PTE Ferriday Murders

25 December 1970, Nui Dat, South Vietnam

Compiled by Australian Military Police History Web Site, 2001, from documents obtained

Christmas Day 1970, members of the TFMA SGTs Mess, Nui Dat, South Vietnam, were enjoying a relaxing drink at the bar, some were playing darts, others having a "chat" and a few enjoying a quite drink, trying to make the most of being away from family and loved ones, during a time of war.

Suddenly, three gunshots were heard. Initially, it was thought fire crackers had been let off in the OR Lines Area or maybe a VC sniper or attack. A short time later was to reveal, three soldiers lying on the floor with blood oozing out of their bodies. Within minutes, the real truth was to emerge, two SGTs dead and one seriously wounded. Within ten minutes, enemy fire had been ruled out and the shocking truth revealed, the shooting was done by an Australian soldier. Private Ferriday had taken his SLR (rifle), loaded a full magazine of "live rounds" and commenced to shoot, indiscriminately, into the SGTs Mess.

A few minutes later the Military Police Detachment at Nui Dat was contacted and informed of the shootings. Immediately the military police made their way to the location and commenced an investigation. The "alleged" firer of the weapon had been taken into custody and was identified as Private Paul Raymond Ferriday of 176 AD Company. The Military Police commenced and conducted a thorough investigation.

The senior MP investigator, an MP Captain, was also a NSW Police Detective of the NSW Police CID. At that time he was a Citizen Military Force (CMF) Officer in the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) and responded to an advertisement from inside the Police Service seeking a volunteer to go to Vietnam as an Australian Military Police Investigator. Being a CMF Officer and understanding "Army ways", he was a suitable choice and was offered full-time duty to serve in Vietnam. It must be pointed out, at that time, the Australian Military Police, then known as the Royal Australian Army Provost Corps or RAA PRO, did not have any Investigators with any practical experience in investigating murders although there were many Investigators at this time, who had attended the various State Police Detectives Courses and had the knowledge of how to conduct this type of investigation. This is why the decision to recruit a civlian police officers with the skills to investigate these types of crimes were initiated. Also, the ballistics expert was a serving officer of the NSW Police Service, seconded to the Australian Army for the Ferriday case. The other Military Police assisting the investigating team were all Regular Army MP with many years experience behind them and proved to be an asset to the investigating team.

On 6 March 1971 at Vung Tau, South Vietnam, Private Ferriday was found guilty by a General Court Martial of two charges of murder and one charge of malicious wounding (A1). This was later reduced to manslaughter and assault occasioning bodily harm on 23 December 1971 by the Courts Martial Appeal Tribunal (A2). His defence of insanity was rejected at both hearings. He was ultimately sentenced to ten years imprisonment with hard labour and served eight years of that term.

The information contained in this story is not from any Australian Military Police files or documents, but from "public information" internet access of the High Court of Australia. The web site can be viewed at The Military Police Investigation file is currently held by the Military Police Central Records Office (MPCRO) at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. I have seen the contents of this file and can confirm the information contained in the High Court internet documents are similar in fact. The High Court of Australia documents relate to two separate court cases, the first being Legal opinion sought by the Court Martial Appeals Board at the appeal by Private Ferriday in 1971, and the second being a pension claim made by Mr Ferriday in the 1990s for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The following information is taken from the appeal by PTE Ferriday against the Court Martial Board about "legal issues" with case:
The appellant, then a private in the army, was on 6th March 1971at Vung Tau in South Vietnam found guilty by a general court-martial of two charges of murder and one charge of malicious wounding.  He was sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for life and to be discharged from the Defence Force of the Commonwealth.  Subsequently he was granted leave to appeal to the Courts-Martial Appeal Tribunal ("the Tribunal") constituted under the Courts-Martial Appeals Act 1955-1966 (Cth) ("the Act"). After a hearing which lasted for eight days the Tribunal reserved its decision and on 23rd December 1971 gave its decision.  The Tribunal substituted a finding of guilty of manslaughter for each finding of guilty of murder, and substituted a finding of assault occasioning actual bodily harm for the finding of malicious wounding and proceeded to sentence the appellant to be imprisoned with hard labour for ten years and to be discharged from the Defence Force of the Commonwealth of Australia, the sentence to date from 25th December 1970 (the date on which the offences were committed and the appellant was taken into custody). (1971) 21 FLR 86 (at p254).

The following information about the shooting and subsequent events to Private Ferriday is provided from a pension appeal to the High Court of Australia in the mid 1990s.   It provides a detailed insight into the shootings and events leading up to the shooting and reads as follows:
The Shooting Incident
20. Both parties agree that the predominant cause of the applicant's PTSD was
the shooting on Christmas Day 1970 at Nui Dat, but the details of the
circumstances and the applicant's state of mind are contested. The evidence
from the Court Martial transcript (R1) was that the applicant shot and killed
two Australian Sergeants and wounded a third, at approximately 7.00pm. The
applicant apparently obtained his rifle, an SLR from a neighbouring tent into
which it had been placed when taken from him about an hour earlier, together
with a loaded magazine. He walked down to the tent at the end of the lines
nearest to the sergeants' mess. He then loaded the rifle, rested it on, or
inserted it between, some verandah railings and at about 75 feet knelt, and
fired three shots from the verandah of the last tent, which overlooked the
sergeants' mess ("the mess"). Although the tent was on higher ground than the
mess, the three bullets went directly into the crowded mess hitting the three
sergeants inside. The mess was a hut with no sides and was well lighted at the

21.  The applicant gave evidence to the Tribunal that he has no independent
recollection of what actually happened on Christmas Day 1970. He swore that he did not (and does not) remember the shooting. He said that he fully realised what he had done only when he was marched into the Court Martial, two weeks after the shooting, and the charge was read out. The Court Martial Transcript, however, records evidence from witnesses at the scene of the shooting, about what the applicant said immediately after the shooting. 
For example:
    . At page 451 of R1, Smith said that the applicant had said - "I
      know what I've done, sir";
    . At page 109 of R1, the Applicant said to Wells - "I've just shot
      three innocent sergeants".

22.  The applicant stated that his unit had not received extensive training in weaponry as their training centred on air dispatch. Nevertheless the applicant had been trained to use a sub-machine gun, SLR rifle, an M16 semi-automatic rifle and a hand grenade. The applicant claimed, however, that he "was never the best of shots ... and could never hit a target".

23.  At the hearing, Ms Wheeler QC for the respondent, referred to three
instances when the applicant had threatened violence to some person in order
to show that it was a characteristic reaction for the applicant to get a
weapon if someone "slighted him". One of these incidents occurred prior to the applicant's service in Vietnam, and the other two were during his service in Vietnam.

24.  The first incident occurred whilst the applicant was based with his unit
in Sydney in 1969. Of this incident the applicant said that after he was
robbed in Kings Cross while drinking with other servicemen, he apparently went back to the base, got his bayonet and returned to Kings Cross. There was an altercation in the bar and the applicant was arrested with the bayonet, however, no charges were laid. The applicant's evidence is that he cannot
recall this incident, his role in the altercation nor why he went and got his bayonet. On the meagre evidence available, the Tribunal is satisfied that a disorderly incident occurred which involved drinking and hostility with a weapon.

25.  Another incident of "threatened violence" described at the Court Martial (R1 - page 167 and 247) was that Halton (another soldier in the applicant's unit), and the applicant had an argument three weeks prior to Christmas Day 1970. Halton's evidence was that he went to ask the applicant to come and have a drink with him but that the applicant picked up his loaded rifle and told him to get out. Private Waters, who was also present at the time, stated that he had initially taken the rifle from the applicant, as he argued with Halton, but then gave it back to him with a loaded magazine and said, "If you want to blow his head off, go ahead". (p.248 of R1) Waters stated that the applicant "stood there with it and then just whimpered and I took it back and put it back in the tent". With respect to the applicant's drinking on this particular day, Halton said that the applicant had consumed "Not a great lot, he only had a couple of beers, I think" (R1 - page 167), whilst Waters could not remember. At the hearing in this Tribunal the applicant's evidence was that he could not recall this incident.

26.  The third "threatened violent" incident (Court Martial R1 - pages 131 to 134, 158, 192, 256 and 257) occurred about one hour before the fatal shooting on Christmas Day 1970. Evidence was given at the Court Martial (by Private Donaldson) that the applicant left the canteen between 5.00 and 6.00pm with Private Wells and they staggered with their arms around each other back to the tents. In the process, the applicant lost one of his thongs and, after several attempts, was unable to put his foot back in it because he was, apparently, too drunk to do so. About three minutes later, Donaldson himself entered the tent next to that of the applicant and sometime later he heard him cock a rifle in the next tent. He and several others went to investigate. Donaldson said he saw the applicant with a cocked and loaded rifle containing a full magazine. Three soldiers who had come from other tents tried to take the loaded weapon from the applicant. He refused to hand it over, and resisted their attempts, saying "I'm going to kill Boofhead or get Boofhead". Other witnesses recalled him using different words like:
    "I hate Armstrong";
    "I hate the bastard and I want to kill him";
    "I hate Boofhead's guts - going to shoot him";
    "I'm going to kill Boofhead";
    "I'm going to get Boofhead".
He was then disarmed, the live round was ejected, and the magazine removed.
The magazine and rifle, together with the other rifle in the applicant's tent was removed and placed in a rifle rack in the next tent. During this scene, the applicant was admonished in very strong terms by his peers. Waters said, "If ever you take a rifle when your drunk, I'll shove the f... thing down your throat". Tears were later seen in his eyes. He was calmed and counselled by his peers.

27.  Unfortunately the night did not end then as Donaldson then invited the applicant to come back to the canteen where he was seen to be drinking more beer and he "appeared silly; he wasn't sober." The witnesses at the Court Martial described scenes of drunken behaviour in the canteen between six and seven o'clock. In amongst the singing, dancing and drunken behaviour which was occurring just before 7.00pm, the applicant, who had previously been going around repeatedly shaking hands and saying "sorry" was described as: "he just seems quiet. He had a can of beer in his hand and he was smiling..."
About ten minutes later, the three shots were fired from the tent line into the Sergeant's mess. At the hearing before this Tribunal the applicant was unable to recall the incident when he was disarmed in the tent or the shooting itself.

28.  On 6 March 1971 at Vung Tua, the applicant was found guilty by a General Court Martial of two charges of murder and one charge of malicious wounding (R1). This was later reduced to manslaughter and assault occasioning bodily harm on 23 December 1971 by the Courts Martial Appeal Tribunal (A2). His defence of insanity was rejected at both hearings. He was ultimately sentenced to ten years imprisonment with hard labour and served eight years of that term.

29.  The applicant was released from prison in 1978 on parole. He said that at this time, his "only friend ... was the alcohol" and he therefore drank heavily. He broke his parole (by contravening a restraining order) and was required to serve another year in prison before being finally released. After
his second release, the applicant studied nursing from March 1980 to November 1981 and stated that he wasn't drinking as heavily because the "nursing had kept me on a firm footing".

30.  The applicant worked in a number of hospitals until 1989. His evidence was that from about 1985, he started to work the night shifts because he was having nightmares about Vietnam. From November 1989, he was employed as a nurse in Fitzroy Hospital, in the north of Western Australia mainly doing night shifts. Alcohol became a problem again in December 1989, and he began
drinking vodka and other spirits (about half a bottle at a time), about 10 days before Christmas Day.

31.  On Christmas Day 1989, the anniversary of the shooting incident, the applicant said he was so overwhelmed by his memories, he called the Vietnam Veterans' Counselling Service. He said he "had no family or friends' support at the time and felt socially isolated".

32.  After his resignation from Fitzroy Hospital in January 1990, the applicant ceased his employment as a nurse and his alcohol intake increased to about "a cask of wine or more a day (between 4 of us)".

33.  When the applicant began working at La Grange Aboriginal Community as a community nurse in November 1990, he says he had no drinking problems.
However, on leaving La Grange in February 1991 and going to Broome, he said that he again resorted to drinking binges to cope with his nightmares and that this continued, until August 1992. He then contacted the Vietnam Veterans' Counselling Service in Geraldton and it arranged for the applicant to return to Perth. He did so and was referred to Dr Daly and later, to his present treating psychiatrist, Dr Kay.

34.  Between September 1992 and approximately July 1994, the applicant said he had "been in and out of the Repatriation Hospital due to alcohol related problems".

35.  Since his release from prison in 1978, the applicant claims that he suffered flashbacks about his time in Vietnam, especially the shooting incident in 1970 and that this led him to consume the large quantities of alcohol described above and to him being often hospitalised and sometimes
imprisoned for being drunk as a result.

36.  Since July 1994 to the present day, the applicant has being residing at Acrah House (a halfway house for people with alcohol and drug problems) and says that he no longer drinks alcohol. He is currently taking two Prozacs each morning (an anti-depressant) and has being doing so for two years. He says he also takes 15 milligrams of Prothiaden (also an anti-depressant) at night to
help him sleep.

37.  The fact that the applicant has suffered from PTSD at and since the date of his application is not contested, although the two psychiatrists who gave evidence are not completely happy with this diagnosis. They and the Tribunal certainly accept, however, that he has a significant psychiatric disorder and the case has proceeded on the basis of the accepted PTSD diagnosis.

The events leading up to the shooting were also detailed and provided here for reference:
9.  The applicant was born on 7 December 1949 in England. The evidence before the Tribunal was that his childhood was traumatic, as he was being physically abused by his alcoholic father. This abuse worsened after his mother died when he was 13 years old, so he finally ran away from home. He was later placed in a boys corrective home. His father committed suicide, when the applicant was 14 years old, and he was then placed in an orphanage. Later he lived with his grandmother until he turned 18.

10.  The applicant came to Australia in January 1968, sponsored by his uncle.
He obtained an apprenticeship in painting and decorating and then joined the Australian Army on 26 June 1968. He served in the Australian Army from this date to 3 March 1972. After undergoing recruit training, the applicant was posted to the Air Dispatch Company in Sydney from March to November 1969. He was employed at this base as a barman in the sergeants' mess.

11.  The applicant left for Vietnam on 12 August 1970 and was there until 11 March 1971. His unit (the Transport Unit) was based in Nui Dat, which was the main Australian base in the region. The Unit was responsible for transporting supplies from Vung Tua and Saigon, to Nui Dat and for distributing supplies from Nui Dat to forward areas. The applicant's task at this base was to work
with American and Australian helicopters to dispatch cargo to the forward area. Although his unit was required to do a lot of travelling in landrovers and trucks, the applicant felt that he was always "passed over" and this led to feelings of "jealousy" towards those who did drive. In addition, this also
meant that the applicant was taking longer to get his "dispatch wings" and therefore his feelings of jealousy intensified.

12.  The applicant never experienced an attack by the enemy in Vietnam but he could regularly hear the sound of artillery. The applicant was surprised that Vietnam was so "grossly covered with jungle" and he feared that he was in danger because "the enemy could lay mines in places where (they) ... would be very hard to detect".

13.  The applicant felt that he was frequently singled out and "picked on" whilst in the Army. He claimed that Warrant Officer David Armstrong, (whose nickname was "Boofhead"), "frequently picked on" him. He said that this first began when he was stationed in Sydney and continued, but to a lesser extent, in Vietnam. Of his relationship with Mr Armstrong in Vietnam, the applicant stated that "there wasn't so much of the singling ... out ... I think it was quite good actually compared to Australia at the time". This evidence that the applicant was picked on was supported by Colonel Malcolm Count, who was the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General ("DAAG") at Headquarters, First Australian Task Force, Nui Dat, from 15 June 1970 to 14 June 1971. (As DAAG, he was the second principal staff officer of the Force and was responsible for the administration of all personnel and disciplinary matters.)

14.  The applicant described a stressful incident in Vietnam at about the end of November 1970. He was required to fly to a forward area and flew at between 300 and 500 feet in a United States' helicopter. It carried two "gunners", two pilots and the applicant. The applicant stated that "we were flying along the coast ... and all I could see (was) ... empty bullet casings being ejected from the M60 machine gun (on the helicopter) .... I seen people falling down but whether that was caused by the rounds being fired by the helicopter I don't know ... I assume they were civilians". Colonel Count confirmed that such an incident could well have occurred because villagers in breach of curfew hours could be shot, and this was not contested by the respondent. The applicant said that this incident had not worried him very much at the time since he had been more concerned about going to the forward area since it was only 1 kilometre away from enemy contact. However, he began to have flashbacks" of the incident once he was in gaol but "they were eventually no problem" after a doctor prescribed an antidepressant. He described the "flashback" as a nightmare where he "recalled events of the machine gun being fired into the people on the ground - or at the people".

15.  The applicant also described two other incidents, one concerning a dangerous situation when loading a helicopter and another involving smoke canisters which made him realise he was dangerously close to the enemy. Although the Tribunal accepts that these incidents occurred, it puts little weight upon them as they do not appear to have caused much stress to the applicant.

16.  The applicant gave extensive evidence about his alcohol consumption habits whilst in Vietnam. He said that prior to joining the Australian Army, he drank moderately and only about once a week, since this was all he could afford. He was basically a social beer drinker. After he was posted to Sydney, his evidence was that he drank more, because it was readily available to him since he worked as a barman. He said that the increased consumption of alcohol did not make him unconscious as he was "not totally inebriated" but it gave him "a happy sort of feeling".

17.  In Vietnam, his consumption of alcohol increased again. According to standing orders, each soldier was permitted to have only 2 cans of beer per day. However, it seems that in the applicant's unit, this "rule" was not adhered to and both beer and spirits were readily available. The applicant
stated that from about October 1970, he was drinking approximately 6 to 10 cans of beer per day and he said that this amount was "slightly more" than his fellow soldiers were drinking at the time. About November 1970, he said "it had increased noticeably, more so when it got close to Christmas". On 7 December 1970, it was the applicant's twenty-first birthday and he stated that "from that day on the alcohol intake was quite heavy". It seems that he drank extensively on this day as a group went to Vung Tua for rest and recreation where they all drank beer and spirits. Between his birthday and Christmas Day 1970, the applicant said that although he was drinking a heavy amount of alcohol, it was "no more so than ... the next digger. It was enough to be inebriated but not to a stage of collapsing or anything like that". The applicant claimed that his drinking increased because he regretted having gone to Vietnam. He said he was drinking about "a dozen cans of beer in addition to about a quarter to half a bottle of spirits each day". Alcohol was easily available because the soldiers in that unit bartered with the Americans and New Zealanders for extra alcohol and it was also easily obtainable from the Australian based servicemen who ran the store selling the alcohol, and from other non-drinkers.

18.  On 24 December 1970 (Christmas Eve), the evidence from the applicant was that his unit drank freely through Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day. By late afternoon, it seems that the applicant was quite drunk. This evidence is supported by Colonel Count who noted that the "control of alcohol in the (applicant's) unit was non-existent" and on Christmas Day 1970, he was under the impression "that anyone could drink as much as they wanted to". (Colonel Count arrived on the scene within five to ten minutes of the shooting and coordinated the immediate investigation.)

19.  After considering the evidence given at the Court Martial and Colonel Count's evidence the Tribunal accepts that the applicant had been allowed to drink heavily during the weeks before Christmas, that this breach of standing orders limiting alcohol consumption applied generally throughout his unit and that on Christmas Day, the applicant and most of his unit, were drunk.

The Australian Military Police involved in the Ferriday case acquitted themselves well, and proved once again, the benefit of well trained, experienced and competent investigators.    The work was of such a high standard that in the Court Martial and subsequent appeals, the evidence gathered was never doubted or contested and the events surrounding sentencing were legal issues and not procedural investigative issues.


On researching this story, I have contacted as many ex MP as possible to gain a "personal" insight to the story that were involved or connected with the investigation.

CPL MP, J. Oldfield - later to become an RSM of the Corps, was at the MP building at Nui Dat when the call came through for MP assistance. CPL Oldfield was to escort Private Ferriday in the company of another MP to Vung Tau by helicopter. The two MPs were hand cuffed either side of Ferriday, one MPs arm cuffed to one of Ferridays’ arms etc. CPL Oldfield stated that during the flight, Ferriday attempted to "jump out" of the helicopter with both CPL Oldfield and the other MP "holding on for dear life" as they restrained him inside the chopper. On landing, Ferriday was handed over to a waiting escort party and the two MPs returned to Nui Dat.

CAPT Rex Anderson, Investigating Officer of the Case - NSW Police Detective Constable on secondment to the SIB as OIC Investigations Vietnam. Rex was the Investigating Officer on the case and has the following information about Ferriday:

Ferriday was very well represented with legal support. I cannot remember who were the legal representatives for Ferriday, but I can assure you that he was well and truly represented and advised. This was supported by the fact that an independent officer was sent to see Ferriday at Nui Dat without my knowledge, so as he could be properly cautioned regarding his rights to remain silent when being questioned. I thought then, and still think now, that senior officers must have been under the impression that either:

    1. I did not know how to correctly caution a suspect, or
    2. that I failed to correctly caution, or caution at all, the suspect.

In short, I was told the name of the Officer who ordered the caution but was not told that this additional caution was to take place, or had taken place. A statement was obtained from the Officer who delivered the additional caution and was attached to my original brief.

As Ferriday was being charged with two most serious crimes, ie, murder, as the senior investigating officer, I feel that I should have been notified that he was going to be interviewed by an Officer not connected with the enquiry. It could well have been that he may have made a further statement, possible admissions re the incident, or comment on any other matter which may or may not have assisted him in his subsequent Courts Martial. He may have even raised matters, which required further investigation, or made statements on which he could be later questioned and asked for clarification.

It was very early after the incident was reported to me, that I realised that I would have a lot more work to do in this enquiry than I thought I would have to do. I mean that, earlier in the enquiry, my appreciation of the situation was that I was investigating what appeared to be at that time, two counts of murder and one of attempt murder, and I realised that I would need support, corroboration etc.

The MP (Investigator) I had to work with me, indicated that he had not had any experience in investigating serious crime…only ‘foot locker thefts’. I also knew that I would require the services of a plan drawer and a photographer. Dealing with the person made available to draw plans, after speaking to him, I realised that his expertise in this area consisted of drawing plans of roadways and bridges, a far cry from the type of detailed plan I required. The photographer they assigned to me was more interested in the quality of the photos he took, not the content of the photos. He was from the public relations unit.

This brings up Barney Ross. Barney Ross was a Detective Sergeant 1st Class in the NSW Police at the time and was a well known ballistics expert, just the type of expert I required. I spoke to the DAA&QMG, Major M. Count at 1 ATF HQ and told him that I could well do with Det.Sgt.B. Ross. It worked…after a lot of red tape (in my opinion, because it took Ross too long to arrive and assist us). He was seconded to the Australian Army with the rank of Major and flown to SVN. He was able to carry out a complete ballistics examination of the evidence then available.

There were no ongoing legal problems re the case after I returned to Australia. One disappointing factor, in my opinion, was that, as the Officer in charge of the investigation, at no time was I consulted further in relation to this case relative to the appeal processes, where all the facts and matters surrounding the convictions should have been fully explored.

My opinion of this case, although at first reading, may have appeared to be straight forward, was not. The conditions under which we were required to work were difficult and the practical support which an investigation of this size required was not there. However, in fairness I must say, we were working under war time conditions. I felt that information from the DAA&QMG was not passed down the line to us, or to me in particular, (ie, the cautioning of Farriday by an officer not connected with the enquiry), and I was not given an opportunity to commend any of the investigators for the work they performed, including long hours under extremely difficult conditions. I mentioned it at the time but was told that AVF HQ, the DAA&QMG in particular, would ask for it if he thought that it was required.