The Incredible Exploding Man
By John Jiggens
Samizdat Press, 1991. 132 pp. $12.95
Reviewed by Graham Lamond
Sydney, 1978: the Hilton bombing, an act of horrific violence, leaving three men dead. This was no game. Yet in The Incredible Exploding Man, John Jiggens shows that justice sometimes sits in the pavilion when our legal system comes out to bat.
The real-life characters in this book could provide the material for a thrilling video: the exploding man himself, Evan Pederick; the NSW police; the perspiring crown prosecutor; the 12 laypeople and peers; the softly spoken defence counsel; and the loser and scapegoat, Tim Anderson.
As he leads the reader through the marathon trial, Jiggens never lets us forget the very real and vulnerable who are the players. Anderson as much as Pederick is a disposable pawn in a ritualised justification of our "morality".
Pederick was a loner, a nobody, until he suddenly remembered that he was the Hilton bomber. The Incredible Exploding Man describes Pederick's past, his motives, his state of mental health, but Jiggens never loses the real point of the book: that it was our sense of justice and our criminal justice system that were on trial.
Jiggens shows us the heavies of the legal system in full flight, but he also shows the ordinary individuals, the Joe Bloggs and Evan Pedericks, who get caught up and carried along by the power and the glare of the ritual.
He paints in vibrant, sometimes psychedelic, colours the conflict between prosecutor and defence counsel, umpired with quiet omnipotence by Justice Groves.
But what of the jurors, the 12 individuals chosen, as Jiggens points out, to be the "touchstone of common sense"? Jiggens discusses the difficulty of the evidence, the props, the witnesses, the contradictions and the technicalities. He sympathises with the 12 but never really outlines what they were being asked to do by the defence.
Tim Anderson being innocent means more than Evan Pederick lying or fantasising. It means that the law enforcement agencies were deliberately attempting to pervert justice and nail someone they knew to be innocent, that senior members of those agencies are willing to fabricate evidence to convict outspoken critics of the system.
The jury were asked not so much to find Tim Anderson innocent as to find the untouchable offices of law and justice guilty. They assumed the system to be innocent until proven guilty and convicted Anderson on the discredited evidence of a nobody.
"My God! They had convicted a man for murder on evidence like that!" exclaims Jiggens.
This is an excellent examination of history in the making, must reading for anyone with a sense of justice. Or, to quote Bob Dylan, viously framed / Couldn't help but make you feel ashamed / To live in a land where justice is a game."