Adrian Bayley, was a convicted rapist out on parole after a history of vicious attacks on women.

He was handed a 43-year sentence.

The Victims of Crime Commissioner in Victoria, Greg Davies, said Jill's case caused a massive outcry in Victoria.

"A man with something like 20 prior convictions for rape was out on parole and 30,000 people marched through the streets in an expression of outrage at a system that had allowed someone with those sort of prior convictions to be out on the street," he said.

Mr Davies said the Irish murders so close together in Australia have left people asking questions, but he said Melbourne was a "safe place".

Jill's death came just over two weeks after 30-year-old Irish backpacker David Greene died from his injuries after a brutal beating from convicted Australian criminal Luke Wentholt.

Once again, the Australian's criminal history dated back 13 years and involved prior convictions for assault in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

David, a bricklayer from Cabinteely with a larger-than-life personality, had taken a one-way ticket to Australia six months earlier and had ended up managing a hostel in Melbourne.

Wentholt attacked David with a hammer and repeatedly stomped on his head during a party after suspecting his girlfriend liked the Irishman.

In the documentary, David's mother Catherine told how her son had told her in their last phone call that Luke Wentholt, who had moved into the house, was a "bit strange".

She said: "The last words I spoke to Davy were 'keep away from him'."

The next time Catherine saw her son was on a life support machine in Melbourne. It was switched off 12 days later.

"All his friends were around the bed talking to him and playing Christy Moore music, which he loved. They said there was no brain activity," said his mother.

"I can’t describe the pain. No-one knows unless they go through it the pain of losing a child that way."

The family then had to face his killer in court, where they heard he had a long and violent criminal history, including assaulting a sex worker. He was jailed for 18 years and six months.

"I felt so sick passing by him," said Catherine. "He just seemed to be going from state to state committing crimes. The anger that he was only out of jail a few months and he landed on Davy’s doorstep."

Bridget O'Toole said she was appalled that her husband's killer, Gavin Perry, only got a 27-year sentence in October 2014 for armed robbery, murdering her husband and leaving her with severe stab wounds.

Five years of the sentence was for the armed robbery, 20 years for murder and only two years for injuring Bridget.

"He was trying to kill me as well. I couldn't believe he only got two years for what he did to me. I wanted him to be put away for as long as possible," she told the RTÉ documentary.

"I could not believe his sentence. I couldn't make any sense of it. I was appalled. Gavin Perry will only be 51 years of age when he is released."

She is continuing to campaign for tighter control on parole and tougher sentences in memory of her husband.

She said: "I'm fighting for justice for Dermot and that this does not happen to another family. I just have to be the voice for Dermot."

Murder in Melbourne will be shown on RTÉ One on Monday, March 7 at 9.35pm.