Andrew Buncombe – Over the years, Maureen Tolfree has grown used to the lies and obfuscation, the tiny steps of progress followed by further setbacks. At the age of 69 she is not ready to be quiet, even though she is now in poor health.
The Briton has invested much of her energy over the past two decades trying to secure justice for her brother, Brian Peters, who at 29 was one of five journalists murdered by Indonesian soldiers on October 16, 1975, as the nation prepared to invade East Timor. Another journalist who went to probe the killings was also executed.
Indonesia has always insisted the so-called Balibo Five died in cross-fire. But after years of campaigning by Tolfree and other relatives, an Australian judge in 2007 ruled the journalists, who were working for two Australian television networks, were deliberately killed by Indonesian special forces to prevent news of the impending invasion from getting out.
The judge asked the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate whether war crimes charges were applicable and if three senior Indonesian officers accused of ordering the killings could be summoned. This week, seven years on, the Australian police concluded they are unable to progress with such charges.
"During the investigation the AFP identified challenges associated with establishing jurisdiction. The investigation continued in an effort to overcome those issues," the force said. "[But] the AFP has concluded there is currently insufficient evidence to prove an offence. As a result, the AFP has exhausted all inquiries in relation to this matter and will be taking no further action."
Tolfree believes her brother – with fellow journalists Malcolm Rennie, 28, Kiwi Gary Cunningham, 27, Gregory Shackleton, 29, and Anthony Stewart – have been let down by political and strategic factors. There is widespread evidence the United States, Britain and Australia supported Indonesia taking charge of East Timor, at the time a Portuguese colony.
"I dispute that [finding]," she said from Bristol of the police's conclusion. "They have had the evidence since the coroner's inquest. I am disgusted, and I am sure the Australian people will be as well."
She said neither Australia, which has important energy deals with Jakarta, nor Britain, which has kept a close military relationship with Indonesia, wanted to rock the boat.
The news that Australian police were dropping their investigation came a day after Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo. "No one ever wanted to upset the Indonesians," Tolfree said.
For years, she accepted the Indonesian claim the men had died in crossfire. It was only in 1994 while listening to a documentary about claims of Indonesian war crimes that she starting researching the killings.
She said documents showed Australia was aware of Indonesia's plan to invade East Timor, which finally gained independence in 2002. An estimated 100,000 people died during the Indonesian occupation.
Among those accused of taking part in a cover-up were Gough Whitlam, the then Australian Prime Minister who died this week. Despite documentary evidence, he always denied he knew of the Indonesian plans. He told the 2007 inquest he had advised Shackleton not to go to East Timor as it was too dangerous. "He was a bastard, if you excuse my French," said Tolfree, whose campaign has taken her to Canberra, East Timor and the United Nations.
She is not optimistic her brother or the other journalists will get justice. "There was only one good thing about this and that was that because they killed journalists it kept the story alive for the people of East Timor."