Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Leahy-Arnold inquest: Sister breaks silence on 'affair' with murdered woman's husband

Melanie Petrinec
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
© The Cairns Post

The sister of murdered Tableland woman Julie-Anne Leahy has hit back at claims she instigated an affair with her brother-in-law and tearfully told a court she was instead the victim of his abuse.

Vanessa Stewart was just 16 when the bodies of Mrs Leahy and Mrs Leahy’s best friend Vicki Arnold were discovered with gunshot wounds south of Atherton on August 9, 1991, after they had been missing for two weeks.  Ms Stewart gave evidence on day seven of a third inquest into the women’s deaths yesterday and detailed for the first time in open court the extent of her involvement with her sister’s husband, Alan Leahy.

Ms Stewart also said she believed Mr Leahy had a hand in the women’s deaths, and slammed two previous inquests that "rubber-stamped" the police theory that Ms Arnold killed her best friend before turning the gun on herself.  She held up a photograph taken by The Cairns Post 20 years ago of her, Mr Leahy and her sister’s four children as proof of just how young she was when she began having sexual intercourse with the man a week after the women disappeared.

"It’s been hard enough dealing with everything I’ve had to deal with, without being branded as some little tart," she told the court. "I was innocent, I was naive and I was vulnerable and I was abused by someone who had my trust." Ms Stewart said she felt "trapped" and "controlled" by Mr Leahy, who she allegedly coached her on what to tell police.

Ms Stewart said Mr Leahy also told her to lie about how long she saw him for on the night the women went missing, and not to mention he woke her to engage in sexual
She said after 20 years of "fear, guilt and embarrassment", she was telling the truth now in the interest of justice. "I am a person who is out to get justice and some kind of truth for my family, and my sister that I can’t get back," she said.  "I know you don’t know me, so I understand why you might question my integrity… but I can give you an assurance that I am here today to tell the truth."

She said after living with Mr Leahy and the children in Western Australia in 1993 and 1994, she began to realise that he had "perhaps killed Julie-Anne and Vicki". When asked earlier if she believed Mr Leahy was involved in the women’s deaths, she replied "Yes, I believe he was". Ms Stewart’s assertion that the two previous inquests in 1992 and 1999 were a "complete systematic failure" was met with applause from the public gallery.

Family, friends and onlookers in the gallery clapped again as Ms Stewart was excused from giving further evidence at the inquiry and walked from the witness box. Mr Leahy is scheduled to give evidence today.

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