Craig Henry Rumsby was convicted of the murder after a jury returned a verdict of guilty following trial.
Acting Justice Robert Hulme found that 17-year-old Bright died due to Rumsby suffocating her by putting a hand over her nose and mouth until she stopped breathing.
He attacked Bright as she walked home after her friend’s 15th birthday party in Gulgong, central western New South Wales, after 1 am on 27 February 1999.
Her body was found by chance in long grass three days after her death, in an area less than 2km away from her home. Areas of the body were already significantly decomposed.
During the sentence, Justice Hulme noted that: “the sexual motivation for it was evident by the removal of clothing and the body being left in a semi-naked state.”
His Honour also found that Bright died in “the most horrific and terrifying circumstances” and that Rumsby killed her “to avoid responsibility for what he had done to her.”
Rumsby was 31 years old at this time and is now 56-years-old.
During the trial, he was also tried for and convicted of the attempted choking of an 18-year-old woman (referred to as ‘LS’) with intent to have sexual intercourse without her consent, in 1998.
In similar circumstances, the woman was outside at around 3am in Gulgong. The offender approached her on foot before punching her on the side of the face and grabbing her throat.
He attempted to sexually assault her; however, he ran off after others were alerted by her screams.
For this offence, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 7 years and 6 months. For the murder of Michelle Bright, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for 27 years with a non-parole period of 19 years.
Ultimately, a total effective sentence of 32 years imprisonment was imposed, with a non-parole period of 24 years, which will expire on 10 August 2044.
Whilst the crimes occurred in 1998 and 1999, Rumsby was only arrested on 11 August 2020. His conviction comes after the work of detectives who renewed investigation of the crimes in 2018.
In 2018, the Unsolved Homicide team reviewed the matter of Michelle Bright, finding that Rumsby should be focused on due to the links between the offender and the attack upon LS and the similarities, timing, and location of the attacks upon LS and Ms Bright.
They also noted his close proximity to Gulgong at the time and that he had given false information to police during the initial investigation about his whereabouts at the time of the murder.
Permission was subsequently granted for police to utilise the ‘Unsolved Serious Crime Undercover Technique’ which commenced in November 2019.
This operation involved the offender becoming associated with undercover operatives who posed as members of a fictitious crime gang. Rumsby was convinced that the ‘gang’ was powerful and could make problems ‘go away’ due to its supposed connections with a ‘corrupt detective’.
The operation came to a head on 11 August 2020 in which a meeting was staged with whom he thought was the ‘boss’ of the gang, where he was told that they thought he was involved in the attack on LS and Ms Bright’s murder.
The ‘boss’ told him that they could make these issues ‘go away’ if he was truthful to him about the incidents. Rumsby then made various admissions to the undercover officers.
During the trial, Rumsby’s defence team tried to contend that these admissions were unreliable, however the jury ultimately found him guilty of both counts, largely due to how the admissions contained details which only the alleged offender would know.
What is the ‘Mr Big’ Technique?
Such an undercover operation is otherwise referred to as the ‘Mr Big’ technique. As highlighted in this case, it involves undercover officers creating a fictitious crime group and luring a suspect into the group.
In comparison to other undercover techniques, where a covert police operative infiltrates a criminal group, the reverse essentially occurs where a ‘criminal’ group is created, and the target is inserted.
The undercover operatives form bonds with the suspect and gain their trust. It may involve them taking part in false crimes together including staged drug deals and robberies.
Due to its evidently costly and resource intensive nature, it is reserved for serious crimes, largely cold case murders. It is based upon the presumption that if a suspect thinks there may be a benefit to them or that they trust the group, they will be likely to incriminate themselves.
The technique has been criticised due to how it could illicit false or unreliable confessions, if a financial or social incentive is offered by the ‘gang’ in return for further information.
The ‘Mr Big’ technique was famously used in the case of 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe in Queensland. Brett Cowan was convicted of Morcombe’s murder in 2014, after he confessed to undercover police officers who he had been in a supposed ‘gang’ with that he had murdered Daniel, leading them to the site of the remains.