surrounds the role of a former Liberal candidate's
involvement in a heroin-related death, writes Hedley
MARDI McLean, the willowy young
model with a million-dollar smile, was the Liberal
Party's overnight sensation, a glamorous but flawed
candidate for a Labor-held seat.
As a heroin addict who swore she had stopped injecting
and wanted to help others, her credibility was talked up
by the party's Queensland leaders in a campaign that
complemented Prime Minister John Howard's declaration in
2001 of a war on drugs.
But there were no political leaders at the Brisbane
Magistrates Court yesterday afternoon. McLean, now 27,
stayed away. As magistrate Michael Halliday, who five
years ago ruled McLean should be tried on charges of
murdering her uncle with an overdose of heroin, turned
the page on the unresolved death of Mitch Collins, his
parents stifled sobs.
``It's like we've been up against a brick wall,''
Mitch's mother, Desley Collins, 63, tells Inquirer.
``Some days I just want it all to stop so that I can get
some normality back into our lives, but then I think of
Mitch and how unfair that would be to him. He is
entitled to justice.
``I have accepted that without further evidence coming
to light, there will never be a murder trial. I have
overcome my desire for revenge. That would cause further
grief to my family, who have already suffered too much.
But I don't believe that we will ever get closure. Our
lives are changed forever.''
McLean has always asserted she had nothing to do with
the death of Collins, who was renowned for his loathing
of heroin and the damage it caused. She has described
him as a mentor during her troubled life, ``like he
really cared''. She could not be contacted yesterday,
but her grandmother, Lorna McLean, says: ``Everything
has fallen into place for her. She is having a baby. She
is extremely settled and happy and she deserves it.
Anybody who knows her would not think for a moment that
she had done anything like murder.'' Conflicting
forensic evidence about whether the heroin that killed
Collins was ingested orally or intravenously led to the
Director of Public Prosecutions withdrawing the murder
charges two years ago. McLean is unlikely to face a
``If I had any doubts about what happened I would
probably accept it. I have no doubts. We have been let
down by the courts, the police, Mardi and the forensic
centre,'' says Mitch's stepdaughter Bobbi Spence.
A fit and healthy 41-year-old, Mitch ran a labour-hire
business, partied hard and shared his parents' passion
for racing cars and motorcycles. He also had a
reputation for helping people in need.
``He was the family member who kept us all in touch,''
his mother says.
``He was a highly intelligent person, a prolific reader
on a wide range of topics, and a free thinker. He
trusted people, often to his own detriment, unless, or
until, they proved they were not worthy of his trust.
What you saw was what you got with Mitch. There was no
pretence and no hypocrisy.''
His last party, a funeral service, drew more than 500
family and friends, many of whom rode motorcycles.
For the past five years, his parents, retired academics,
have trained themselves in forensic toxicology and
pathology, hired private detectives to trace McLean's
calls to drug dealers, spent a small fortune on
scientific reports and studied criminal law. They bought
a medical dummy to better understand how the bile duct
empties. They launched a website celebrating his short
Were it not for McLean's story
that Mitch was a heroin user who went too far and
fatally overdosed nine days before Christmas 2000, his
parents would have let it go. Mitch's closest friends
and relatives knew him as avowedly anti-heroin to the
point of being openly hostile towards users.
remain angry that his membership of the Odins Warriors
motorcycle club may have influenced police and the
investigations into his death.
``He had seen how heroin ruined other people's lives. He
saw that the people who did use heroin stole and cheated
and lied and were basically killing themselves while
harming everyone else,'' says Spence.
Members of the Odins Warriors went out of their way to
let his father know that ``Mitch had been involved with
the drafting of a particular clause in the club
constitution which outlaws the use of heroin in any form
in the club and if anyone is found using that, they're
immediately kicked out''.
For years before his death, Mitch was a volunteer in a
medical research project. Tests on his blood and tissue
samples never showed any trace of heroin, morphine or
their metabolites. Graham Cooksley, a professor who had
close contact with Mitch during the project, says he
does not believe Mitch was addicted to anything.
He was no angel, his parents agree, but there were no
needle marks on Mitch's body apart from where paramedics
had attempted to revive him in the bedroom of his
Brisbane townhouse. The heroin that killed him, bought
hours earlier from a local dealer by McLean, is believed
to have been ingested orally, and Mitch's parents
suspect he drank it unwittingly from a bottle that had
In pursuing justice, they became suspicious about the
quality of the forensic evidence regarding the fatal
dose of heroin, which McLean claimed Mitch had injected.
Mitch's father, Patrick Collins, is a former
psychologist, not a forensic scientist, but his growing
dedication to obscure textbooks and journals about the
human body's absorption of heroin made him worried.
When he pointed out fundamental mistakes by the state
Government-run forensic science facility, the John Tonge
Centre, he was at first fobbed off. Senior scientists
who conducted a review were eventually forced to admit
their errors and misleading testimony.
``There was absolute and total forensic incompetence,''
Patrick Collins says. ``I learned very early in the
piece that if you do not have the evidence, you should
shut your mouth. It's their job. They should do it
Mitch had let McLean stay in the spare room of his
Brisbane apartment for a couple of weeks after she
assured him she was no longer using heroin. After his
death, $20,000 which he had withdrawn from his business
to repay his parents was missing.
Before yesterday's judicial hearing in Brisbane, Patrick
Collins put thick folders of documents on the dining
room table at his home and broke down while playing a
It was a recording of McLean's hesitant contact with the
ambulance service at 12.38pm on the day Mitch died. She
had hung up seconds after being connected. When the
operator traced the number and called back, McLean
sounded unperturbed: ``Yeah, I'm sorry, it's all right.
It's just a friend of mine, but he's OK.''
``He was dead for nearly two hours by then,'' Collins
In a subsequent emergency call McLean sounded worried.
``He's not breathing. This man's just gone blue. He's
dead,'' she told the operator.
Six weeks later while Mitch's grieving family puzzled
over the many inconsistencies in McLean's story and
urged the police to treat the death as a homicide, she
announced her political ambitions and drew commendations
from community leaders.
``Too many of my friends have died,'' she said at the
time. ``That's why I am contesting for the Liberals. It
is imperative that we make drug rehabilitation an
During the subsequent inquest, the police officer
assisting magistrate Halliday said: ``Well, I'll put it
to you, Miss McLean, that on the day that Mr Collins
passed away you assisted him by administering a
dangerous drug to him. What have you got to say about
McLean: ``You are completely incorrect.''
``And on the day in question you removed $20,000 from
McLean: ``You are completely incorrect.''
Desley and Patrick Collins accept they have come to the
end of the road with the formal closure yesterday of the
original inquest, but they hope more people will
question forensic science when it seems faulty.
``I can understand people saying we have been
obsessed,'' says Patrick Collins. ``We had wrong
evidence coming out and we tried to do something about
it. We checked everything and we kept finding mistakes.
Nobody else has tried to find out exactly what happened.
``Do I want to see McLean tried in front of a jury of
her peers? Mitch deserves that, but there is a threat
for the rest of us, especially Desley and me. We are
old, and getting older, and we have already lost too
many precious moments.''
Before concluding the inquest yesterday, Halliday said
the concerns of Mitch's family about the quality of the
forensic evidence ``can be fully appreciated''.
After admitting their comprehensive submission as a
formal exhibit he said there were still serious
questions over the expertise of toxicologists at the
John Tonge Centre.
Articles reprinted with permission from The Australian.