Des Campbell Trial


In May 2010, Des Campbell was found guilty of pushing his wife Janet to her death in 2005 off a 40 m high cliff near Otford, just south of Sydney. They had pitched a tent very close to the edge of the cliff in an isolated spot in the Royal National Park. The police found a shoeprint at the edge of the cliff and identified it as matching JanetÕs shoe. They also found two small broken branches above the shoe print at about shoulder height. The evidence indicated that she was upright as she went over the cliff, and had not simply slipped and fallen or rolled over the edge, under the branches.  The fall occurred soon after sunset while there was still sufficient light to see the edge of the cliff and the ocean below.


I was asked to help with the investigation only a few months before the trial. The evidence indicated that she may have tripped, remaining upright, or that she was pushed. The photos below show Detective Greg Moon at the site in March 2010,


(a)       standing with one foot on the shoe print and pretending to hold the main tree branch with the smaller broken branches. The missing branch was cut off by the police in 2005 for forensic examination.


(b)      sitting on the cliff top to take slope measurements. He is sitting between two rocks that are slightly raised and that may have caused Janet Campbell to trip. The cliff slopes downward at about 15 degrees behind his back, and it slopes down at 26 degrees where the shoe print was found. Travellators in shopping centres slope down (or up) at about 10 to 12 degrees.


(c)       sitting beyond the edge with his left hand on the shoe print spot.






I filmed a woman being pushed down an identical 26 degree slope carved into earth. The film can be seen here. A mattress was used in case the woman fell (as she did). The judge ruled that the jury should not be shown the film because (a) the woman knew she was going to be pushed and may have reacted differently if she didnÕt know (b) the bare earth slope was not identical in texture to the grass covered slope at the cliff and (c) I didnÕt have film showing the alternative trip hypothesis. From my own perspective, all I wanted to know was whether a person would have sufficient time to step forward while falling downhill, or would fall flat on their face when pushed firmly.


It was argued in court that a person would not normally walk up to the edge of the cliff at sufficient speed to trip over the edge, especially if the person was walking down hill and was scared of heights. Many other factors contributed to the juryÕs 11 to 1 majority verdict, including the fact that Des Campbell didnÕt tell anyone he was married, he had several girlfriends at the time, he had a history of extracting money from wealthy girlfriends and then dumping them, and he didnÕt go to his wifeÕs funeral but went soon after on a holiday with one of his girlfriends.


Looking south from the cliff site



At the site in March 2010, pretending IÕm the pilot of my own helicopter.