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A Prisoner of Politics

Mr Phuong Ngo received a life sentence for the murder of Labour politician John Newman in 2001.

Phuong Ngo was arrested after a coronial enquiry, and then 3 trials, with the first aborted, the second inconclusive with a hung jury, and convicted in the third.

An appeal to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal was denied, as was an appeal to the High Court, but a Four Corners programme sympathetic to Phuong Ngo, resulted in a judicial enquiry that warmly endorsed the life sentence and was critical of the behaviour of Phuong Ngo’s supporters.

Phuong Ngo has not shown remorse or regret, has consistently denied committing the crime, and has been 23 years in gaol. The question of guilt or innocence has divided good people of experience, knowledge and character and is a legal minefield that the writer prefers not to enter deeply.

The fitness of the sentence is open to question on multiple grounds. Under S61 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999 NSW, a court is to impose a life imprisonment for murder if the court is satisfied that the level of culpability in the commission of the offence is so extreme that community interest in retribution, punishment, community protection and deterrence can only be met through the imposition of this sentence, and Judge Dunford felt compelled on these grounds to impose a “For the Term of his Natural Life” sentence. At the same time, he expressed regret that a long sentence with parole was not available, and the prisoner’s good conduct in the community and help to fellow prisoners could not alter the sentence.

Conviction was based crucially, on the evidence of 2 alleged accomplices, who were granted immunity and who later were shown to be liars.

An alleged confession to the murder by a Labour party member of the Fairfield Council, that was later strenuously denied, resulted in 3 police interviews, of which only 2 were made available.

The first trial judge told the jury to start with the principal offender, and only if they found him guilty, to proceed with the others involved, but this was not followed in trial 3.

The third trial judge considered the main motivation was naked political rivalry for the lower house seat occupied by Mr John Newman. But evidence about this provided by Mr Della Bosca and Ms Reba Meagher is conflicting and suggest the possibility that Mr Phuong Ngo believed Mr Newman was about to lose his preselection for the 1995 election, in which case, no motive to kill Mr Newman would exist, and the reason for a true life sentence – blown away.

NSW is unique in the area of mandatory sentencing compared to the other states. A Criminal Case Review Commission exists in the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Norway to provide a specialist independent mechanism to revue convictions when concerns still exist after all appeals have been heard. Our NSW Sentencing Committee remains unimpressed. Newcastle University legal department considers that the State legislation may breach Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed and ratified by Australia.

‘Bob’, an anonymous informant, gave a precise account of the details of the murder six weeks after the event, but was never questioned in court and later admitted his information was based on hearsay.

Phuong Ngo was convicted of murder by joint enterprise when charged along with 3 employees of the Mekong Club, one of whom was given immunity for rolling over, but none were ever convicted and the shooter remains unknown.

The absence of any judicial discretion is deplored by a number of our most senior lawyers and perhaps reflects badly on our sentencing Commission.

Only a pardon by the NSW Governor or the Governor General can free Phuong Ngo - and what political party wishes to be seen as soft on crime?

This man is no threat to society or to any individual, and his incarceration fails the pub test and lacks any Orwellian sense of fairness.

If all the facts given are correct, is the sentence “beyond reasonable doubt” appropriate? Or does it show that the law and justice do not necessarily coincide.

1 Comment

Amy Ngo
Amy Ngo
Jul 25, 2023

Mr John Newman was a THORN in Phuong NGO's eyes simply because of his strong attitude to fight against crimes, drug networks, prostitutes, human trafficking, etc.

Phuong NGO would let Mr Newman live if he was merely a "professional" MP who was only interested in .... keeping his seat warm.

However, they dubbed Phuong NGO's case as "political assassination" simply because they knew so well that NO ONE in our Vietnamese community would dare to come out as witness that Mr Newman's murder was due to his fighting against Al Capone's criminal network.

Our community has been living in peace in the last 25 years without "Al Capone". We do not want to live in fear again. That's definitely not…

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