THE QUIET MAN

HE KEPT HIS MOUTH SHUT FOR A REA­SON

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - AN­DREW RULE

TWENTY years af­ter they’d started high school, the class of ’82 came home to Co­bram to cel­e­brate the mile­stone. They gath­ered in their favourite pub to talk old times.

Be­fore the event they filled in a ques­tion­naire for a reunion book­let. Among the ques­tions was, “What’s the best ad­vice or motto to live by?”. Most of the answers were for­get­table but one would stick in peo­ple’s minds.

It came from a tall, ath­letic man that former class­mates re­called as a quiet, skinny kid at school.

Now he was a po­lice­man — a drug squad de­tec­tive — and it showed. Gym work had filled out the lean frame. Years of car­ry­ing badge and gun and telling peo­ple what to do had rubbed away the coun­try-boy shy­ness to ex­pose some­thing harder un­der­neath.

He wore his long hair in a pig­tail, rode a mo­tor­bike and talked with an in­sider’s off­hand as­sur­ance about the drug busts he did in the big smoke.

When the com­pleted ques­tion­naire came around his class­mates saw that he had writ­ten, “Deny, deny, deny. De­mand proof”.

The fol­low­ing year, his former class­mates would re­call that strange “ad­vice” when he was ar­rested on charges that landed him in jail.

Had he been play­ing “bad cop” to show off back in a home town where he had never cut much of a dash? Or sub­con­sciously steel­ing him­self for what ev­ery bent po­lice of­fi­cer must fear — the day the sky falls in.

The tall man’s name was David An­thony Miechel.

COPS can fall fur­ther and harder than Dave Miechel — ask Roger Roger­son — but not many have. Even Paul Hig­gins, a de­tec­tive sergeant no­to­ri­ous for tak­ing huge bribes from il­le­gal broth­els and drug deal­ers, got seven years with a min­i­mum of five af­ter a marathon in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a trial that cost mil­lions.

Wayne Strawhorn, a former se­nior sergeant charged with se­ri­ous cor­rup­tion in 2003, was sen­tenced to a min­i­mum four years.

Miechel was never as no­to­ri­ous as Hig­gins or Strawhorn. But by the time he gets out in the new year, he will have served more time than those two put to­gether: close to 12 years of a max­i­mum 15.

That is the same time served by the rogue de­tec­tive Colin Creed, who was orig­i­nally sen­tenced to a to­tal 21 years — with an­other 24 served con­cur­rently — for a rape and a string of rob­beries in the early 1980s.

Some peo­ple do less time for homi­cide than Miechel has for the bun­gled bur­glary from a “drug house” un­der po­lice sur­veil­lance.

The rea­son for the long sen­tence seems ob­vi­ous: he stayed silent, re­sist­ing over­tures to tell all he knows of con­nec­tions be­tween cer­tain un­der­world fig­ures and cer­tain cor­rupt po­lice.

He might have halved his jail time by “co-op­er­at­ing”.

Whether his si­lence is hon­our among thieves or some­thing more sin­is­ter is hard to tell, but it has at­tracted grudg­ing ad­mi­ra­tion from some former col­leagues.

“He is ad­mired by the scal­ly­wag el­e­ment in the po­lice depart­ment,” says one ex-de­tec­tive who knows that fringe group.

Do­ing jail time is never easy — but it can be ex­tra hard.

As an ex-po­lice­man, Miechel is a pariah in the prison hi­er­ar­chy, which puts cops just above child mo­lesters. Ac­cord­ing to his lawyers, other pris­on­ers have spat on him, abused him and, if given the chance, would have harmed him. The sort of treat­ment that would make most pris­on­ers cut a deal.

“I think I would have thrown that

card on the ta­ble,” says the former de­tec­tive. “You’d have to think some­thing is tick­ing over.” He’s sug­gest­ing Miechel might be on a prom­ise of re­ward or threat­ened with ret­ri­bu­tion, or both: car­rot and stick.

All of which raises the spec­tre of Paul Dale, the former de­tec­tive sergeant whose name has loomed over Miechel since it all went wrong on Grand Fi­nal day, 2003.

That Satur­day evening, Septem­ber 27, as the Bris­bane Lions cel­e­brated their third straight flag, two men met to do “a job”. One was Miechel. The other was Terry Hod­son, an English­born car­pen­ter turned Aussie crook.

Two years ear­lier, in Au­gust 2001, Miechel, then a de­tec­tive in his 12th year as a po­lice­man, had laid drug­traf­fick­ing charges against Hod­son’s daugh­ter, Mandy.

Hod­son was a bad man but a good father, des­per­ate to help his daugh­ter. If that meant in­form­ing on other crim­i­nals — or pay­ing bribes — he would. Within weeks, he was a reg­is­tered po­lice in­former.

Hod­son’s re­la­tion­ship with his han­dlers soon be­came dan­ger­ously tan­gled. Miechel was en­gaged to a school­teacher but had started a se­cret af­fair with Mandy in late 2002.

Mean­while, the young cop and the old crook pooled their drug scene knowl­edge to steal drugs and cash — and Miechel may not have been the only po­lice­man “in the joke”.

Miechel has never said so but Hod­son would later in­sist that Dale was meant to join them that night, pulling out at the last minute.

That al­le­ga­tion, if backed up with other ev­i­dence, might have been enough to put Dale in jail but it died along with Hod­son just months later.

But back in 2002 and early 2003, Hod­son and Miechel were “run­ning hot”. A cocaine traf­ficker later told

Herald Sun crime re­porter Mark But­tler that Hod­son stood over him for money while Miechel was his han­dler. It seemed Hod­son had a what bent cops call “a green light” to do as he liked.

“I was ar­rested with some coke sup­plied by Hod­son. Miechel stole cash from my premises that day.”

It seems clear Miechel was one of a cor­rupt cir­cle that “sold out” po­lice cases so that crooks could pay to stay out of jail. The only ques­tion was how big the cir­cle was.

Carl Wil­liams, drug dealer and mur­derer, would later tell in­ves­ti­ga­tors he had paid $10,000 to get pic­tures and a video re­moved from a po­lice brief against a dealer. The ex­hibits were later found in Miechel’s home, Wil­liams said.

That al­le­ga­tion doesn’t sur­prise a former de­tec­tive who chanced against Miechel in the 1990s. The de­tec­tive, who had worked on big drug cases, was sta­tioned in Mel­bourne’s in­ner north when he and his part­ner ar­rested a Rich­mond drug user who promptly “sold out” his dealer to them.

“This dealer worked out in the gym all day and dealt drugs at night, mostly in the gay scene,” the former de­tec­tive says. “When we raided him he kept say­ing ‘I can’t go to jail, I can’t go to jail’. He lived in a lux­u­ri­ous two-storey con­verted ware­house in Colling­wood.”

When the de­tec­tives searched the house, they found a back­pack sit­ting by the back door lead­ing into the lane. In it was $50,000 cash, ap­par­ently ready to hand to some­one higher up the crim­i­nal food chain in re­turn for whole­sale drugs.

As luck had it, the dealer had no drugs at the house. As for the $50,000, he later told a court it was from bets he and his un­cle had made. The ar­rest­ing de­tec­tives found the drug dealer had been in­ves­ti­gated by a young drug squad de­tec­tive, David Miechel. But when they asked Miechel to make a state­ment about the dealer’s ac­tiv­i­ties, he re­fused. He said he was “too busy” to get in­volved — but turned up at the dealer’s court hear­ing, no­tice­ably flus­tered.

“He (Miechel) was sweat­ing and ag­i­tated and I said straight away, ‘He’s get­ting paid by this bloke and he’s wor­ried in case the crook rolls over’,” re­calls the former de­tec­tive.

But the dealer beat the charges and he didn’t im­pli­cate Miechel or oth­ers in dirty deals. The next time the an­gry and sus­pi­cious de­tec­tives heard Miechel’s name was when he was ar­rested on Grand Fi­nal night in 2003. Then it all made sense.

ABBY Haynes moved into 23 Dublin St, Oak­leigh early in Septem­ber 2003. She put her dogs in the house and a pill press on a trailer in the car­port. She didn’t know the drug squad was al­ready set­ting up a sur­veil­lance post in the house be­hind hers and had gath­ered enough ev­i­dence of large-scale drug deal­ing to plan a raid for Sun­day, Septem­ber 28.

Miechel had vol­un­teered to swap the sur­veil­lance tapes that Satur­day. On the way to Oak­leigh from Essendon he dropped into Dale’s house in Coburg. That evening he re­turned to Oak­leigh by mo­tor­cy­cle. Po­lice knew that Abby Haynes was go­ing out — and that there was prob­a­bly a huge amount of drugs and cash in the house.

By chance, neigh­bours saw two men on the porch af­ter dark and called po­lice when they heard break­ing glass.

Two dog han­dlers turned up as well as a divvy van. One dog grabbed Hod­son but Miechel made a run for it and climbed a tree, calling “I’m in the job, I’m in the job”. It didn’t help. And when he hit the dog, the han­dler hit him with a torch. When he hit the han­dler, the dog tore a chunk out of his but­tocks.

Miechel yelled then but kept quiet af­ter­wards — apart from claim­ing he had just dropped in to check the sur­veil­lance post when the dog at­tacked him.

But a jury didn’t be­lieve him; one rea­son be­ing that bags of drugs worth $1.3 mil­lion found thrown over the back fence had his DNA on them.

Hod­son im­me­di­ately started telling in­ves­ti­ga­tors damn­ing de­tails about his han­dlers, Dale and Miechel.

Within hours, a po­lice file ex­pos­ing Hod­son as a long-time in­former was stolen from the drug squad and leaked to the un­der­world, which con­ve­niently guar­an­teed plenty of po­ten­tial sus­pects if some­thing hap­pened to him.

Which, of course, it did eight months later, when Hod­son and his wife were shot dead, kneel­ing in their liv­ing room in Kew. Af­ter that, there was no one to tes­tify against Dale … un­less Miechel rolled over, and he never did.

NO one who went to school with Dave Miechel picked him as a fu­ture po­lice­man, let alone a bent one. Lo­cals re­call him as a wiry young­ster help­ing his father, Phil, a black­smith who could weld farm ma­chin­ery, strip a wreck, cut down a tree or build a fence. One neigh­bour re­calls get­ting father and son to bring down a tree in his yard. Young David climbed it to cut down the limbs be­fore they felled the trunk.

His agility, strength and will­ing­ness prob­a­bly helped him get into the po­lice force — but his luck ran out when he joined the drug squad and fell un­der the in­flu­ence of oth­ers and the spell of easy money.

By the time Miechel was ar­rested with Hod­son, he had surely been “tax­ing” crooks for drugs and money for years. Only a de­fence lawyer would sug­gest straight-faced that the Dublin St de­ba­cle was the first and only rip-off the cor­rupt crew had pulled. Apart from steal­ing pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals ready to make drugs worth mil­lions, there were huge cash bribes to be had.

If there is a cache of drugs and money some­where, does that ex­plain Miechel’s deaf­en­ing si­lence?

The temp­ta­tion to cut down his sen­tence by giv­ing up other cor­rupt cops must have been huge. But he stayed “staunch”.

Some time in the com­ing months, the quiet man will step out of a prison, maybe at Ararat, where he has spent the past few years. Or it might be a low-se­cu­rity jail. But his re­lease will prob­a­bly be be­tween mid­night and dawn to make it hard for any­one out­side his fam­ily to an­tic­i­pate. Af­ter that, he will try to re­build his life. It won’t be easy. His con­tacts and his sources of in­come should be of great in­ter­est to the force he be­longed to un­til greed, in the shape of a po­lice dog, came back to bite him on the bum.

No mat­ter how many re­grets Miechel has, he is alive. Un­like Terry Hod­son and Carl Wil­liams, who died ter­ri­ble deaths be­cause of what they knew — and what they said. In David Miechel’s case, peo­ple will al­ways won­der if his si­lence is golden. an­drew.rule@news.com.au

Miechel was sweat­ing and ag­i­tated and I said straight away, ‘He’s get­ting paid by this bloke, he’s wor­ried in case (he) rolls over’ A FORMER DRUG SQUAD COL­LEAGUE

house. attheOak­leigh stash­found Partofthe­drugs DAVIDMIECHEL

COLIN CREED ROGER ROGERS ON WAYNE STRAWHORN CHRISTINEAND TERENCEHODSON

PAULDALE

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