The Moreton Island murder


There are three major issues that arise from this case. First, will there be contempt of court by publishing this case considering that the case is still proceeding, pursuant to s. 126 of the Magistrate’s Court Act 1989 (Vic) that prohibits publication of any matter regarding the accused until the case commence and the accused takes plea? Second, will publication of the story amount to defamation of the accused (Smith) considering that he has not been declared guilty through judicial process, pursuant to Defamation Act 2005?  Lastly, will it amount to scandalizing the criminal justice system based on reason given for earlier acquittal, pursuant to the provisions of s. 71 of Judiciary Act 1903?


Learning Problem the Moreton Island murder

The Moreton Island murder



Page 1 of 13

You are the Online News Editor for a news website based in Queensland. The following item has been filed for your consideration, along with some social media comments you are expected to moderate. Review the material and use your 600 words to answer these questions:

Learning Problem the Moreton Island murder

  1. What are the main media law issues that arise in this scenario?
  2. Explain briefly how those laws and possible defences might apply.
  3. What cases / examples / legislation are relevant to this situation?
  4. Assuming your goal is to try to publish as much of the material as is legally allowable, what course of action would you recommend for the journalist or publisher in this situation and why?

The Moreton Island murder

Discuss the problem with fellow students on the Discussion Board section of the Learning@Griffith site. [Of course, you cannot copy other students’ contributions in your own answers because this will be detected by Turnitin and raised as an Academic Integrity matter.].

The Moreton Island murder

Learning Problem the Moreton Island murder



Police have arrested the man who murdered and raped an elderly woman on Moreton Island in Queensland last month.

Edith Johnston was found dead in her Moreton Island home four weeks ago.

Labourer David Smith is expected to be charged later today.

Detectives visited his Cleveland home on Monday morning and later escorted him into Roma Street headquarters.

During the investigation, Mr Smith had described himself as a friend of Mrs Johnston who would do odd jobs for her on his weekend fishing visits to the island.

Mr Smith was also the man who raised the original alarm to police, concerned the 93-year-old woman was not answering her door when he had knocked.

Police found Mrs Johnston naked in her bathroom when they attended to check on her.

She had lived alone in the single story fibro bungalow since her husband Fred died in 2010.

The Moreton Island murder

Learning Problem the Moreton Island murder

Neighbour and friend Liz Wallis said she was in disbelief that a potential serious crime had been committed on a usually peaceful island.

She said: “This is not Moreton Island, believe me – things like this don’t happen here. We just can’t understand it. We’re devastated.”

Police questioned Smith for more than three hours last Wednesday after forensic experts determined the woman had been the victim of a sex murder.

A police media spokesperson said Smith had made several admissions to them during that interview and said he had been drinking heavily for several hours prior to the attack.

His home computer had been seized and incriminating pornographic images had been found on it.

Police said his eight year old daughter Phoebe was being cared for by her grandparents.

Smith was a prime suspect in a similar attack on a Redland Bay woman, Doris Dupain, 78, in 2008. According to investigating detectives, Mrs Dupain survived the assault and was willing to testify, however Smith’s ex-girlfriend provided him with an alibi and crucial DNA evidence was misplaced in the police laboratory.

The Moreton Island murder

Learning Problem the Moreton Island murder

The police spokesperson said there would be no such error this time round.

“We have collected incriminating DNA from both the victim and the suspect and this kind of data doesn’t lie. We expect to formally charge Smith within hours,” she said.

Mrs Johnston was a retired school music teacher who often played piano at community gatherings and on Sundays at the Moreton Uniting Church services.

“She was such an endearing person and very talented,” Ms Wallis said. “She didn’t deserve to die in such a horrible traumatic way.

“I have no doubt this Smith guy did it. He would hang around her place like a bad smell and always had a nasty look about him. My guess is that he preyed on lonely widows like this.”

A Google search reveals a David Smith from Cleveland was convicted of several drug offences in 2005 and aggravated assault of 74 year old Agnes Bethany Steele in 2003.

The arrest follows the Premier’s emotional address to Parliament last week vowing to “commit every possible resource to finding the monster who has done this”.

The Moreton Island murder

Learning Problem the Moreton Island murder

COMMENTS BY READERS (for you to moderate)


@Ragin’Randy: I’m a Moreton resident and I’ve seen this dude around. He had EVIL tattoed on his arm and trouble written all over him!


@214GraceJane: Edith was such an active member of our church group. We’ll miss her badly. RIP Edith.


@RoadRunner13: My husband works in police forensics and that’s not true about the lost DNA evidence. Either way, they’ve got him this time!


@RevSteveParish: God bless you Edith. You didn’t deserve this but you’re with our Lord now.


@DavyJones: Just hang the bastard and be done with it so we can get back to our fishing on Moreton.


Learning Problem the Moreton Island murder


Police arrest David Smith at his Cleveland address over the murder of Edith Johnston. Image: Creative Commons ©Chris Yarzab (fourbyfourblazer)