MH17 Coroner Michael Barnes, Australian Lawyers in Head-On Crash With the Rules of Evidence

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By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

An Australian coroner and a firm of Sydney, Australia, lawyers have taken the global lead in fabricating criminal charges and billion-dollar compensation claims for the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 — without producing evidence. Michael Barnes (lead image), a former tabloid journalist and now coroner for the state of New South Wales, ruled last week that MH17 had been shot down in a “deliberate” act of “mass murder” by “firing a missile equipped with an exploding warhead at the jetliner”. The coroner accepted testimony from the Crown Solicitor assisting the inquest who testified that “certain persons of interest have been identified” as the murderers.

Barnes issued his ruling after he decided to keep secret testimony from Australian police and forensic experts; and after he accepted as evidence a videoclip from the Dutch Safety Board (DSB). This, the coroner ordered to be excerpted in the courtroom, removing DSB criticism of the Ukrainian Government and Malaysia Airlines. Barnes also accepted that the evidence submitted by Catherine Follent, the Crown Solicitor, was “uncontested” and “comprehensive”.

Follent issued a warning in the courtroom, telling Barnes it was “inappropriate” for the coroner to draw conclusions for which there was no evidence. Barnes overruled her.

Barnes has been followed by an American named Jerome Skinner and a Sydney law firm called Leitch Hasson & Dent ( LHD). They claim to have filed suit in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, charging the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin with liability for the downing of the aircraft.

Publicity for this claim in the Australian media, amplified by the Financial Times and Guardian of London, has not been substantiated by the court itself. According to a spokesman for Roderick Liddle, the ECHR registrar, there is no confirmation that the LDH claim has been received. If it is, lawyers practising at the court say, it is fifteen months past the filing deadline set in ECHR rules, and barred by the ECHR requirement that claimants make their case in national courts first. Liddle refused to confirm or deny this.

1812_1The LHD law firm for which Skinner (right) works says it specializes in aviation law, where its website claims a “99% Win Rate”. Skinner himself has advertised a record in other aviation cases in which the principal lawyers involved say Skinner played only a minor part. For more details of Skinner’s advertisements, read this.

Skinner provided a copy of his new lawsuit to the Sydney Morning Herald which reported his signature on the claim papers, and 33 claimants – 8 from Australia, 1 from New Zealand, and 24 from Malaysia. In all, 298 passengers and crew were killed on MH17, the majority of them Dutch.

The newspaper quotes Skinner as claiming the ECHR “to deter the Russian Federation from violating the sanctity of passenger flights should order the Federation to pay each applicant $10 million.” He told a Murdoch news outlet, reproduced by the BBC: “The Russians don’t have any facts for blaming Ukraine, We have facts, photographs, memorandums, tonnes of stuff.” He told selected media his claim document runs to “over 3500 pages in length”. When asked to provide the document, Skinner refuses.

A Sydney Morning Herald reporter, Tim Barlass, (right) says LHD showed him a “partial copy” of papers Skinner claims to have sent to the ECHR. Barlass said he didn’t know if the papers had been officially received at the court, and he has not checked with the ECHR in Strasbourg to verify it. According to Barlass, he was shown the papers by Skinner’s law firm on condition he showed them to noone else.

In a recent Dutch review of the legal remedies available to victims of MH17, legal experts concluded it’s “unlikely that the Court [ECHR] would accept at this stage an application from victims in the Netherlands who had not yet fully pursued domestic remedies in either Ukraine or Russia.” Despite months of advertising by Dutch law firms for MH17 cases, Amsterdam sources reported last week that not a single case has been filed in a Dutch court to date. The Dutch assessment is that there is insufficient evidence about what and who caused the downing of the aircraft.

The one case already submitted to the ECHR by the family of a Dutch victim has been attacked by Skinner and his associates because it targets the Ukraine government for culpability. The ECHR has also politicized the case, represented by Berlin lawyer Elmar Giemulla on behalf of the daughter of MH17 passenger, Willem Grootscholten. Although it has been eighteen months since Giemulla lodged the claim papers, the ECHR has so far refused to proceed. For more details, read this.The case has been assigned an ECHR application number; but today, when Registrar Liddle was asked to clarify the current status of the case before the court, he refused to say.

1812_3Skinner and Michael Highland (right), another lawyer at LHD involved in the MH17 case, were asked to say why their claim is not barred by ECHR rules. These set a 6-month deadline for filing claims after the events in cause; that deadline passed on January 17, 2015. The ECHR rules also require claimants to file first in national courts, and prohibit parallel litigation, where the same claims are proceeding in another court. For the claimants Skinner says he represents, the courts of Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia are open to MH17 claims. Local lawyers say there is a two-year deadline for these courts, and that runs out on July 17, 2016. The Malaysian Government has also introduced measures to prevent lawsuits against the airline.

According to officials at the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Sydney, Skinner and Highland are representing Tim Lauschet in a lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines. Judge Lucy McCallum issued a first ruling in the case last August. Since then the case has been repeatedly postponed at the request of Skinner and Highland. The judge ordered them to file particulars of their claim on May 6, but court sources say they failed to do so. Another hearing in the case is scheduled on May 30. For more details, read this. Skinner and Highland were asked to explain why they believe they can proceed in the Sydney court and the ECHR at the same time. They refuse to reply to emails. A spokesman said by telephone: “we won’t comment.”

Barnes has been in his job as a Sydney coroner since 2013. He was a coroner in the northern Australian state of Queensland before that. According to his spokesman, at one time Barnes was a reporter at The Daily Mirror and Daily Sun, two Sydney sensation sheets now defunct.

The 4-page ruling on MH17 by Barnes, read out in court a week ago, can be opened here. Barnes’s inquest was shorter by a day than the Victorian state coroner’s inquest last December. For details of that proceeding, read this.



Left: Serge Oreshkin, father of Victor Oreshkin (right), killed on MH17, who was one of the subjects of the Barnes inquest

The Victorian inquest took courtroom testimony from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer commanding the Australian police in The Netherlands investigations; and from one of the pathologists in charge of the post-mortem evidence. By contrast, Barnes allowed no expert witnesses in court. He claimed in his ruling he had “consider[ed] all of the documentary evidence tendered and the submissions made by counsel assisting at the inquest.” In fact, he ordered the suppression of all evidence on which he claimed to have reached his conclusions.



Barnes also ignored the warning from the state lawyer, Catherine Follent. Read her statement in full here. In written testimony she told the coroner: “as to the manner of deaths then, in our submission it would be appropriate for your Honour to adopt the findings of the Dutch Safety Board as to the source and mechanics of the detonation, in addition to finding that the deaths of the New South Wales passengers were the result of the actions of another person or persons.”

Follent (right) also told the coroner, according to a SkyNews report: “It would be inappropriate for the coroner to declare the deaths were a result of ‘the action of another person or persons’, as criminal investigations are still under way.”

Coroner Barnes (below, left) was asked to explain why his claims lacked evidence and contradicted what his counsel had testifed he could judge. Follent (centre) was asked the same question. Barnes and Follent said through Angus Huntsdale (right), a press officer for the coroner: “Ms Follent did not make the remarks.” Also, according to Huntsdale, “she didn’t do an interview with Sky News or any other media.”



The SkyNews report of Follent’s remarks was published on May 17, the day of the Barnes inquest. Days later, on May 23, when Barnes and Follent were asked to clarify what she had said, they and Huntsdale were provided with the story link. Huntsdale did not deny the media report; in guarded comments he left open the possibility that Follent had made her warning in open court, for which no transcript has been made available. But several hours after Barnes, Follent and Huntsdale had reviewed what Follent had been quoted as saying, her warning to the coroner was removed from the SkyNews version of the story.

The coroner and his associates were unable to remove Follent’s quote entirely. This is how it appeared originally, on May 17.



Barnes and Follent were asked to explain why they had imposed a secrecy order on the evidence, and to identify the sources of the documents they had classified. They replied through Huntsdale: “The documentary evidence included portions of the Dutch Safety Board’s report, the reports of the deaths to the coroner by NSW Police, two statements of Australian Federal Police officers providing an update on the status of the investigations (including the Dutch Safety Board and criminal investigations) and forensic pathology reports.”



One of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) statements, dating from last November, had been tested in the Victorian Coroner’s Court in December. Kept secret in Sydney last week, this statement was publicly accessible in Melbourne five months earlier. At that time AFP Detective Superintendent Andrew Donoghoe (pictured above) said the evidence on what caused the downing of MH17 and the deaths of the passengers and crew was inconclusive.

Donoghoe also said: “it was also necessary that other scenarios – such as the possibility that MH17 was shot down by another type of missile, or that it was shot down from the air – must be ruled out convincingly.” Donoghoe repeated the point in an interview outside the courtroom, adding this “is a tougher standard than the DSB report.”

By gagging Donoghoe from testifying as a witness, and keeping his 2015 testimony secret, Barnes has claimed the DSB report warranted his conclusion there had been deliberate aiming of a missile at MH17 and intentional “mass murder”. Barnes and Follent refuse to identify what parts of the DSB report they relied on for this conclusion.

Instead, Barnes ordered a DSB videotape to be played in court. Watch it here.

The original DSB videoclip runs for 19:58 minutes. But according to Huntsdale, the coroner’s spokesman, “the first 15 minutes of the clip were played. It wasn’t necessary to play the remainder of the video because it went beyond the scope of the coroner’s inquiry.”

Did Coroner Barnes decide that the last 5 minutes of the tape were unnecessary, he was asked, and why. According to Huntsdale, “the NSW State Coroner made his findings on the basis of the documentary material tendered…coroners do not provide additional commentary on their cases outside of court.”

The missing five minutes of the DSB tape which Barnes suppressed contain two charges by the DSB chairman, Tjibbe Joustra.


The Dutch official blames the Ukrainian government for failure to close the airspace and for putting MH17 at risk. “Ukraine had sufficient information to close the airspace to civil aviation prior to July 17, ” Joustra said. He also criticized the operator of MH17, Malaysia Airlines, for ignoring the risks and flying through the conflict zone.

On Saturday, as Skinner was advertising his claims against Russia in the Australian papers and stalling his claims against Malaysia Airlines in the Sydney court, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced his own agreement on MH17 with President Putin directly.



Najib with Putin in Sochi, May 21, 2016

“’I understand and feel the sadness and pain experienced by the families of the victims. I lost my step-grandmother, Puan Sri Siti Amirah Prawira Kusuma in the tragedy,’ said Najib in a post on his website Saturday evening. ‘I see that we have started on positive steps towards seeking justice for the family members and victims of MH17 when the Russian President and I reached an agreement that follow-up action will be determined after the results of the investigation are presented by the Joint Investigation Team in October. I pray that the families of all the victims remain patient in facing the challenges,’ said Najib.”

According to a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutors, who are leading the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), there will be no JIT report in October.


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  1. Alex morfesis

    Oh thank goodness…I was worried they were going to tell the public the truth…

    and then where might that lead to…

    even more expectations…

    and you know where that might lead to…

    peace, prosperity, freedom and democracy…

    so none of that, thank you very much….

  2. Jagger

    Anyone know what compensation was paid to the victims of that Iranian airliner the US Navy shot down back in 1988?

      1. Jagger

        I just skimmed Capt Rogers III, commander of the Vincennes, in the wiki article. He was not reprimanded or relieved of his command for the shoot down of the civilian airliner. However his next assignment was a shore position and he retired after those last 2 years in 1991. Punishment was going from fast track to earlier than expected, honorable retirement.

          1. Jagger

            Yes, they did.

            From wiki:

            Rogers remained in command of the USS Vincennes until May 27, 1989.[13] In 1990, Capt. Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit decoration “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer … from April 1987 to May 1989.” The award was given for his service as the Commanding Officer of the Vincennes, and the citation made no mention of the downing of Iran Air 655.

            The Iranian airliner was shot down on July 3, 1988.

            A lot of these uproars have absolutely nothing to do with the tragedy of an event but instead, simply blame games for political or geostrategic advantage. Quite often, you see absolutely the same thing domestically here in the US. The deaths are simply a tool for the powers that be. Seems to be a universal phenomenon amongst those with power.

  3. polecat

    Are the Ausralian public that clueless and /or crazy enough not to push for the truth…or do they love Murdoch so much they just don’t care??

  4. uncle tungsten

    Barnes was not a former tabloid journalist. He was an employee of the Queensland Governments Independent Commission Against Corruption. He is notorious for a most peculiar decision regarding the right to destroy evidence in legal matters. Through the ‘legal opinion’ he gave on the permission to destroy evidence, the Queensland Government shredded the entire evidence taken in a Judicial Inquiry into the abuse of children in state Juvenile Prisons.

    He was later appointed Coroner for NSW.

    See the ‘Heiner affair’ for all the substantial details.

  5. Jacob

    It’s obvious that the U.S. and its client state Ukraine were involved in shooting the plane down because the U.S. has refused to provide satellite imagery from its satellite that was over that area when the shootdown happened, and they’ve banned the subject from the media without a valid explanation. Only the perpetrator would do that. In contrast, the U.S. readily offered satellite imagery which may have helped in the investigation of the recent Egyptian airliner crash. What is the U.S. hiding and why? Unless and until the U.S. chooses to behave in a mature manner and provides its satellite imagery, I will continue to suspect the U.S. is complicit in the shootdown as well as the coverup.

    1. lin1

      Yes the whole purpose of the Dutch led investigation seems to have shifted from structured frame up of “Putin” to, whitewash and evidence funeral ..We, the public will not be getting any more official information from the EU/US/Ukraine venues…I personally have little doubt that some faction within the Kiev “government” was responsible.

    2. fajensen

      I think it is simpler: The Ukraine has shot down civilian airliners before this particular one, this is well known.

      Someone allowed the airspace to be open over an active war-zone, with the exact same Ukrainian drunks and incompetents as before (no matter which side they are on) manning live missile stations with the added stress of being in a warzone. What could possibly happen!?

      So, now Someone is afraid of getting stuck with the responsibility for this and they come up with this Great Idea: “Lets all blame Putin!” – problem is, that, ever since Iraq everyone knows that The Authorities are lying filth so it’s not enough to say that “Putin did it”, there need to be Evidence and the Evidence is not there, so we get this despicable, incompetent, deeply depressing display of stupidity and malfeasance.

      Which only strengthen the general belief that “our leaders” and “our intelligence services” are in fact staffed with sociopaths, bumblers, navel-defluffers and snot-rollers. Which we are supposed to trust …

      I guess the US just plays along with “the team”. “Putin did it” is OK with them, and that Europeans / Aussies are looking like idiots is OK also, because that will make the US agitprop teams look relatively better.

      1. apber

        Any former combat pilot will recognize the holes in the fuselage as coming from cannons fired from another fighter plane. They are highly symmetrical and could not be caused by missile flak. The refusal to release US satellite images is also a big red flag.

      2. P Walker

        For sure, Russia is totally blameless for MH-17 since any Buk was from Ukraine military stockpiles as was most of the heavier equipment the LPR/DPR were using.

        The Ukraine has shot down one airliner before so I’m not sure the use of the plural there is warranted. They denied shooting one down for an entire week before they eventually copped to it. It’s possible that both times were the result of honest mistakes on their part.

        However, let’s not forget that Malaysia Airlines was caught just one week later flying another commercial flight over the war zone that is Syria. So, you can blame Ukraine ATC and EuroControl. The only people here that doesn’t have any blame are the Russians, which is odd considering that’s who everyone in the Western MSM is managing to blame.

  6. Gaylord

    The coat of arms of the Office of the State Coroner of New South Wales Coroner’s Court symbolically aptly is flanked on the right by a kangaroo. Made me chuckle.

  7. Damian

    The woman who was the air traffic controller in Kiev interfacing with the flight crew has never been allowed to provide testimony under oath nor has she surfaced publicly.

  8. David Mills

    We won’t know what happened until Russia and the US release the primary radar data. The whole area was covered by the Russians’ “Voronezh” radar systems and NATO had just held Sea Breeze electronic warfare exercises. So they know.

  9. Liam

    This was in Netherlands newspaper back in December 2015. Experts MH17: Strange that radars were not operational

    Piet van Genderen, Radar Expert University of Technology and Riemens, CEO of Air Traffic Control the Netherlands (LVNL) during the hearing on the policy response to the research about the MH17. © Reuters. It is strange that three radar systems in Ukraine were disabled for maintenance during the disaster of flight MH17 said radar expert Piet van Genderen at TU Delft on Friday in the lower house, where among other things the report by the Dutch Safety Board on disaster of flight MH17 is being discussed.

    Markus Schiller, Missile Expert, ST Analytics GmbH, Munich, Pascal Paulissen (M), senior researcher Weapon Systems (principal investigator sub-report TNO) and Louk Absil (R), Director Force Protection, TNO during the hearing on the policy response to the research about the MH17 . © Reuters.

    Van Genderen said that it is unlikely that there was planned maintenance occurring simultaneously on the three ‘primary’ radar systems. One explanation could be that there was a lack of spare parts to keep them running.

    Netherlands has received information from Ukraine and Russia. Both countries have made video recordings available of the radar screens. However, the raw data of the primary radar data was not made available.
    Russia has stated that it was not transferred because it was not saved, however, the three Ukrainian systems in the area stood out. According to Van Genderen, with closer examination of the raw data from the primary radar the chances would be greater of determining where the missile came from.

    Article from Dagelijksestandard Netherland on January 1, 2016. A minimum of four radar systems should have images of MH17 disaster

    By Michael van der Galien January 22, 2016

    Professor and radar expert Piet van Genderen, TU Delft, says that at least four radars should have picked up the images of flight MH17 being downed.

    That is a remarkable statement because it proves the government has no radar images and also has not been able to get their hands on them.

    During a hearing in the House, Van Genderen literally said the following:

    “The primary radar images of these four facilities are the most important because the chances are that they picked up the image of the BUK missile and it should be seen. Also, the disintegration of the aircraft is on these images, it should almost certainly be noticeable.”

    This involves three radar stations in Ukraine and one in Russia. All four facilities would see what brought down the plane. These countries, however, deny they have these images.

    Van Genderen trust it for a penny:

    “That these facilities were all out of operation or undergoing maintenance as Ukraine and Russia claim is not credible.”

    Satellite Expert Marco Langbroek adds that he finds it strange that the government is doing nothing to retrieve the satellite imagery.

    “Three of these satellites covered Ukraine at the time of the crash. It seems to me that to see justice served there is every interest to have this information. Indeed, the evidence can thus be substantiated. ”

    Article from the Telegraaf.Nl on December 26, 2015

    Four radars were active for MH17 ‘
    by Paul Eldering and Jolanda van der Graaf
    The shootdown of down MH17 was imaged by at least four radars in the vicinity said Professor and radar expert Piet van Genderen at TU Delft during a hearing in the Parliament. “The primary radar images of these four facilities are the most important because the chances are that the they picked up a BUK missile and it should be seen. Also, the disintegration of the aircraft is on these images, it should be almost certainly noticeable. ”

    It involves three Ukrainian systems – one in the Lugansk airport and two long-range radar in the vicinity – and a fourth Russian radar at Rostov.
    “That all these facilities were all not in operation or under maintenance as Ukraine and Russia claim is not credible,” said the professor.

    Like Van Genderen, satellite expert Marco Langbroek believes that the images are crucial to the criminal investigation as to who the perpetrators are. According to Langbroek there must exist a large number of satellite images of the disaster. This includes the so-called Space Based Infrared Systems, the top-secret radar systems of the Americans. “Three of these satellites covered Ukraine at the time of the crash,” said Langbroek. “It seems to me that justice has every interest to have this information. Indeed, the evidence can thus be substantiated.”

    According to Minister Van der Steur of Security and Justice, the Public Prosecutor’s has no need for additional radar and satellite images. However, he said that if later it is different, “the government will do its utmost to make available relevant information to the Public Prosecution for the criminal investigation.”
    Despite the letter of Van der Steur, survivors, experts and also have MPs, still have serious doubts about the events surrounding the radar and satellite imagery.

    All these articles point to deception on the part of the Ukrainian authorities and the DSB being complicit by accepting that obvious deception. Russia did release video of its primary radar on July 21, 2014 in contrast to what the DSB report states.

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