Tim Blair


New Criterion



Tuesday, August 24, 2004
THERE IS A SERIOUS POSSIBILITY that someone may be listening to Late Night Live tonight, as Anu Singh and the parents of the young man she murdered, Joe Cinque, put their cases. In fact, so seriously does Auntie take this possibility she has been giving the Gastropod's gig peak-time promotion. This makes it a unique event.

Those of you who've read Helen Garner's book, Joe Cinque's Consolation, will be holding your ears to the loudspeaker. Those who haven't may still find enough of this fascinating case surviving Philip Adams's smarm to make it worth the time. The personalities of the antagaonists alone should make it riveting.

Anu Singh is a smart, articulate, ambitious young woman who would by now be a successful corporate lawyer or Radio National staffer but for one indiscretion. In 1997, while a student in Canberra, she deliberately and with malice aforethought, killed her fiancee, Joe Cinque with overdoses of Rohypnol and heroin.

Singh was charged with the reduced offence of manslaughter on the basis that her responsibility was diminished by her mental state at the time. She suffered from an eating disorder and was given to histrionic threats of suicide. In the end she found it sufficient to kill her boyfriend, but any hope she had of passing it off as his suicide was defeated by the unconscionable time Joe Cinque took to die, waiting until well into the day after a suspected second injection to breathe his last.

Apparently fearing the circumstances of Cinque's death made it impossible for her to plead ignorance, Singh sought advice anonymously from the 000 operator. The ambulance eventually arrived shortly after Cinque's very avoidable death.

Since forensic skills are not required in the Gastropod's terms of employment with Auntie, allow me to suggest a couple of questions to bear in mind, just in case some relevant information should present itself in the course of the program.

How is that someone can be, in 1997, so barking mad that she so deliberately kills the man she still claims to have loved, and then, by 1998, be so recovered that a token prison sentence is sufficient?

Of course, Singh had psychiatrists to argue for her craziness, and the added benefit of a single-judge, no-jury trial. But there was a time when the crazy defence was a ticket to a life behind high walls.

No longer, it seems. As the author Helen Garner wonders with the rest of us, has psychiatry driven personal responsibility out the door?

While medical science has never found psychotherapy to have any power to cure, as far as our shrinks, and Justice Crispin, are concerned, the healing power of therapy means you can indeed be a psychopath one day and a citizen the next.

A second angle. Our courts defend such leniency with undoubted villains on the grounds that social harmony beats retribution. If you listen to Cinque's parents you will hear their unrelieved grief and anger, their passionate sense of injustice, as fierce now as it was seven years ago. No harmony there. Mrs Cinque argues that only her own moral standards hold her back from seeking her own revenge, and, ugly as that idea is, who could blame her.

Meanwhile, Anu Singh has recovered so completely from her mental incapacity that she has been able to complete a Master's degree. She has now enlisted other women prisoners, 'victims' of the system, as subjects for her campaigning for prison reform. Proof of our courts' curative powers, or a continuation of her career in manipulating other people?

Perhaps, after tonight, you can judge for yourself.

Justice Crispin would never claim to be delivering natural justice, but you should read Garner's book and ask yourself, just what did he deliver?

After Singh refused to talk to her, Garner saw her book as a consolation for the abandoned Joe Cinque and his parents. It seems to me Cinque's real consolation, insufficient as it is, lies in avoiding marriage to Anu Singh.