60 Minutes blog

Liz Hayes: The trials of Gordon Wood

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Going into an interview with any preconception is never a good idea – but when your subject is Gordon Wood it’s hard not to.

I’d known about him for 17 years, mostly from unflattering stories I’d watched on television, read in the newspapers or listened to on radio.

In 1995, Gordon Wood’s girlfriend, Caroline Byrne, was found dead at the bottom of The Gap, a beautiful part of Sydney’s coastline, which is also known for suicides.

Gordon was the first to realise something awful had happened to Caroline.

But what was initially accepted as a tragic suicide, quickly turned into a suspicious death and, eventually, a murder case.

Gordon Wood was suspect number one and eleven years after Caroline’s death, he was charged with throwing her off the cliff.

He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 17 years gaol.

For three years, he sat in prison while his family and legal team worked on an appeal.

Then, in a stunning decision in February this year, three judges from the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal acquitted Gordon Wood.

So, after years of negative stories followed by a murder conviction, here I was about to meet Gordon Wood, the innocent man.

Gordon Wood is tall and thin. The one-time youthful fitness instructor is now a man who is nearly 50.

He’s impeccably mannered, nervous and emotional. And, unsurprisingly, he’s not too trusting.

Journalists have not been his friend so on our first meeting I didn’t expect and didn’t get any warm embrace.

I’d read all 252 pages of the appeal judgement and found it compelling reading.

I started my research here because so many things had been written about the case I needed to know just what had made it into evidence in the trial.

Before being charged, rumour and innuendo surrounding Gordon Wood was rife. Gossip flourished and much of it was being passed on as fact.

Gordon Wood was a driver for Sydney stockbroker, Rene Rivkin. The cigar-chomping and politically-connected Rivkin enjoyed the limelight and didn’t mind showing off his wealth.

But he too had attracted unwanted gossip, much of it because he’d surrounded himself with young, fit men.

And he was embroiled in a controversy over share dealings in Offset Alpine, a printing business which had paid shareholders millions of dollars after a fire destroyed the premises.

For his detractors, Gordon Wood’s association with a boss who was under intense scrutiny proved too irresistible, and when charging him with murder police would allege the motive was because Caroline knew too much about the Rivkin scandal.

But the Court of Criminal Appeal found unacceptable what it stated was "the exploitation of public rumour and the use of mere innuendo to compensate for inadequate evidence of motive" and comprehensively dismantled many of the vital elements of the prosecution’s case.

Gordon Wood’s legal team had put forward nine grounds for appeal, and the court upheld eight of them.

It was an emphatic win for Gordon Wood.

Still, he is battered and emotionally bruised. And, so too, is his family.

Reliving the years Gordon was treated with deep suspicion and then incarcerated proved deeply painful for them all. And coming to terms with how it happened will take some time to process. The damage done may be irreparable.

Gordon knows his cool, controlled public demeanour has worked against him.

His mother, Brenda, says it’s “the stiff British upper lip" that’s in his DNA. The family came to Australia from the UK when Gordon was still a boy.

He now sees himself as the man of the family. His dad died from cancer some years ago.

But picking up the pieces isn’t so easy, and given public perceptions can prove tough to budge, it’s hard to know who will employ him.

And then there’s love.

Gordon tells me it took him 10 years to find someone else after Caroline died.

He let that relationship go when he was charged with murder even though she supports him to this day.

This story is one of tragedy.

Caroline Byrne, a young model in her early 20s, died. Her death saw the end of Gordon Wood’s life as he knew it from that night on.

And two families have suffered deep emotional wounds that may never heal.

Gordon Wood is an innocent man. Tony Byrne, Caroline’s father, doesn’t agree.

For those of you who can’t decide or need to know more, read the Court of Criminal Appeal judgement… all 252 pages.

User comments
It was a ridiculous verdict to begin with. How in God's name could a jury convict someone on the flimsiest of evidence. That spear through nonsense was simply a theory and in no way could be proven one way or another. The jury system is sertainly coming up with some shocking verdicts.
This story was absolutely tragic for both parties. It also highlited peoples ignorance to depression and mental Illness. One of my children struggles with this illness and being able to pick the early warning signs is critical. Mr Woods has already been given a life sentence far worse then jail. He and his family need to be left alone to live there lives the best they can. Mr Burns has had 2 tragadies and needs to come to terms with this and put his energy, time and money to Mental Health Australia to help others to understand the early warning signs of this terrrible illness, hopefully to save beautiful lifes.
I must say that i and many others owe Gordon Wood an apology, for being caught up in the media's portrayal of him since Caroline Byrne's suicide in 1995. When you are presented with the facts, he is never really been more than just a suspect for murder. The fact that his two sisters could discredit the case led by NSW police (in their spare time) shows that he has been unfairly punished for a crime he may never have committed.
I watched the sixty minutes program to see for myself that Gordon Woods was innocent, as all the articles I have read make him look guilty. However any man that would look at a womens wardrobe to work out what she was wearing on any given day, would have to be the son of God. And any man that buys most of a womans wardrobe is either a control freak or needs to get a life. "There is so much wrong with that statement." Oh and I held my sister's hand while she died in 1998, after eight months of suffering & I can now talk about it without breaking down & I am very much an emotional person whose heart was broken into tiny pieces when I lost her. Who can defend this poor girl where are her girlfriends, didn't they know her better than Gordon? Caroline's father wants his daughter & at the very least justice & he deserves it.
From day 1 i was sure Gordon Wood was guilty but after seeing 2 nites interview with liz hayes i have 2 admit i'm now torn i guess the truth will stay with Caroline forever
A father who feels responsible for his wife's suicide and feels responsible for the death of his daughter so to enable him to be free of guilt blame someone else and create such a fabricated story even he himself believes it. Gordon Wood is innocent, the evidence proves it and the way he conducted himself in your interview proved it. He is a good man with a beautiful family. Good luck to Gordon Wood, may all your new dreams and aspirations come true, you deserve it. Mr Byrne needs to see someone about his deep seeded demons.
I'm sorry even after watching 60 minutes, I still do not believe he is innocent. He paid a little of his time, but what about her family, a lifetime of .......
... your blog indicates you do believe he is innocent..... so why then did you spend the whole interview badgering him like you thoought he was guilty and would crack at any minute and admit it?! Your tone smacked of disbelief and showed little to no empathy for this man - who has been through hell for nothing. He lost the love of his life and he has pretty much lost his own life to a certain extent. How about showing the story with compassion rather than such scepticism. No wonder he doesn't like journos.
Untill tonight I thought he was Guilty! Well done liz showing us the truth! I think that her farther needs to face the truth Of her following the same path as her mum! Maybe putting effort into helping people with deppression Might be a more worthy cause then condemning the man she loved for his daughters suicide.
Mr Woods, I too have experienced the lies, false evidence & the failure to fully exchange and disclose all material facts in discovery. In my case I was guilty, but I did suffer from serious mental illness. As a result of the fabricated evidence and mistruths told by the Qld DPP I served 12 months in prison. Released in 2009 I have recieved mental health treatment. I have a Justice Degree and I am now studying Law to ensure that in some smalll way I can prevent such a miscarriage of justice from happening to someone else. Irronically at my first day of Law school the main lecture was on ethics and the suitability test to practice law. The amazing point here is that I have already in just 7 weeks at Law School learned just how deliberately the legal system breaches this basic fundamental of the character test. I feel desparate for Mr Woods as I have no illusions as to the depth of deception the DPP will stoop in order to notch up another conviction. Regards Richard

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