It was during a visit to Emu Plains prison farm 17 years ago that Mary Court of Blaxland met convicted felon Roseanne Catt and life for both women changed forever.
The school admin manager started the Free Roseanne campaign soon after, a campaign that this month has helped make Australian legal history.
With a core support group of 12 women —seven hail from the Mid and Lower Mountains — the group, who call themselves ‘God’s girls’, are all “women of faith” dedicated to getting justice for Roseanne Catt, who has reverted to her maiden name of Beckett, Mrs Court said.
Roseanne Catt spent a decade behind bars after being convicted in 1991 of eight charges, but was released after a judicial inquiry found she had been set-up. The hairdresser was wrongly jailed at 44 for trying to murder her Taree mechanic husband Barry Catt and earlier this month in Canberra’s High Court won the right to appeal for compensation, overturning a precedent that requires a plaintiff to prove his or her innocence in an action for damages for malicious prosecution. It means she can still fight for costs.
“It’s been a huge David and Goliath battle,” Mrs Court said. “But every time we have a breakthrough we party and that’s what we did on the weekend, celebrating with Roseanne in Wollongong.”
Mrs Court said when she first met Roseanne Beckett she didn’t realise she was actually a prisoner. She was ministering religion to the inmates and was surprised when someone said the woman lived on the inside.
“I couldn’t believe it, everyone else looked oppressed but she was always smiling.
“I thought she just happened to be visiting at the same time as me, so when I first heard what happened to her I said ‘Roseanne, this sounds like something out of a bad American movie’.”
Ms Beckett, now 66, said there had been times she had “sent out an SOS to the team to analyse transcripts and briefs” and the information would come back to her 10 minutes later.
“I am forever thankful. God could see I needed a hand and the difference they have made, oh my goodness they are angels.”
Mrs Court said they were just “a group of ordinary women, doing extraordinary things”.
Another member of the group, Mountains naturopath and a former officer manager for a union in Victoria, Michelle Beech, said she joined 13 years ago because she was also convinced “Roseanne had been the victim of some horrible injustice”.
“I smelt a rat and got swept into it ... they said she was an evil, malicious woman but she was nothing of the sort,” Mrs Beech said.
The group also boasts a Catholic nun who was a chaplain at the Emu Plains jail.
Mrs Court said God’s girls have appealed to NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell to award Ms Beckett compensation for her time in prison.
In a statement NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith has said because her case for malicious prosecution is “before the court, it is inappropriate to comment further”.
Roseanne Beckett said “you don’t give up, don’t give in when you’re on the side of right”. She said with any compensation money (after legal costs) she plans to investigate her ex-husband and his policeman friend who put her in jail.
And Mary Court’s group will be by her side to assist. As Mrs Court said “Enough is enough”.