Class action against Bali bombers
'SPIKE' STEWART, FATHER OF BALI VICTIM: I thought it was a way of hurting the terrorists.
There's nothing I can do personally to them and they've got too much security around 'em.
TIM LESTER: This was as close as 'Spike' Stewart could get to confronting his son's murderers, collecting ashes in the wrecked Bali nightclub where Anthony Stewart and 87 other Australians perished.
A father hurt and powerless.
Now, US lawyers are offering him and other grieving families a tantalising hope -- compensation and retribution.
'SPIKE' STEWART: These bankers and everything like that -- the oils and these sheiks, these bloody princes and everybody that has so much money, they don't know what to do with it, so they give it to terrorists.
I just want to see them hurt and the only way I can hurt 'em personally is by taking their money off them.
RICHARD MIDDLETON, LAWYER: It's big, it's very big and it's very important.
TIM LESTER: Trial lawyer from Savannah, Georgia, Richard Middleton is one of those holding out a legal remedy to the grief of Bali.
He and former Adelaide Crown prosecutor Michael Hourigan are recruiting the Australian families to a US class action launched last August for families of September 11 victims.
MICHAEL HOURIGAN, ATTORNEY: It has the commitment of some 700 -- 800 American families affected by 9/11 and it's an action which is moving forward.
This is the best time with the best mix of elements for the Australian families to be well taken cared for.
TIM LESTER: Not just the best time, the only way, says Richard Middleton, because Australia doesn't have the legal means needed to deal with the Bali claims.
TIM LESTER: It couldn't be done here?
RICHARD MIDDLETON: We don't believe it can be done.
JAKE RYAN: They can get away with something of this magnitude.
It will eventually catch up with you.
Not only for us but also for 9/11 and that sort of thing, those people will all get their time.
TIM LESTER: Former Geelong footballer Jake Ryan is already committed to the US action.
Now living on the Gold Coast, he's still recovering from the October night that changed his life.
JAKE RYAN: I had a pretty bad stomach wound.
It was opened up by through my abdominal muscles.
I also partially severed my heel, which required a skin graft.
And I'm having a little bit of trouble with the scar at the moment, but look, it's coming on fine and I'm going to be OK.
TIM LESTER: Now Jake and others are talking not so much in terms, of compensation, but their chance to cripple those who sponsored Bali's bombers.
JAKE RYAN: If we're able to take these people out and cut them away, you take out their support network, they've got no legs to stand on and they can't perform terrorist acts of the magnitude that we've had to go through so far.
'SPIKE' STEWART: I'd like to see it achieve that every one of them is broke, hasn't got two bob to bloody live in a tent.
TIM LESTER: But specialists on legal damages and class action, Professor Harold Luntz argues it will be difficult to link Bali with the defendants named in the US case -- among them charities, banks and even three members of the Saudi royal family.
PROFESSOR HAROLD LUNTZ, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE: You'd have to get access to bank accounts, not easy.
That's often confidential.
And you would need to perhaps produce some written evidence that can stand up to scrutiny, that's not forged. So it's not going to be easy to gather such evidence.
MICHAEL HOURIGAN: The evidence is clear that there is distinct financial links between certain individuals, certain financial institutions, certain Middle Eastern charities and terrorism.
TIM LESTER: You say the evidence is clear.
Give me some clear evidence.
MICHAEL HOURIGAN: At the current stage, it's an investigative stage and what I can tell you is the evidence is there. And in the good passage of time, that will be revealed when we amend the complaint in Washington DC to bring about Bali.
TIM LESTER: Richard Middleton is more forthcoming.
He says influential oil interests have already helped the US legal team with crucial intelligence.
RICHARD MIDDLETON: Many of those entities have come forward.
They may have an interest in the oil industry, they may want to seek some loosening of the American dependence on Saudi Arabian oil.
TIM LESTER: But even a court victory doesn't guarantee those found liable will pay.
PROFESSOR HAROLD LUNTZ: If the defendants have no assets within the US, you have to go to the country where their assets are, in order to enforce the judgment, and that country may simply refuse to recognise the US judgments.
TIM LESTER: Professor Harold Luntz warns of another possible problem for the Bali claimants -- they may see their claim as at one with the September 11 victims.
But the US court could rule otherwise.
PROFESSOR HAROLD LUNTZ: The outcome might be that the certification procedure would not allow the Bali plaintiffs to join in the class action.
TIM LESTER: Richard Middleton is unfazed.
This, he insists, is a chance for ordinary people to hurt those who've hurt them.
TIM LESTER: By almost breaking those you're attacking?
RICHARD MIDDLETON: We'd like to.
TIM LESTER: And he quickly denies suggestions that this is about lawyers getting rich on grief, So too, do his new clients.
'SPIKE' STEWART: No, I don't give a b...er what people say.
That's not a problem.
I don't think it's a problem in any of the families.
TIM LESTER: When's judgment day?
RICHARD MIDDLETON: I don't know.
MICHAEL HOURIGAN: We're thinking that it could take two to three years, possibly longer.
TIM LESTER: Professor Luntz says it will take US courts a minimum 10 years to settle the matter.
Either way, a long wait for those who still can't live a day of their lives without some memory of the horror of Bali.
But for now, the US class action is their best chance to make those who backed last October's bombing pay for the murders.
KERRY O'BRIEN: What's the saying?
"You can only try and hope it doesn't add to the pain."
Transcripts on the ABC website are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts.
"Class action against Bali bombers," © Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Reporter: Tim Lester, February 11 2003
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See also The West Australian, "US lawsuit for Bali victims," By Tony Barrass, Aug 14 03
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