The Advocate

Murder horror almost at end

IT took 30 years but Maggie Cooper of Nashua is finally no longer at the beck and call of the man who murdered her sister-in-law, her 10-year-old niece and four-year-old nephew.

Ms Cooper and her family are celebrating last week's ruling in NSW Parliament that murderer John Ernest Cribb no longer has unlimited opportunities to apply for a redetermination of his life sentence.

Since Cribb was convicted of the 1978 murders of Valda Connell and her children Sally and Damien, he has applied for a redetermination of his sentence on three occasions.

Each time, Ms Cooper and other members of the Connell family, including Valda's surviving children, have had to front up to court and endure all over again the horrifying details of the event that shattered all their lives.

"It has just been devastating," the Northern Star columnist said.

On August 11, 1978, Valda popped out to the shops with Sally and Damien. Realising she had forgotten her purse she returned to find Cribb in the midst of robbing their Baulkham Hills home in Sydney's western suburbs.

She and the children were abducted at knife point, driven to remote bush land, bound and murdered.

Sitting on Ms Cooper's sunlit front verandah, it is hard to fathom such a dark deed and the subsequent pain for the people left behind.

Ms Cooper said when Cribb applied for a third time to have his sentence redetermined, the family were no longer able to just sit back and be victims.

They launched a media campaign which led to Cribb withdrawing his third application at the last minute.

The campaign also garnered support from policeman-turned-parliamentarian Michael Gallagher, who had worked with officers involved in the investigation and aftermath of the murders.

Following the advice of a member of the Homicide Victims Support Group, the family then contacted the Attorney-General, which led to the issue coming before the NSW Parliament.

The ruling applies to 17 offenders serving life sentences handed down before 1987.

Ms Cooper said she and her family had been hoping for an outcome that meant Cribb would never see the light of day again, but were satisfied Parliament had delivered its best possible outcome for the families of the victims of these men.

"It is gratifying to know that ordinary people can have a say. This is the first time I have seen the democratic system at work," she said.

"This legislation is now changed because we weren't prepared to sit back and be victims. We have taken the power back and made Cribb run for cover."

Ms Cooper said the media campaign and legislative victory had been a healing process for most of the family as it had forced them to talk through a subject they had long avoided.

Under the new legislation, Cribb and the other criminals serving life sentences of an undetermined length, have now just one last opportunity to have their sentences redetermined.

After that, victims including Ms Cooper can finally put the past behind them.

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