There are ‘reasonable suspicions’ that Tobias Suckfuel killed his girlfriend Simone Strobel in Lismore while on a backpacking holiday in 2005.
That’s according to Justice Kenneth Martin of the West Australian Supreme Court, who earlier this year was asked to stop the publication of the book, Have you Seen Simone?, by former northern rivers resident Virginia Peters, which examined the murder.
Those suspicions, along with ‘freedom of speech’ were cited in Justice Martin’s recently published determination.
He’s not the only one suspicious.
Both New South Wales police and German police have named Tobias Suckfuel as a prime suspect, and his refusal to appear at a coronial inquest in 2007 did him no favour in the court of public opinion.
That inquest heard Simone and Tobias had been fighting in the lead-up to her death and that Tobias had been using cannabis heavily and becoming increasingly aggressive.
Police have long believed Tobias was responsible for Simone’s death and that he, possibly with the help of his sister Katrin, concealed her body across from the Lismore Tourist Caravan Park, after a night of heavy drinking.
They had been staying at the park with friend Jens Martin, who returned for the inquest, and admitted the trio had lied about their level of intoxication and other matters related to Simone’s death.
The German national is now known as Toby Moran ‘after a recent marriage’ in 2012, to Samantha Moran, who according to the West Australian newspaper, runs an online clothing and jewellery business from Perth.
After leaving Australia (with the financial help of Lismore residents), soon after Simone’s body was discovered, Moran travelled between South Africa and Germany for a number of years.
But in 2011, he was back, reportedly living in a City Beach ‘mansion’, in a beachside suburb of Peth, West Australia.
In June this year he began defamation proceedings against Ms Peters and her publishers Schwartz in WA’s Supreme Court, claiming the book carried the clear imputation he was guilty of murder.
Ms Peters had attended the 2007 inquest, interviewed Simone’s family in Germany, and also interviewed Suckfuel, who has consistently denied murdering Simone.
In a judgment released last week, Justice Kenneth Martin said the facts of the case made it inevitable that Mr Moran should be a suspect, although there was no definitive proof his alleged guilt.
‘… I need to record that there are certain facts before me indicating that the contention of the defendant, in terms of it showing reasonable grounds for suspicion as to the plaintiff being the perpetrator of the 2005 murder of Simone Strobel, is a respectable position,’ Justice Martin wrote.
‘There is a significant underlying body of credible factual material, publicly available and widely ventilated since 2007, which clearly does, at least assessed at the prima facie level, manifest some reasonable grounds for suspicion as regards this plaintiff in the 2005 crime.
Justice Martin noted that while Mr Moran was a suspect, police had been unable to charge him.
“None of that factual material is of itself conclusive in terms of establishing the plaintiff’s guilt,’ he said.
‘But if coupled particularly with the proximity of Simone’s discovered body, within 90m of the Lismore caravan park, the plaintiff’s lack of a solid alibi . . . some arguably odd behaviour by him in terms of him not searching for Simone the next morning (he denies that), and some delay in reporting Simone’s disappearance to the Australian police, this all goes towards providing a basis for a reasonable suspicion about the plaintiff.”
The judge also pointed out that Tobias Suckfuel, now Toby Moran, doesn’t have much of a reputation to defame in Australia.
‘He appears still to be a German national, albeit residing for lengthy periods of time (prior to his marriage) from 2005 out of Australia – either in South Africa or in Germany.
‘He presents as having no identifiable local residential address or significant assets in Western Australia.
‘He is also now known under a different surname.’
Justice Martin cited freedom of speech as ‘the paramount factor’ in his decision’ to allow the book’s publication.
He said freedom of speech would always ‘be afforded a high weighting in terms of any evaluation about whether or not a court should intervene by way of interlocutory injunction against a publisher’.
As for future defamation proceedings, Justice Martin offered some thoughts.
‘I am not satisfied it is possible at this point to mop up all reputational ‘spilt milk’ to, effectively, return it to the bottle and pretend nothing pejorative has been said about the plaintiff over his involvement in the 2005 murder of his then girlfriend.
‘In my view, too much has now been publicly said and written on that topic across Australia. ‘
Justice Martin said Mr Moran could always seek damages at a defamation trial and noted that the defendants had indicated they would rely on ‘suspicion on reasonable grounds’, rather than guilt as a defence.
Mr Moran’s wife Samantha Moran reportedly told The West Australian newspaper that the couple were looking forward to commenting in the future, but would not speak now.
Meanwhile, German police are still offering a 10,000 Euro ($15,252) reward for information that helps crack the murder case.