In 2011, Keli Lane from Manly, NSW, was accused of murdering her two-day-old daughter and sentenced to eighteen years in prison.
Today, questions are being raised about the fairness of the trial, thanks to a three-part documentary featured on ABC that reveals new evidence and exposes the sexism and misogyny that surrounded the initial investigation.
Led and created by investigative reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna, the gripping series, titled Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane, did more than just pose new questions to the public about Lane’s conviction – it resulted in nearly four million viewers joining a Facebook group that encourages the public to get involved with solving the case.
The group was launched by Meldrum-Hanna and her team, and was introduced at the end of the final episode of the season. It reached 12,000 members overnight. Now, with so many people invested in finding out the truth, pressure to open a formal review of the case is growing.
Meldrum-Hanna was surprised by the response. Talking to Nieman Lab, she said:
“The Facebook group was Flip [Prior, who works in content research, strategy, and news innovation at the ABC]’s fantastic idea: How do we harness this window at the moment where we’ve captured people’s attention? Do we just let that fall away and leave people wondering, or do we find a space and a way to get people engaging and communicating with each other?
“I hadn’t done this before. I just go down a hole as an investigative journalist, pop out the other side, and say, ‘Here, Australians, here’s what we’ve got.’ I’ve never been this engaged with the audience.”
The damning evidence exposed by the series raises serious questions over the integrity of the investigation all those years ago. One example found that Justice Anthony Whealy, the judge who oversaw the case, believed that the burden of proof was not met.
Police who assisted at the original coronial inquiry admitted that the telephone records that might have supported Lane’s claims were not pursued.
Furthermore, it has come to light that many officials may have been irrelevantly preoccupied with Lane’s promiscuous reputation in the town. Meldrum-Hanna says, in an interview with Studio 10,
“Keli Lane’s defence barrister said that there was an unhealthy fixation and obsession on Keli Lane’s supposed promiscuity throughout all of these proceedings…it was hard for us to understand the focus on this, and is her supposed promiscuity relevant to her guilt as a murderer?”
The Facebook group has already proven integral to the progress of solving the case. For instance, the hospital where Lane gave birth no longer exists, making it hard for anyone to canvass the place and potentially debunk the myths that accuse Lane of exiting the hospital and killing the baby on site.
However, when this issue was raised on the Facebook group, many people responded and some, presumably librarian or archivists, produced old floor plans of the hospital. One member even provided the team with a CD-ROM of the floor plans from the 1970s that showed the layout, including emergency stairwells and rubbish disposal areas. As a result, the theory about Lane killing her daughter on site could be thrown out.
The group is closely monitored and kept under control by 20 ‘superusers’ – namely several ex-journalists – who keep conversations on track and shut down any legally contentious subjects. Comments are also limited to just one post at a time.
Prior says, “I’ve been quite amazed that some of the people who have popped up to offer their help have been legal experts, former journalists, former policemen, all coming through this group and saying hey, look, I want to work on this and I have some people who can help. We’re overwhelmed with offers, because of this.”
You can join the group here to keep up to date or get involved.