Australian Mother Kathleen Folbigg Enjoying Life After 20 Years in Prison and Considering Compensation Bid

Australian Mother Kathleen Folbigg Enjoying Life After 20 Years in Prison and Considering Compensation Bid
Kathleen Folbigg appears via video link during a convictions inquiry at the New South Wales Coroners Court in Sydney, on May 1, 2019. (Joel Carrett/AAP Image via AP)

Kathleen Folbigg has woken up as a free woman after 20 years behind bars after being wrongfully accused and convicted over the deaths of her four children.

The 55-year-old was pardoned and released from an Australian jail in New South Wales (NSW) on Monday after being convicted in 2003 after an inquiry found there was reasonable doubt about her guilt.

Her lawyer Rhanee Rego says Folbigg spent her first night of freedom northern NSW farm celebrating with friends.

“We had some pizza, and we sat down, and we laughed, and we cried, and we just talked about ... how things are going and hopes for the future,” she told Sydney radio 2GB on Tuesday.

“It was a really beautiful night.”

Rego urged anyone who still believed Folbigg was guilty to examine the evidence.

“Just because something seems suspicious doesn’t mean it is,” she said.

The next hurdle for her legal team is to get her convictions quashed in the Court of Criminal Appeal, followed by compensation.

“(We) will be sitting down with Kathleen to talk about the future and what that looks like,” Rego said.

The question on everyone’s lips is, “What is 20 years of someone’s life worth?”

Just as Lindy Chamberlain adamantly protested her innocence, Folbigg, a former Hunter Valley hospitality worker, has always denied responsibility for the deaths of Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura, who were all under the age of two when they died between 1989 and 1999.

She now faces the prospect of joining a select few in Australia, including Chamberlain, awarded seven-figure sums in light of their wrongful convictions.

Robyn Blewer, director of the Griffith University Innocence Project, pointed to two recent cases to indicate how Folbigg could be compensated for her 7300 days in jail.

West Australian man Scott Austic in May received $1.3 million on top of an earlier payment of $250,000 after serving nearly 13 years for murdering his pregnant secret lover.

He'd sought $8.5 million after being acquitted in 2020 on appeal.

Both payments were ex gratia, unlike David Eastman, who was awarded $7 million in damages by the ACT Supreme Court in 2019.

Eastman served almost 19 years over the 1989 shooting murder of federal police assistant commissioner Colin Winchester, only to be acquitted at a second trial.

“The difference is it was in ACT which has a human rights act, and under that, there is an entitlement for compensation under human rights,” Blewer told AAP.

“Mr Eastman was then able to sue because there was a right to compensation.

“The court assessed his damages in the same way they would a tort ... the court went through every time he was injured.”

Like Austic, Chamberlain was awarded an ex gratia or grace payment. The $1.3 million awarded in 1992 now equates to about $3 million.

Given NSW lacks a human rights act like that of the ACT, Folbigg will need specific legal advice about whether a civil claim is possible.

Blewer said she could end up reliant on what the government was willing to pay.

“Twenty years is a substantial amount of time lost,” she said.

“It might depend on the good grace of the NSW government.”

Before that bridge can be crossed, Folbigg’s lawyers will await the final report of former chief justice Tom Bathurst into her convictions.

An application to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal to quash her convictions will likely follow.

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