3RPC-FM Radio Programme & Transcript Compiled by Leonie Wallace
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Portland’s 3RPC-FM, a station manned by volunteers, dedicated two-and-a-half hours to listeners’ questions and concerns specifically about the murders of Mrs Acocks and Mrs Penny. The studio lacked the technical capacity for a talk-back programme, so listeners telephoned the station, their questions were scribbled down and then read out over the air. Fielding their inquiries were Dr WatsonMunro and Detective Senior Constable Tony Dickinson from the Victoria Police Crime Prevention Bureau. The programme was hosted by volunteer radio announcer, Faith Sutterby, who had a weekly Thursday morning timeslot.
At the time of the murders, apart from volunteering her services on community radio, Mrs Sutterby was employed at the local community health centre where she co-ordinated programs for the elderly. She was struck by how anxious and afraid the murders had made her clients. People were refusing to get their hair done and had adapted a siege mentality ignoring social outings preferring to stay home with locked doors to keep the evil out. She admitted to some insecurities of her own. “I was terrified and I have never been terrified in my life,” she said. “It really shook the place.” Mrs Sutterby recalled returning home at night fearful of walking the short distance from the garage to the house. She adopted a routine where a friend would follow in a car behind, shining the headlights to see her safely indoors. I gather someone else was waiting to ensure the friend’s safety once she got home. Women were even scared to hang out their washing.
At 10am on Thursday May 23, 1991, Mrs Sutterby introduced her radio programme describing the murders of Mrs Acocks and Mrs Penny as “the first of their kind in Portland”. She continued on air: “We must all realise that Portland has changed. Long gone are the days when you could walk down the street and leave the front door open, or walk into the shop and leave the keys in the car or the car unlocked. Like it or not, crime has been creeping into the way we live and must affect how we think about protecting our personal belongings and ourselves. The words, ‘nothing happens in Portland’ or ‘it won’t happen to me’ are phrases that we can no longer afford to utter. Our local police have been trying to get this message across to the Portland community and it is sad that it takes an event of this magnitude for us to sit up and take notice. People have been locking their doors since the events of the 3rd of May. They have been locking their cars. Ladies have been going out in groups instead of alone and people have been making sure the kids come straight home from school. Perhaps, say the police, this event will stop people having this head-in-the-sand syndrome when it comes to protecting themselves and their property. The officer in charge of the Portland CIB, Detective Sergeant Bob Lowther has said, ‘We care about how the community are feeling right now and we are doing what we can to help, but if only one good thing comes out of this incident, I think it will be that people will take more notice when we say lock up your house and car and take personal security precautions’. Bob was speaking recently to the husband of one of the ladies, Peter Acocks, regarding today’s programme and Peter said, ‘Nothing we can do will bring Claire or Meg Penny back, but
we can do a lot to put Portland back together’.” Mrs Sutterby explained to her listeners “it is this sort of comment that has been the catalyst for this program”. “We all know that there are people in the community who have been worried and anxious since that event of the 3rd of May and it is because of this that the police, Community Services Victoria, Portland and District Health Centre, Portland council, local clergy and 3RPC got together to provide the community with this service.” Mrs Sutterby then introduced her listeners to guests Dr Watson-Munro and Det Sen Const Dickinson. Both had earlier inspected the crime scene. Later that day Dr Watson-Munro addressed a gathering of social workers and mental health professionals while Det Sen Const Dickinson met with local business owners including hairdressers. During the programme, Det Sen Const Dickinson advised listeners not to become paranoid about security, however, they should be “aware that certain things can happen and unfortunately do happen and take the appropriate steps”. Det Sgt Robert Lowther, who remained in charge of the crime scene at the Old London Coiffure until the Homicide Squad arrived, was also part of the radio panel, reading and answering questions. Mrs Sutterby reminded listeners the panel was available to answer their questions “in relation to how you are feeling since the recent events, ways to deal with what you are feeling and also aspects of physical security and what you can do to protect yourself and your personal possessions”. She encouraged Portland residents to call the station providing two telephone numbers, with lines manned by
social workers and clergy members. She assured callers they could remain anonymous and repeated the numbers at various stages throughout the programme. Lines had also been open for two hours the previous evening with questions collated for the programme. While on air, Dr Watson-Munro discussed conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, hyper-vigilance and survivor guilt. He also promoted the support services available in Portland. “Most of the research suggests that people who talk through what they are experiencing once they understand it, tend to recover more quickly than those that try to bottle it up,” he told listeners. “Twenty years ago, in fact even five years ago, if you didn’t have a broken bone or a wound there was nothing wrong with you. It has only been in the last five years that people have recognised that even though you may not physically suffer, you can emotionally be quite affected by trauma.” Dr Watson-Munro explained to listeners there were three categories of victims - ‘primary victims’, which in the Portland case were Mrs Acocks and Mrs Penny, ‘secondary victims’ which included immediate friends and family and ‘tertiary victims’ a group characterised by people affected in the broader community. “I would imagine in Portland there are a lot of tertiary victims out there who are suffering who probably need to talk through, at some level, what has occurred,” he told listeners. The program discussed how people generally felt more vulnerable at night and that was when regular noises took on more irrational sinister dimensions. “What tends to happen when people are exposed to trauma, even if they are
not directly the victims of it, but in the Portland situation for example, people are alert to danger and their body is constantly on a state of alert to potential danger even though the danger in all likelihood is no longer there, they feel that it is and they get worried because their brain tells them one thing which is, ‘Look, I’m in my house and I’m quite safe really, but I hear noises and it’s a startle response,” Dr Watson-Munro explained. “Clearly as much as you can talk about the emotional aspects of this, people need to be advised on security needs because if they feel that their environment is secure they are going to feel a lot happier about being at home or being at work and so on,” he said. Det Sen Const Dickinson touched on this issue further during the program by elaborating on home, business and personal security measures. His suggestions included business outlets installing duress systems which were monitored offsite and individuals carrying personal shrill alarms. CALLER: Am I over reacting? I never used to lock my doors. Now I have had new locks fitted to my doors and still feel unsafe.
DET SEN CONST DICKINSON: I don’t think anybody is really over-reacting in this day and age. Unfortunately, homes are being constructed for cost-effectiveness in days gone by and they are not really as secure as they should be. Basic security is what people should be looking at and that consists of double cylinder deadlocks on their doors and key operated window locks, which is a minimum that I
think every home should have. CALLER: A gun, we have one. Should my wife use it to protect herself? Dr WATSON-MUNRO: That’s a thorny issue. My personal view is that guns have the great potential of escalating situations. I have major concerns with people having firearms in their home. DET SEN CONST DICKINSON: In a nutshell, no. There is a very grey area. A person is allowed to protect themselves and their property, but it’s the amount of protection they use. If a burglar for the sake of argument is breaking into your home and you are put in fear of your life, you are allowed to protect yourself in any way you see fit provided you don’t use any more force than is necessary. I suppose to put it in a simplified form, if I slap you in the face, you can slap me back. But if I slap you in the face and you draw out your .38 and blow me all over the front lawn that is not on. You have got to be able to prove in a court of law that the action you took was the only action that was available to you. Firearms, unfortunately as Tim says, can escalate and I don’t advocate and neither does the police department the use of them for protection purposes. CALLER: What is the most effective way for shop or store assistants to deal with threatening behaviour
from customers? DET SEN CONST DICKINSON: From my point of view, I think the best thing they can do is try and be agreeable with them and to take particular note, they very often can talk to people and talk them out of their abusiveness, this is what I have found in my experience. If you are prepared to listen and talk without being particularly obstructive, it very often calms them down. But whilst they are talking to them should the thing explode in their face soto-speak, what they should be doing is taking particular note of descriptions and the like and keeping them in their mind to write down and inform the local police as soon as they possibly can and they should never have any fear of ringing the local police to report any suspicious incident whether it be abusive customers or whatever. But I believe in the gift of the gab so-to-speak and you can talk your way out of a lot of problems. DR WATSON-MUNRO: I would just endorse what Tony said. Try and be pleasant. Try not to escalate the situation. Appear to be a good listener, but if it doesn’t seem that it’s going to work, get some idea of who it is and don’t put yourself in a dangerous position. Try and get them out quietly and gently... There is one other point I would make and it is really interesting - the psychology of cash handling - but it
is an important factor. I’ve done a lot of work apart from with victims, with offenders, and the whole thing about robbing a store is the offender wants to get in and out as quickly as possible and generally with as much money as possible. Now with effective cash handling techniques you don’t keep too much money in the till and you advertise the fact that you don’t, that you’ve got some sort of safety tank drop or something like that and stickers on the windows. People will then go and try and rob somewhere else. So you put up psychological barriers. There was an interesting study done some time ago looking at this issue in the United States, there was a direct correlation between the proximity of the counter to the door and the likelihood of being robbed and the further the counter was from the door the less likely you were to be robbed. These sort of psychological barriers as well as the physical barriers can have a very positive effect in crime deterrence and help proprietors feel more secure. CALLER: I live out of town and my husband works shift work. What security measures can I take other than the obvious locking doors and windows etcetera? We don’t have a dog and our nearest neighbour is about two to three kilometres away. Can you offer any further advice?
DET SEN CONST DICKINSON: There are a lot of rural areas which have adopted a CB network. The majority of people in rural areas have access to CB radios and certainly they can be used to their greatest advantage in these circumstances. It may be a lot quicker than a telephone, you just get on the air and contact whoever. There is an emergency channel and just virtually shout help over it and give your location, people will come running. There are selfdefence courses available to people, but I would say with the self defence unfortunately in a lot of cases a little knowledge can be dangerous so pick the appropriate established self-defence people and learn the course thoroughly as opposed to just going one day and say ‘oh well I know how to hit somebody with a right hook’ because it doesn’t always work like that. DET SGT LOWTHER: (After providing listeners with details of an upcoming two session self-defence course for women in Portland.) Obviously, it’s only a two-session course and you are not going to learn sufficient self-defence tactics from two sessions of two hours to initiate those in a split second sort of situation. It’s not as if you are doing a three or four year course where it becomes second nature to you to use self defence in situations, but obviously I suppose it would give the people that attend a course like that some sort of feeling of well being.
DR WATSON-MUNRO: I think that’s a very important point Bob. A lot of the research suggests that people that end up victims are people that don’t project an air of confidence. Offenders seem to have an uncanny gift to suss out people that look vulnerable and then target them. I would totally endorse the comments that have been made – it would be very foolish to have an overly false sense of security, obviously you wouldn’t get into a fight situation and picking up on Tony’s earlier point it’s always better to negotiate your way out of a situation than confront people. But I think certainly if people feel a bit more confidence it improves their self-esteem. That could be a very valuable thing in terms of the recovery process. CALLER: Could more information be forthcoming to allay community rumours? DET SGT LOWTHER: We have addressed this problem in relation to rumours in the past and I think I spoke about it in Monday’s edition of the Observer. From our point of view we can only say so much about what has happened and going past that would perhaps hinder the investigation to some extent. There are certain details of course that we don’t want to release, but also I have noted from speaking to the families, both the Acocks family and the Penny family, that some of these rumours that are flying around are certainly affecting not only them, but are
affecting other people in the community. There have been people arrested in Portland since the murders in relation to other matters and the rumours are getting to such a stage where if we walk into the police station with a suspect or an offender we are immediately swamped by phone calls that we have arrested one of the murderers. Now believe me, if that occurs, the community of Portland will be the first to know. But I’d like to see some of the rumours stop. If people have heard things I don’t really want them to ring the police station to confirm it, but until they see either a member of the homicide squad or a member of the staff at the police station, hear them on the radio, see them on the news or something like that saying that the offenders have been arrested I would say that the rumours certainly should cease and would do more harm to the community than good. DR WATSON-MUNRO: Well I think one the problems with this case Bob is that you don’t have an offender and I say that with respect to you, but I think if someone was apprehended and it was the offender, people would be able to put this issue to bed far more quickly. It’s inevitable, I think, in a community such as this that people have an interest in knowing that someone is going to be caught and a lot of these rumours I think probably serve some therapeutic value for people, it keeps it in their consciousness. But there is a real down side to that which you have
articulated very well. It can also have a negative effect on people if they are getting the wrong information. CALLER: What advice can you give to parents who are concerned about their children, young girls going out at night? DR WATSON-MUNRO: There have been some fairly terrible cases coming out of Melbourne recently about young women and young girls being assaulted at random and I guess as a parent myself, the initial reaction is that you want to protect them as much as possible. I think again that can be counterproductive. Obviously dependent on the age of your daughters you have got to counsel them about the risks, you have got to advise them not to put themselves into precarious situations. Certainly if they are attending a dance or a party and they donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have transportation organised, you fill in the gap, you organise a time to pick them up, you negotiate that with them so they are not left on their own at night. Talk to your daughters in an adult way. Children and adolescents often respond better if they feel that they are part of the decision making rather than having prescribed rules given to them which they will rebel against. I think there is a real danger if you try and lock your daughters up because they will break out of that and they will end up resenting you
and then you won’t be able to institute constructive rules that will help them survive. CALLER: I have a seven-year-old daughter who has been scared by the murders and the Karmein Chan case in Melbourne. She only goes to sleep if in bed with us and is afraid to go to the toilet at night. How can we help her relax and resume life as before? DR WATSON-MUNRO: I mentioned earlier that children have very strong defence mechanisms, but when they are broken through they can tend to fantasise and catastrophise and for some reason nighttime can be particularly scary for children. Obviously if the child comes to your bed it’s for a reason – they are looking for reassurance, comfort and so on and they need to be given that. But there is a real jeopardy that if you allow the behaviour to become entrenched it reaches a point where ultimately it is not in the child’s best interest because they can’t relax unless they are in bed with the parents. I have had cases in Melbourne, for example, where children have been exposed to traumatic situations and because the parents have not handled it properly because they have not known what to do, 10 years later you’ve still got young Johnny sleeping in mum’s bed - he’s 15 years-of-age. I think in relation to this situation your daughter obviously needs reassurance. She needs to be told that she is quite safe,
that mummy and daddy are there to protect her, let her come into bed, calm her down and then put her back in her own bed. If you do this often enough she will get tired of coming into your bed. If it continues to be a problem talk to your doctor or if you want to call me in Melbourne I’d be certainly very happy to speak with you. CALLER: How can I live with the real fear that something could happen to me? DR WATSON-MUNRO: It would be foolish to go around not realising that you can be a potential victim. We tend to operate under a number of assumptions. The first one is that the world is a good and meaningful place and by-and-large it is. And secondly, that victims are other people, that I will never become a victim. When tragedies occur, those basic assumptions are severely challenged. The world no longer is seen to be a good and meaningful place and there is a recognition that you can be a victim and that’s life, that’s reality. It’s not something that you should dwell on. I think you can derive benefit out of having that awareness, taking whatever steps you can to improve your personal safety and security, but keep getting on with your life - very important. CALLER: Could you suggest ways in which doctors can protect themselves?
DR WATSON-MUNRO: It’s an issue that touches on me quite a lot particularly because of some of the people that I have to assess in practice. I mean I had a case a couple of weeks ago where a guy came in extremely agitated. He thought that I was reading his mind. He was quite psychotic. I think the best thing you can do is if you feel that you have a dangerous patient, try and keep communication going with them. For goodness sakes don’t confront them or escalate the situation by becoming aggressive or overly assertive. Listen to them, empathise with them as best you can and try and get them out of your doctor’s surgery. That’s if you’ve got somebody that has a particular gripe. Unfortunately, doctors in the past had a reputation for carrying drugs and with the drug problem that I mentioned earlier escalating they became an obvious target for junkies. But these days a lot of doctors I know have signs saying that they don’t keep these sorts of drugs on the premises, that they are kept elsewhere in a safe and so on and that provides a good deterrent effect for that type of motivation. But I think it is very important if you are confronted with anyone who is dangerous and this doesn’t just apply to doctors, it applies to anyone, try and communicate. Try and empathise and be seen to be sympathetic rather than aggressive and that will certainly increase your chances of survival...I think the only qualifier on that and
it’s something we discussed in the break, if your life is in danger and somebody is attacking you, don’t be passive. Do your best to defend yourself, but you have got to have a good sense of timing about that...I think psychologically people can become paralysed with fear. They can get so much adrenaline floating around that they can’t move – they are frozen to the spot. It is very important that you don’t reach that point and one of the best ways of overcoming fear is to be aware of yourself and rather than be frightened at the appropriate time, get angry. So you can direct that energy in a more positive way, but you have to be judicious about when you do that. CALLER: Is there a connection between video violence and violence in the community? Is there a perception that violence is acceptable? SEPARATE CALLER: We need to own the culprit as a product of society. Does Tim agree videos, television portray the hero as a culprit/villain etcetera? DR WATSON-MUNRO: Totally agree. I mean a lot of criminologists would take issue with that point. They speak about the fact that in some of the Scandinavian countries for example, pornography is freely available and the incidence of rape is not increased. I would take issue with their research methodology. Really what they are only getting is a very small percentage of actual sexual offenders. Most people
that commit sexual offences are not caught, we are really dealing with the tip of the iceberg and those that are caught often are acquitted through evidentiary matters. My own view is and it is well versed in I guess psychological research, that if you are exposed to violence whether it be sexual violence or violence by way of videos, you become desensitised to it and so the impact on you is less each time. This is why I think you find that over the years there has been a (re)laxing of censorship laws in terms of the sort of material that people are exposed to. For a lot of people they have a decision whether or not they are going to watch this sort of material and they can make a rational judgement. But there is always that percentage in the community that might be teetering on the edge of not being able to distinguish fantasy from reality and when they are exposed to that sort of material they can often then have an urge to act out their fantasies. Certainly there has been a number of well-documented murder cases in this country and overseas where people have shortly after being exposed to violent material whether it is pornographic or just involving firearms, have then gone out and offended in a fairly major way. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not advocating rigid censorship here, but I think we need to be far more sensible about the sort of material that is freely available to people and it gets back to early discussions. I think parents need to be far
more judicious about the sort of material that they let their children see. It all starts at home. Proper parenting - you can solve a lot of these problems in my view.
Mrs Sutterby concluded her radio program by thanking her guests, the assistants who had manned the telephones and the listeners who contacted the station with questions. “It has been very much a learning experience for me and I’m sure by the enormous response we have had that many people have been helped this morning with the very educated answers that we have received and I thank you for that,” Mrs Sutterby said. “We hope you have received some comfort and some help this morning...This is Faith Sutterby saying goodbye now and thank you for keeping us company for the last two and a half hours.”
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