Lionel Mur­phy files: se­cret pa­pers re­veal al­le­ga­tions of links with crime boss Abe Saf­fron

The Guardian Australia - - News - Anne Davies

For­mer high court judge Lionel Mur­phy was asked to ad­dress al­le­ga­tions that he had sought to get Kings Cross crime fig­ure Abe Saf­fron to in­tim­i­date a wit­ness and made in­quiries about whether fed­eral po­lice were brib­able, doc­u­ments from the 1980s re­leased on Thurs­day re­veal.

The “Class A pa­pers” pub­lished af­ter 31 years, re­veal 14 al­le­ga­tions were put to Jus­tice Mur­phy for his re­sponse back in 1986 by a par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion of in­quiry. But many more were in­ves­ti­gated by the com­mis­sion. The doc­u­ments re­veal in to­tal 41 al­le­ga­tions that were in­ves­ti­gated by the com­mis­sion of three judges.

The in­quiry fol­lowed a tur­bu­lent few years in which Mur­phy was tried on two counts of at­tempt­ing to per­vert the course of jus­tice in or­der to in­flu­ence the trial of his friend, Syd­ney so­lic­i­tor Mor­gan Ryan. Mur­phy was ac­cused of ap­proach­ing the New South Wakes district court judge Paul Flan­nery, and the NSW chief mag­is­trate, Clar­rie Briese, to try to in­flu­ence the trial.

Mur­phy was ini­tially found guilty over one of the in­ci­dents and cleared of the other, but on ap­peal was ac­quit­ted of both.

Fur­ther al­le­ga­tions about the judge emerged as re­sult of re­port­ing by the Age. Il­le­gal po­lice phone taps in 1984 – known as the Age Tapes – and the sub­se­quent Stew­art royal com­mis­sion which in­ves­ti­gated or­gan­ised crime in New South Wales.

Mur­phy was at­tor­ney gen­eral in the Whit­lam govern­ment, be­fore he was ap­pointed to the high court by La­bor in 1975. Re­garded as a lead­ing light of the Left, the ju­di­cial scan­dal which tar­nished his later ca­reer deeply di­vided his sup­port­ers and crit­ics. His un­timely death at 64 left many unan­swered ques­tions.

Some of the new pa­pers stem from the now no­to­ri­ous at­tempts by Mur­phy dur­ing the early 1980s to as­sist his friend so­lic­i­tor Mor­gan Ryan, who was fac­ing pros­e­cu­tion for con­spir­acy over a visa fraud. Oth­ers ap­pear to be based on wire taps of phone calls the judge had with Ryan, which were later re­ported by the Age.

The doc­u­ments have emerged af­ter the pre­sid­ing of­fi­cers of the fed­eral par­lia­ment de­cided to re­lease the pa­pers. The in­quiry was formed to look into whether Mur­phy had com­mit­ted mis­con­duct while a high court judge, in breach of the con­sti­tu­tion.

It was halted by the Hawke govern­ment af­ter it was re­vealed that Mur­phy had in­op­er­a­ble can­cer. He con­tro­ver­sially re­turned to the high court to hear cases, but died a few months later.

Among the ques­tions be­fore the in­quiry were al­le­ga­tions that in 1975 while a judge, Mur­phy had agreed with Ryan that they should ask Saf­fron to ap­proach Danny Sankey, who was tak­ing a pri­vate pros­e­cu­tion against sev­eral La­bor fig­ures, in­clud­ing Mur­phy. The judge was asked to ad­dress the spe­cific al­le­ga­tion that he knew this would re­sult in Sankey be­ing in­tim­i­dated.

Mur­phy was also ac­cused of urg­ing Ryan to have Sankey’s coun­sel, David Rofe, harmed be­cause of his role in the case.

Mur­phy was asked to ad­dress al­le­ga­tions that in 1980 he had tried to in­flu­ence the award of a NSW govern­ment con­tract to re­model Cen­tral Rail­way Sta­tion, so it would go to in­ter­ests as­so­ci­ated with Abe Saf­fron. The com­mis­sion said at the time Mur­phy knew Saf­fron was a per­son of ill-re­pute but had tried to as­sist him re­gard­less.

There were also sev­eral al­le­ga­tions re­lat­ing to at­tempts to in­flu­ence po­lice of­fi­cers. Mur­phy was asked to ad­dress whether he had sought to find out whether par­tic­u­lar fed­eral po­lice were brib­able or sub­ject to in­flu­ence. He was re­ported to have told Ryan in one con­ver­sa­tion: “The an­swer was def­i­nitely no, they were both very straight.”

In the case of se­nior de­tec­tive Don Thomas, which made head­lines in 1986, it was al­leged Mur­phy had sought to in­flu­ence an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, of­fered to se­cure him a se­nior po­si­tion in the Aus­tralian fed­eral po­lice and sought to groom him as a source of con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion from within the AFP.

There were also sev­eral al­le­ga­tions re­lat­ing to Mur­phy’s in­ter­ac­tions with Briese in an ef­fort to help Ryan who was fac­ing trial for at­tempt­ing to il­le­gally ob­tain res­i­dency for sev­eral Korean na­tion­als.

The at­tempts led to Mur­phy be­ing tried and con­victed but ac­quit­ted on ap­peal, in a se­ries of cases that gripped the na­tion.

The com­mis­sion was re­stricted from look­ing at the ac­tual event, but it found a way around that re­stric­tion by look­ing at whether Mur­phy had breached his du­ties as an of­fi­cer of the court.

This in­cluded that he had de­lib­er­ately given sworn false ev­i­dence, and had given mag­is­trate Briese’s di­aries to a third party to have them pho­to­copied when he knew that the court or­der re­stricted ac­cess to the le­gal ad­vis­ers only.

Other at­tempts by Mur­phy to help his friend also came un­der scru­tiny.

He was also fac­ing al­le­ga­tions that he know­ingly swore false ev­i­dence over his in­ter­ac­tions with Jus­tice Jim McClel­land, whom he ap­proached to con­tact the Chief Judge Staunton over Ryan’s trial.

Mur­phy claimed in court that he had only spo­ken to McClel­land af­ter McClel­land had spo­ken to Staunton, but this was in­cor­rect, and the judge knew it. The true sce­nario was that Mur­phy had ap­proached McClel­land in or­der to per­suade him to in­ter­cede on Ryan’s be­half with the chief judge.

There were fur­ther al­le­ga­tions be­fore the par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion of in­quiry that, at the urg­ing of Ryan, Mur­phy had sought to get then Premier Neville Wran to ap­point a per­son to the Eth­nic Af­fairs Com­mis­sion.

Per­haps the most in­trigu­ing are doc­u­ments which are al­leged to be records of safety de­posit boxes at Union Bank of Switzer­land in Zurich.

One is reg­is­tered in the name of Gough Whit­lam and Lionel Mur­phy. An­other is in the name of Mur­phy and Ju­nie Morosi, the high pro­file chief of staff to cabi­net min­is­ter, Jim Cairns, was nom­i­nated as hold­ing the keys and is the only per­son still liv­ing who could shed shed light on the mat­ter.

At the time – 1975 – there were per­sis­tent ru­mours of kick­backs as a re­sult of the Kem­lani loans af­fair. The doc­u­ments were de­liv­ered to the com­mis­sion by two jour­nal­ists who swore statu­tory dec­la­ra­tions that they had un­cov­ered them as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Pho­to­graph: The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald/Fair­fax Me­dia via Getty Im­ages

Jus­tice Lionel Mur­phy was at­tor­ney gen­eral in the Whit­lam govern­ment be­fore be­ing ap­pointed to the high court.

Pho­to­graph: The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald/ Fair­fax Me­dia via Getty Im­ages

Bob Hawke, Gough Whit­lam and Lionel Mur­phy in Syd­ney in 1974.

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