On Thursday, I caught the train in to the city to see the last day of the “Claremont serial killer” trial.
The train was a little fuller than I’d expected; commuters were occupying nearly every seat, and nobody looked too afraid of catching a pesky virus. Most people were just reading their phones, as ever, which was faintly reassuring.
Arriving at the courts, I put my notebook through the security conveyor belt and headed up to Court 72, the same room where Lloyd Rayney famously went on trial for murder, later acquitted of killing his wife.
Now of course it’s where former Telstra technician Bradley Robert Edwards, 51, has been on trial for months, accused of killing Sarah Spiers, Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon in the 90s.
Before I could enter the court room, a guard spotted me through the glass doors, came out, and asked me to show him a press pass.
Not having one on me, I had to wait until the court’s media officer arrived a few minutes later to verify I was legit.
Fair enough. When I used to cover courts in the 80s, before heading to Sydney for two decades, you’d just walk in to trials (and no conveyor belt first), bow to the judge and take your seat in the area marked for journalists.
Times have changed.
These days, our courts have more security. And, after all, this is a case that has attracted enormous attention, from all kinds of individuals.
There’s been so much interest that down at the old Supreme Court building, a room has been set up for people to watch the case live on a big screen.
Once I walked in, I spotted some familiar media faces, including Seven’s Alison Fan and The Post’s Bret Christian. Many journalists sat a seat away from each other, in deference to COVID-19. Most were using their phones or laptops instead of notebooks.
In front of us were three rows of prosecution and defence lawyers, and several police officers, including Detective Senior Sergeant Joe Marropodi, who questioned Edwards at length back in 2016.
Behind us, were the families of the young women whose lives were taken from them, their friends and supporters, and, apparently, the parents of the accused.
And then, to the right, the accused, Bradley Edwards, was seated.
I hadn’t seen him in the flesh since December 2016, when he’d first been charged.
Back then, the unshaven 48 year old in red sports shirt behind bullet proof glass in the dock had looked tanned and sporty, as if he’d been interrupted playing a game of tennis.
The man before us today, flanked by two guards, looked pale and slightly flabby. He showed no emotion and never looked around the room.
Wearing a pinky brown shirt and matching tie with a black jacket, he also appeared to be sporting a double chin but that just could have been because he was gazing down a lot.
He rarely looked around him, instead preferring to look down at a notebook where he’d occasionally write something with his left hand.
His lawyer, Paul Yovich, was talking in depth about fibres in cars.
Mr Yovich went on at length about Telstra uniforms, car upholstery and the likelihood of picking up fibres at crowded bars.
I counted nine women lawyers; state prosecutor Carmel Barbagallo’s entire team is female. Again, what a difference to Perth in the 80s, where nearly all the lawyers were men.
The court was then adjourned for lunch. “All stand,” ordered an orderly.
I watched guards lead Bradley Edwards to the door; his eyes met mine for a fleeting second before expressionless, he vanished.
It struck me that if he gets convicted of murder, this court case could be the biggest exposure to the community he’ll have for the rest of his life.
Still in the court room, I started to head towards the defence lawyer, Paul Yovich to ask him if he thought the case would wind up today. The same guard who’d approached me earlier sprang forward, reaching out an arm to block me from approaching him. “I’ll come to you, what did you want to know?” the defence lawyer said cordially, then confirming he planned to finish submitting his evidence that afternoon.
“We always used to walk up to ask the lawyers questions in the break,” I said to Alison, still a little startled at the guard’s reaction. “Not any more!” a glamorous young reporter admonished me. “That area’s out of bounds!”
Time for caffeine and fresh air.
Carmel Barbagello, now one of WA’s most recognizable faces, was in my lift. It can’t have been easy being regularly in the news for months, having the weight of community expectation, that you get an alleged killer convicted.
I asked her if she was planning a holiday after this was all over.
She had made plans, she replied politely, but border closures had altered those. “There’s always Busselton?” I tried to lighten the tone. “Nothing wrong with Busselton,” she retorted with a smile. Thankfully Level 1 had arrived.
Alison and I grabbed a quick coffee at the court kiosk before she raced off to the nearby press room to prepare for her nightly news report, podcasts and other specials. “It’s never-ending,” she shrugged, firing up her laptop. If this veteran court reporter was remotely stressed at all the deadlines, you’d never know. “The podcast has had more than five million downloads, people are listening in Lapland!” she raised an eyebrow.
Back in court after the lunch break, Paul Yovich continued to talk fibres and Telstra shorts and trousers and cars. His meticulous defence case had been going for six days.
Other journalists have mentioned they are impressed at his efforts to get his client acquitted.
Eventually he told the judge that it was wrong to assume that whoever killed Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon also killed Sarah Spiers; that could be someone else.
(So if, as he maintains, Bradley Robert Edwards is not a killer, then we have to contend with the idea that Perth has two murderous predators out there? Perish the thought.)
Finally, the 95 day trial was over.
Mr Justice Hall asked Bradley Edwards to stand and told him he’d be remanded in custody until September 24. That’s when the judge expects to deliver his verdict, though he has warned he may bring forward the date.
Outside, I walked past the throng waiting to photograph the key players in WA’s “trial of the century” for the last time.
I watched Sarah Spiers’s father walk away on his own. The circus may be over, for now, but his pain continues.
Heading back to the train station, I wended back past desolate shops and on impulse bought a saucepan.
On the train home, the woman opposite me coughed. I thought about moving but decided to brave it out. At Claremont station, I looked out and found myself thinking about Bradley Robert Edwards, how his alleged actions more than 20 years ago are still impacting us all.
Bring on September 24.