Lionel Murphy files: secret papers reveal allegations of links with crime boss Abe Saffron
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.
Justice Lionel Murphy was attorney general in the Whitlam government before being appointed to the high court.
Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam and Lionel Murphy in Sydney in 1974.