State to weigh cost of fallout from Lawyer X
The Victorian government is bracing for the prospect of some of the state’s most notorious criminals walking free from prison with hefty compensation cheques if a royal commission into the Lawyer X scandal finds their cases were tainted.
As Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton yesterday defended his own conduct and that of officers during the height of Melbourne’s gangland wars, Premier Daniel Andrews acknowledged the potential serious fallout from revelations that a prominent criminal defence lawyer had turned supergrass, providing police with information on her own clients.
Slammed by the High Court as “reprehensible conduct”, the move has opened the door for dozens of criminals — including drug-trafficker Tony Mokbel, serving a minimum 22 years’ jail for his crimes — to argue against their convictions and seek to have them overturned.
“No one is happy to be contemplating the notion that would see people walk free, let alone walk free with a compensation cheque,” Mr Andrews said.
“Making no judgment on the conduct, as a matter of law, if you are wrongly convicted, in that strictly legal sense, because evidence used to secure your conviction was not appropriately sourced, not appropriately used, then regardless of the crime you committed you may well be elig- ible for a compensation payment.”
Mr Andrews said he’d been “quite shocked” by what had come out since the court’s determination and it was clear that a royal commission was the “right thing to do”.
Mr Ashton said yesterday that he expected to be one of several police members called to give evidence, but was “confident in my own knowledge and role in this that I’ve done nothing wrong”.
The Chief Commissioner, who was previously at the Office of Police Integrity, where he sat on steering committees that oversaw two murder investigation taskforces that relied upon Lawyer X, told ABC Radio yesterday there had been numerous inquiries into events that transpired during Melbourne’s gangland war, none of which found he had been involved in unethical or illegal conduct. “I will be as truthful and frank as I can be,” he said. “Any suggestion I’ve done something illegal, that would have been dealt with at the time. It wasn’t — there was nothing to find. So I take confidence from that.”
Mr Ashton conceded, how- ever, that he might have to recuse himself from handling Victoria Police’s response to the royal commission.
“It’s something I want to discuss with the royal commissioner when they’re appointed,” he said.
Mr Ashton’s comments came as one of his predecessors, Simon Overland, faces increasing pressure to explain his own role in the scandal, following reports that he was an architect of the scheme that saw detectives direct gangland suspects to Lawyer X between 2005 and 2009 — the period in which she was acting as an informant.
Reports also emerged yesterday that Lawyer X was involved in a sexual relationship with her police handler, which were dismissed by Mr Ashton.
“It’s something the royal commission will look at. I’m very confident that when that matter will be examined it will be found to be unsubstantiated,” he said.
He again defended the actions of police during the “dangerous” period of Melbourne’s criminal history.
“How many lives were saved by the underworld killings being stopped? When you’ve got people being shot at Auskick events with kids running everywhere, they will be turning their minds to that.”
Mr Ashton denied that he was saying that the ends justified the means.