A man named as a suspect in the case of two prospectors who disappeared in remote Western Australia has been compelled to answer questions at an inquest, after voicing concerns his evidence may “incriminate” him.
- Raymond and Jennie Kehlet travelled to remote WA with Graham Milne
- Both went missing, and Mr Kehlet’s body was later found down a mine shaft
- Mr Milne, the last person to see them alive, is still considered a suspect by police
Graham Milne is the last known person to have seen Raymond and Jennie Kehlet alive, when the three of them went on a prospecting trip to Sandstone, about 700 kilometres north-east of Perth, in March 2015.
Mr Kehlet’s body was found down a mineshaft about three weeks later, but no trace has ever been found of Ms Kehlet.
On the first day of the inquest last week, police identified Mr Milne as a suspect in the case, testifying some of the information he told investigators was not supported by evidence.
The inquest was also told police had intended to charge him, but the move was rejected by state prosecutors.
Milne fearful of being charged: lawyer
At the start of proceedings on Wednesday, Mr Milne’s lawyer, Glenn Cridland, said his client wanted to “exercise his right not to answer questions” on the grounds “they may have the tendency to incriminate him”.
Mr Cridland said since the investigation first began, Mr Milne had fully cooperated with police.
He provided four written statements, allowed his property to be forensically searched and took part in two video recorded interviews — one of which lasted more than 12 hours.
But Mr Cridland said it was “starkly obvious” from the evidence of police that they had wanted his client to be charged and the answers he provided at the inquest could be an opportunity “to fill in the missing bits of a prosecution case”.
“One can see where the police case is going,” he said.
“If this matter was where he had refused to cooperate before, then it would be expedient for him to answer questions in a fact-finding exercise.
“It’s not expedient, it’s oppressive because of the cooperation which has been remarkable to date.”
Offer of immunity
WA coroner Ros Fogliani ruled that “for the ends of justice” Mr Milne should be compelled to answer questions, but said if she was satisfied he was truthful at the end of his evidence, she would consider granting him a certificate of immunity.
That would mean any answers Mr Milne gives to the inquest could not be used in any criminal prosecution of him.
When Mr Milne’s testimony proceeded he described Jennie and Ray Kehlet as “good friends” he met at the mine site where they all worked.
He described the couple as “being two peas in a pod” and said their friendship developed when Mr and Ms Kehlet showed an interest in prospecting and he agreed to train them.
Mr Milne has denied having anything to do with the couple’s disappearance and he has never been charged.
The inquest continues
A search and rescue expert has told an inquest into the mysterious disappearance of two prospectors in WA’s outback that it is possible they met their deaths after they chased their dog when it ran away from their campsite.
- The Kehlets were reported missing on March 19, 2015
- They had been prospecting in a remote spot about 700km north-east of Perth
- Mr Kehlet’s body was found down a mineshaft, his wife remains missing
The inquest is examining the case of Raymond and Jennie Kehlet who were last seen alive in March 2015 while on a prospecting trip with a friend, Grahame Milne, to Sandstone, about 700 kilometres north-east of Perth.
Concerns were first raised for their safety about 10 days after they left home, when their dog, a great dane called Ella, was found wandering in a caravan park in Sandstone.
The town was about 30 kilometres from the Kehlets’ campsite, which was found abandoned with clothes on the line, half-drunk cups of tea and a wasps nest inside one of their unlocked vehicles.
An extensive land and air search was conducted and Mr Kehlet’s body was found down an abandoned mineshaft, but no trace of Ms Kehlet has ever been found.
The inquest has been told Mr Milne, who claims he left the campsite to return to Perth three days into the trip, is a suspect in the case but he denies having anything to do with the Kehlets’ disappearance and has not been charged.
Quad bike points to dog search, expert says
Senior Sergeant Jim Whitehead, a search and rescue expert with Queensland Police, was asked to review the search operation undertaken by the WA authorities and provide a possible scenario for what happened.
On Friday, he testified that based on information he had been given and an examination of the scene, it was his opinion the Kehlets left their campsite hastily on their quad bike to look for their dog, which liked to chase animals.
He said at some stage he thought they had got off the quad bike, which was found about 300 metres away from the camp, and as Mr Kehlet was running up a rise leading to a mineshaft, he had tripped and fallen into it.
Sergeant Whitehead said the discovery of cigarette butts with Ms Kehlet’s DNA on them near the mouth of the shaft suggested she remained at the top of it for some time.
“She may have sat at the mouth of the shaft … hoping that he had just hit his head … and maybe that he would come to,” Sergeant Whitehead said.
“Partners tend to stay together and maybe she was hoping Ray would come to and they’d be able to work their way out of it.”
Sergeant Whitehead said darkness then may have fallen quickly and Ms Kehlet had tried to find her way back to the campsite, but she had got lost and perished.
He said his theory was purely from a search and rescue viewpoint, saying he was not a detective and had not addressed anything to do with the possibility of a third party being involved “at all”.
He said his scenario was also based on a number of assumptions, including that the dog ran away from the camp to chase animals.
“If that is incorrect, it could impact on the conclusions,” he said.
“It’s possible, if that’s incorrect, then everything that follows is incorrect.”
Original search failed to find body
The inquest later heard Mr Kehlet’s body was found down the mineshaft days after search teams had originally “cleared” it.
The body was discovered on April 8, 2015, by senior firefighter Ashley Gasmier, who testified he ended up going back to the mineshaft as part of an exercise to provide the media with footage of what searchers were doing.
He said that particular mineshaft was chosen for ease, because it was closest to where his team and equipment were, and they decided to do what was called a “quick and dirty descent” in a harness attached to a rope.
“I went about three quarters of the way down and thought I’m here I might as well look around. That’s when I located the body,” he said.
Mr Gasmier said the body could not be seen from the top, because it was located off to the side where the mineshaft widened at the bottom.
He described the position as “not common”, saying if a person had fallen down the shaft, he did not think that would be how their body would end up.
“If someone has fallen down a mineshaft … they would be located in view,” he said.
“If someone falls down it, they go straight to the bottom, the body doesn’t roll. If they’ve hurt themselves they move to a position to be located, to be seen from the top.”
He also said there was a red 20-litre jerry can on the other side of the shaft, which was positioned upright and “looked as if it had been placed there”.
The inquest continues next week when Mr Milne is expected to give evidence.
Every day, in the soft morning light, hardy souls venture out into the Indian Ocean from Cottesloe Beach.
- Cottesloe Beach installed a shark barrier in November last year to improve safety
- Mayor Philip Angers says there are more swimmers and beachgoers as a result
- Shark prevention measures are in focus following a fatal attack off Esperance
They stroke across the bay, regardless of wind or weather.
Many have wispy white hair and the kind of skin you get after a lifetime in the sun.
They remember vividly when Ken Crew was killed by a shark while swimming in knee-deep water at North Cottesloe in 2000 and the suspected fatal shark attack on Bryn Martin in 2011.
But this year, something is different. Their ranks have grown.
The Town of Cottesloe has put up a shark net and it has attracting ocean swimmers in their droves.
As he emerged from the surf, Chris Chalwell confirmed it was the net that had drawn him here — he was not game enough to swim at Cottesloe before it.
“I think it’s a wonderful addition to Cottesloe Beach, I can come down here and I feel quite safe,” he said.
“It’s just fantastic to swim out there with that knowledge, or that hope, actually, that that barrier will work.”
Mr Chalwell said swimming in the shark net was the safest he could feel.
“I’ve actually been lucky enough to see a seal on the other side of the net, looking back at me, saying ‘how do I get onto your side’?” he said.
“So it gives you an idea or a feeling of safety.”
Nets dotted up and down the coast
Shark attacks were again front of mind in WA this week after Gary Johnson was killed on Sunday while diving off the coast of Esperance.
The search for Mr Johnson’s body was called off by police this morning, pending any new information being received.
In an all-too-familiar drill, the attack has left concerned community members calling for more action to protect ocean users, the WA Government restating the measures it is taking, and a grieving family calling for calm, saying their loved one knew the risks.
Until now, Chantal Barrett has only ever done distance swimming at Cottesloe in organised events.
“It almost creates a nice sea lane swimming pool, but you’re always feeling safe as well,” she said.
“It definitely gets everyone outside, being fit, happy, active. I definitely see a lot more people swimming and training down here.”
Other shark nets are dotted along the WA coastline, including at Sorrento in Perth’s northern suburbs, Coogee near Fremantle and in the regional towns of Dunsborough and Albany.
Des Lord, who swims in the nets at Coogee and Dunsborough, was impressed with Cottesloe’s barrier.
“If you see the size of the mesh of the net, you’d probably get some small wobbegong-type sharks through, but nothing more than that,” he said.
The beach nets are part of a range of measures different levels of government have employed across WA to help mitigate as much as possible the risk of shark attacks.
Since February 2019 a smart drumline trial off Gracetown has caught and tagged two great white sharks.
In 2017, the State Government introduced a $200 rebate on shark deterrent devices to make them more accessible to divers and swimmers.
Enhanced monitoring has also been installed at beaches including Gracetown and a SharkSmart app has been launched to better track shark activity.
According to WA Fisheries Minister Peter Tinley, there are an estimated 1,600 endangered white pointer sharks between WA and Victoria.
Tourists think Australia is ‘full of sharks’
Cottesloe Mayor Philip Angers said he welcomed the positive response to the net.
“We’re now getting very strong crowds very early in the morning, like 5:30am, where people would never swim before, mainly because that’s the dusk and dawn period and people are a bit scared,” he said.
“That goes through until about 7:30am, quarter to eight, and then after that we tend to get a lot of tourists and just ordinary beachgoers, who probably don’t want to do laps for the Rottnest Swim but they just enjoy the beach.”
The perceived boost to tourism and local businesses, in particular, has pleased Mr Angers.
“I looked the other day when I was here and I went past so many hire cars,” he said.
“Tourists tend to think Australia is just full of sharks.
“In reality the risk of a shark attack is very low, but I think it’s in your mind and the net or barrier takes that away.”