Every Parent's Nightmare
By Belinda Hawkins
Allen & Unwin, 2013
Jock Palfreeman, an Australian man sentenced to 20 years in jail in Bulgaria for murder in a deeply flawed trial, had his request to be transferred to an Australian jail turned down on July 10.
Belinda Hawkins' book, Every Parent's Nightmare, brings to life the tragic story of Palfreeman, whose fearless commitment to human rights led to a 20-year sentence in Bulgaria.
Hawkins, a multiple award-winning senior journalist on ABC TV's Australian Story, was haunted by the case ever since approached by a friend of Palfreeman's in mid-2008. She had come across many tragedies in the course of her work, but Palfreeman was a similar age to her own children. This helped stir the journalist's quest for the truth.
Palfreeman was convicted of premeditated murder for an incident in 2007. While out in the centre of Sofia with friends, he ran to the aid of two Roma men being attacked by a large group of young men. During the ensuing conflict, two of the attackers suffered stab wounds and one died.
The book is framed by the struggle of Palfreeman's father, Simon, to obtain justice for his son and save him from a lifetime in a Bulgarian jail.
Simon and his family have been tirelessly campaigning for a prisoner transfer to Australia. Exhausting all legal options within Bulgaria and fearing for Palfreeman's physical and mental health, the prison transfer campaign was viewed as a glimpse of hope.
Every Parent's Nightmare illustrates the grossly unjust and corrupt legal system that Palfreeman has endured since he was taken into custody in late December 2007. Concepts associated with the rule of law, such as accountability, fairness, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural transparency did not feature in the investigation nor the trial.
Hawkins, despite a clear personal view about the great injustice done to Palfreeman, diligently presents the facts to enable the reader to judge for themselves.
She provides a detailed account of events, drawn from an exhaustive examination of court files, interviews, CCTV recordings, media coverage and photographs. In doing so, she paints a picture of a legal process that ignored, lost, distorted and misinterpreted crucial pieces of evidence that supported Jock's defence.
Hawkins provides the reader with information about the internationally criticised justice system and law enforcement of Bulgaria. While the south-eastern European country gained full membership to the European Union in 2007, it remains widely criticised for a defective judicial system, corruption and organised crime.
Corruption and links between the political and judicial systems and organised crime are also taking their toll on the second Bulgarian government in less than a year.
Palfreeman, meanwhile, remains confined to an overcrowded and substandard Sofia prison.
With her writing style, Hawkins allows the reader to understand Palfreeman's case in a wider context. It helps intensify sympathy for Palfreeman and moves the reader to feel enraged about the injustice done to this young man.
The book is structured in a way that appears a little disjointed at times. The story often moves from Palfreeman's parents to the parents of the young man who died, to Palfreeman and the altercation with the group of youth, to court hearings then to people involved in the investigation and trial, and then back again.
At times, the story reflects on activities and relationships, at others on emotions. This structure requires the reader to concentrate carefully to follow the events (at times I felt like taking a pen and paper and jotting down names of the various actors and their connections), but the approach succeeds in placing Palfreeman's trial in a mess of lack of transparency, lack of due process and an arbitrary application of the law.
This book is a must read for anyone who either had any doubts on Palfreeman's character or his actions on the night of December 27, 2007 or who needs additional motivation to increase their efforts to the "Justice for Jock" campaign.