The compelling story of South Australia’s disgraced former chief forensic pathologist and the legal scandals in which he became implicated.
For nearly three decades, Dr Colin Manock was in charge of South Australia’s forensic pathology services, and played a vital role within the state’s criminal justice system: in cases of unexpected or unexplained death, it was his job to determine when a person took their final breath and whether they had died naturally or as a result of something more sinister. Throughout his long career, he performed more than 10,000 autopsies and gave expert scientific evidence in court that helped secure approximately 400 criminal convictions.
But, remarkably, Manock, a self-described “witness of fact”, did not have the necessary training for such a senior, specialist role, and he made serious errors in several major cases—with tragic consequences, including the apparently wrongful imprisonment of innocent people. The full extent of his wrongdoing and the exact number of cases impacted by it remains a mystery more than twenty-five years after he retired, due to the continuing refusal of those in power to heed calls to launch a formal inquiry into his career.
In this book, Rooke examines several of Manock’s most controversial cases, and speaks with many of his former colleagues, people directly impacted by his flawed work, and legal experts. At its heart, A Witness of Fact is about how an entire legal system has failed badly, how unsafe verdicts have been swept under the carpet—and how forensic evidence that is admitted in courts of law in Australia and across the world is dubious more often than we would like to think.