“It doesn’t necessarily matter what the circumstances are, it’s the learnings that you get”, Carmel Arthur
On Sunday 16th August 1998, Carmel Arthur’s life changed forever. Nursing her seven week old baby boy while on maternity leave from her projector manager role in the construction industry. Arthur’s husband, Senior Constable Rodney Miller was murdered, along with his partner Sergeant Gary Silk while working a covert operation in armed robbery.
What followed for Arthur was a seven year journey with the criminal justice system as she progressed through Miller’s murder trial, ultimately leading to her current role with the Victorian Police and positions on the The Adult Parole Board of Victoria and Sentencing Advisory Council.
Arthur felt her social conscious and ethics challenged early in her journey when she was gripped by feelings of retribution, intense and difficult emotions she had never experienced before and wondered if she would ever move beyond. She came to understand her ability to respond to something can be temporary and the feeling of seeking retribution was simply a step in the grieving process. A step she felt she could move past when she received procedural justice.
“Procedural justice, very simply, is about ensuring a fair process will ensure a fair outcome. That outcome may not necessarily be an outcome that you like, but it is an outcome you can live with because you feel that you’ve been engaged in the process” explains Arthur.
Her own experience led her to become a passionate advocate for procedural justice believing if a victim of crime feels they have not been treated fairly or heard, they may be left suffering in silence, hindering the grieving process and leaving them in a position from which is it difficult to recover.
A new mother thrown into the process of a major criminal investigation while experiencing enormous personal grief, Arthur believes some practical things helped her find an element of balance. She adopted a routine of spending Monday to Friday in her brother’s home dealing with the investigation, being Miller’s widow and retreating to the sanctuary of her bayside home on weekends, once again returning to her own identity of Carmel Arthur. This helped her separate her temporary circumstances around the investigation from the core of who she actually was. Other practical arrangements made prior to Miller’s death such as a will, superannuation and insurance proved to be a helpful in navigating the personal legal side of her circumstances
Arthur believes challenge is an enabler and it doesn’t necessarily matter what the circumstances are, it’s the learnings that you get from them. The learnings in leadership, emotional intelligence, resilience, and courage she saw bloom in front of her within many people involved in Miller’s trial are all transportable skills. Challenge helps you open yourself up to what is possible and sometimes we underestimate what we are capable of achieving, says Arthur.
Resources she drew on to move through her experience included a close relationship with her counsellor, who not only counselled Arthur through the trauma, but became a professional mentor and helped her return to the workforce.
On her appointment to the Sentencing Advisory Council in 2004, Arthur was adamant about mandatory sentencing, but 12 years on she believes it’s not the way to go, because every case has it’s own DNA. She calls for greater understanding around the ‘back end’ of criminal activity, factors including homelessness, drug addition, mental health and unemployment.
On a personal level, Arthur was remarried 10 years ago to Peter Silk, one of Gary Silk’s older brothers and since then have together raised Jimmy, Arthur’s son with Miller. A solid understanding of personal finances is something they have instilled in Jimmy with the simple concept of needs vs wants. If their son needs something, they will buy it, if he wants something, he must buy it. Arthur says this approach has been a winner and her son is judicious in what he asks for and also what he spends on.
Given the demands of the last 18 years, one of Carmel’s best investments has been the commitment to her mental and physical health. She exercises regularly and looks to disconnect from technology camping with her son. She is also known to watch the occasional Disney movie. Cinderella, she says, is not about a story about a woman getting a man, instead it’s a story about the qualities of grace, dignity, courage and kindness in the face of adversity. Qualities, given her own personal growth through tragedy, Arthur is very familiar with.