Cops tried to bury Lawyer X scan­dal

Once the royal com­mis­sion kicks off there is no telling what it might find

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - CHIP LE GRAND

Vic­to­ria Po­lice spent $4.52 mil­lion try­ing to stop the Lawyer X scan­dal from be­com­ing pub­lic and con­victed crim­i­nals from learn­ing their de­fence bar­ris­ter was a snitch.

As the Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment pre­pares to ap­point two em­i­nent ju­rists from out­side the state to con­duct a royal com­mis­sion into the Vic­to­ria Po­lice use of a de­fence lawyer as a reg­is­tered in­for­mant, the full cost of a two-year bat­tle to keep the episode buried can be re­vealed.

Vic­to­ria Po­lice ini­ti­ated court ac­tion in 2016 to block Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions John Cham­pion SC from in­form­ing drug baron Tony Mok­bel and six mem­bers of The Com­pany, his dis­banded crim­i­nal or­gan­i­sa­tion, that their lawyer had led a dou­blelife as a po­lice in­for­mant.

The state Gov­ern­ment So­lic­i­tor’s Of­fice, on be­half of Vic­to­ria Po­lice, briefed Pe­ter Hanks QC and three ju­nior bar­ris­ters to ar­gue the case be­fore the Vic­to­rian Supreme Court, be­fore chas­ing its losses with a team of lawyers in the Court of Ap­peal and High Court.

It is un­der­stood po­lice, and ul­ti­mately the tax­payer, also picked up the tab for Lawyer X’s brace of bar­ris­ters, which in­clude a QC. When the High Court this week pub­licly re­jected a last-ditch spe­cial leave to ap­peal, the case had been se­cretly run­ning for 2½ years.

A Vic­to­ria Po­lice spokesman told The Week­end Aus­tralian the case cost the force $4.52m in le­gal fees. For that money, po­lice com­mand could have put an­other 67 first-year con­sta­bles on the street.

The op­pos­ing par­ties in the case, prin­ci­pally the Of­fice of Pub- lic Pros­e­cu­tions, agreed to pay their own le­gal costs.

The Vic­to­ria Po­lice spokesman said the court ac­tion was pur­sued to pro­tect Lawyer X from vi­o­lent ret­ri­bu­tion.

“Our pri­or­ity … has been the safety of the lawyer and her fam­ily, who we feared would be mur­dered if iden­ti­fy­ing ma­te­rial was re­leased,’’ he said.

“We are duty-bound to do all we can to keep peo­ple safe.’’

Lawyer X’s iden­tity re­mains pro­tected by court orders.

The le­gal bill means Vic­to­ria Po­lice will have spent nearly $10m on Lawyer X since first reg­is­ter­ing her as a hu­man source on Septem­ber 16, 2005. Af­ter ceas­ing to act as an in­for­mant in 2009, Lawyer X sued po­lice for fail­ing to ad­e­quately pro­tect her when she agreed to act as a prose­cu­tion wit­ness against a for­mer client charged with mur­der, Paul Dale.

That case re­port­edly ended in a $2.9m pay­ment to Lawyer X.

De­tails of ex­penses paid by Vic­to­ria Po­lice to Lawyer X ob­tained by Mr Dale’s le­gal team show that over the 10 months be­tween March and De­cem­ber 2009, Lawyer X re­ceived a weekly al­lowance of $1000, $27,332 of busi­ness-class flights and $22,300 for hire cars. Vic­to­ria Po­lice also paid for $344 worth of con­cert tick­ets, the $380 cost of her Vic­to­ria Rac­ing Club mem­ber­ship and a $113 park­ing ticket.

In a 2015 let­ter to Vic­to­ria Po­lice, Lawyer X said: “I, un­like any other in­former, did not re­ceive any fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance or sup­port to en­able me to work as an in­former.’’

The case against Mr Dale col­lapsed when Lawyer X re­fused to tes­tify and the key wit­ness, gang­land mur­derer Carl Wil­liams, was blud­geoned to death in jail.

To look at him, you’d never know he was a killer. A neat, be­spec­ta­cled, soft-spo­ken man, he had none of the bo­gan bravado that coursed through Mel­bourne’s gang­land. That’s what made him so scary. As de­fence lawyer Zarah Garde-Wil­son tells In­quirer: “If he knocked on your door to say he was there to fix your Fox­tel, you would let him in in a split se­cond.”

Don’t be fooled. Even within the blood­thirsty con­text of the gang­land war, “Ca­ble Guy” was a par­tic­u­larly nasty piece of work. He was in­volved in the ex­e­cu­tions of three peo­ple, all car­ried out in full view of chil­dren: Ja­son Mo­ran and Pasquale Bar­baro at a Satur­day morn­ing Aus­kick clinic, and the gun­ning down of drug traf­ficker Michael Mar­shall in front of his five-year-old son.

Be­fore any shots were fired in the gang­land war, he sadis­ti­cally raped a woman at knife­point in her own home. Through­out a hor­rific, two-hour or­deal, he tor­mented her in a voice de­scribed by his vic­tim as sneaky, calm, soft and clear. When Pu­rana task­force de­tec­tives ar­rested him in Oc­to­ber 2003, he was a ca­reer crim­i­nal with more than 100 con­vic­tions to his name.

Once preda­tors of this kind are fi­nally caught by po­lice, you’d hope they are in for life. In­stead, he is al­ready out, liv­ing among us, hav­ing served a min­i­mum sen­tence of just 10 years in jail. We can’t tell you where he is liv­ing and un­der what name be­cause, in Vic­to­ria, his iden­tity is con­cealed by a thick blan­ket of sup­pres­sion orders. But we can tell you how this was al­lowed to hap­pened. The story starts with Lawyer X.

Lawyer X was a crim­i­nal de­fence bar­ris­ter. She was also, for four years, reg­is­tered po­lice in­for­mant 3838. She in­formed on crooks. She in­formed on cops. In a griev­ous breach of le­gal ethics, she in­formed on her own clients. Ac­cord­ing to Lawyer X, she played a “piv­otal role” in con­vinc­ing Ca­ble Guy to rat on other crooks in ex­change for a sub­stan­tially re­duced sen­tence. This had a pro­found in­flu­ence on how the po­lice and courts dealt with some of Mel­bourne’s most se­ri­ous crimes and killings.

One of the crooks Ca­ble Guy rat­ted on was Carl Wil­liams, who was also a client of Lawyer X. At the same time, Lawyer X was visit- ing Ca­ble Guy in pri­son, ad­vis­ing him on how best to deal with po­lice and work the sys­tem, and help­ing him draft a wit­ness state­ment im­pli­cat­ing Wil­liams in mur­der, she was sup­posed to be serv­ing Wil­liams’s in­ter­ests. In­stead, she served him up on a plate to the Pu­rana task­force.

When con­fronted about this at the time by other mem­bers of Wil­liams’s le­gal team, she de­nied it. She has since changed her tune. In a 2015 let­ter to Vic­to­ria Po­lice made pub­lic this week, she claims she played a “piv­otal role” in con­vinc­ing Ca­ble Guy to roll over on Wil­liams and two other gang­land killers who also turned in­for­mant against him. Lawyer X said of Ca­ble Guy: “His ac­tions in be­com­ing a wit­ness for po­lice cre­ated a prece­dent for oth­ers to fol­low and was the crack in the dam wall of si­lence that led to a flood.”

An­other wall of si­lence was breached this week when the High Court, af­ter a failed two-year bat­tle by Vic­to­ria Po­lice and the bar­ris­ter to keep the scan­dal con­cealed, pub­lished a damn­ing judg­ment on the Lawyer X saga. The Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment has an­nounced a royal com­mis­sion into the man­age­ment of reg­is­tered hu­man source 3838. Any in­quiry worth its salt will fol­low the ev­i­dence be­yond this nar­row brief into the darker re­cesses of a trou­bling pe­riod in Vic­to­ria Po­lice his­tory.

The de­ci­sion to ac­cept Ca­ble Guy as a prose­cu­tion wit­ness and re­ward him gen­er­ously for his as­sis­tance started a chain re­ac­tion in which, in the prophetic words of Supreme Court judge Betty King, crooks ei­ther got on the bus or were run over by it. We now know who was driv­ing the bus.

The early re­lease from pri­son of three gang­land killers is a per­verse out­come of what the High Court de­scribed as Lawyer X’s “fun­da­men­tal and ap­palling breaches” of her pro­fes­sional obli­ga­tions and rep­re­hen­si­ble con­duct by Vic­to­ria Po­lice. An­other is the 35-year min­i­mum sen­tence im­posed on Ange Gous­sis, a gang­land patsy, for two mur­ders that no one in the un­der­world be­lieves he com­mit­ted.

Gous­sis re­fused to co-op­er­ate with po­lice and was con­victed of the mur­ders of Lewis Caine and Lewis Mo­ran. Cen­tral to each case was the in­volve­ment and ev­i­dence of a no­to­ri­ous gang­land killer and ma­nip­u­la­tor whose iden­tity and past crimes are sup­pressed by court or­der un­til the day of his death.

In a lengthy let­ter from jail pro­vided to In­quirer, Gous­sis ex­presses his frus­tra­tion at how jus­tice was car­ried out in the Lawyer X era. “At one stage at Bar­won Pri­son … the Aca­cia Unit, which was used to house most of the ac­cused, be­came known as the ‘Deal or No Deal’ unit. It was amaz­ing; here you have crim­i­nals that have killed and maimed peo­ple for years and years who were the or­gan­is­ers and trig­ger men for most of the gang­land mur­ders pre­pared to do a deal,” he writes.

“I’m not for one minute sug­gest­ing that the gang­land war was some­thing that didn’t need to be ad­dressed. Of course it had to be in­ves­ti­gated and stopped; it put a lot of peo­ple in dan­ger and it cre­ated a lot of ten­sion in the gen­eral com­mu­nity. But it’s what de­vel­oped from this that has to be in­ves­ti­gated; the process po­lice adopted in the way they gath­ered their ev­i­dence and the way they col­lab­o­rated with wit­nesses and coached them to get their story right to se­cure a con­vic­tion.”

Garde-Wil­son says the im­pli­ca­tions of this ev­i­den­tiary swap meet are still be­ing felt. As she puts it: “They wanted the peo­ple who were or­der­ing the killings be­cause they con­sid­ered them the worst, but they were will­ing for the ac­tual psy­chopaths to be walk­ing the street.”

How far might a royal com­mis­sion go? The scope and rel­a­tively short, 12-month du­ra­tion an­nounced by Vic­to­rian Premier Daniel An­drews sug­gests the gov­ern­ment would like to limit the in­quiry to the ac­tiv­i­ties of Lawyer X and avoid a broader ex­am­i­na­tion of how po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors cul­ti­vated, man­aged and re­warded su­per­grass wit­nesses. If the ev­i­dence leads into this area, it will be po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult for the gov­ern­ment to deny a re­quest by its royal com­mis­sion­ers to ex­pand the terms of ref­er­ence.

The breadth of Lawyer X’s in­form­ing is al­ready well known to Vic­to­ria Po­lice Chief Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ash­ton and his se­nior com­mand. Ash­ton com­mis­sioned for­mer po­lice chief Neil Com­rie six years ago to re­view the sys­tem fail­ings that had en­abled a de­fence lawyer to be reg­is­tered as an in­for­mant.

One of Com­rie’s rec­om­men­da­tions was for Vic­to­ria Po­lice to con­duct a deep-dive ex­am­i­na­tion of her ac­tiv­i­ties and com­pile an ex­haus­tive file of every in­ves­ti­ga­tion in which she pro­vided in­for­ma­tion. This work was over­seen by Doug Fryer in his for­mer role as com­man­der of in­tel­li­gence and covert sup­port. Now re­tired from the force, he was an ex­pe­ri­enced de­tec­tive who led the Driver task­force in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the 2010 jailhouse mur­der of Carl Wil­liams and had no in­volve­ment in manag­ing Lawyer X.

Ash­ton, As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner Luke Cor­nelius and for­mer chief com­mis­sioner Si­mon Over­land are the three most se­nior po­lice of­fi­cers whose con­duct will be closely ex­am­ined by the royal com­mis­sion. All three rose through the ranks of the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice be­fore com­ing to Mel­bourne at a time of sweep­ing cul­tural change within Vic­to­ria Po­lice. The three of­fi­cers were on the steer­ing com­mit­tee of the dis­as­trous Bri­ars in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a $30 mil­lion task­force that ran for seven years without se­cur­ing a con­vic­tion, and the Petra task­force. In both cases Lawyer X pro­vided in­for­ma­tion to de­tec­tives about for­mer po­lice of­fi­cers who were sus­pected of mur­der.

One of them, Paul Dale, was her client. He was charged with the 2004 mur­der of po­lice in­for­mant Ter­ence Hod­son but the case col­lapsed in 2010 when Lawyer X re­fused to tes­tify and a key wit­ness, Carl Wil­liams, was blud­geoned to death in jail. The other, David Wa­ters, met reg­u­larly with her to dis­cuss his le­gal af­fairs. He was sus­pected of be­ing in­volved in the 2003 mur­der of male pros­ti­tute Shane Chartres-Ab­bott but was never charged.

The twin task­forces were es­tab­lished at about the same time, in early 2007, to in­ves­ti­gate links be­tween po­lice and gang­land mur­ders. On Jan­uary 31, 2007, then deputy com­mis­sioner Over­land met his boss, chief com­mis­sioner Chris­tine Nixon, and Cor­nelius, the head of in­ter­nal af­fairs, to tell them what was go­ing on. “This was the smok­ing gun that the me­dia had been look­ing for and royal com­mis­sions and all the rest of it,” he said. He later de­scribed the Bri­ars in­ves­ti­ga­tion as the show­stop­per.

The real show­stop­per is this week’s judg­ment by the High Court and the re­lease of a pre­vi­ously sup­pressed 120-page de­ci­sion by Vic­to­rian Supreme Court judge Tim­o­thy Gin­nane de­tail­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of Lawyer X and pro­tracted ef­forts by Vic­to­ria Po­lice to hide them from pub­lic view. Lawyer X tes­ti­fied in the case, which was an ap­pli­ca­tion by Vic­to­ria Po­lice to stop the com­mon­wealth Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions from writ­ing to two con­victed drug traf­fick­ers, Tony Mok­bel and Robert Karam, to tell them their lawyer was a po­lice snitch. The most re­mark­able claim she makes is she pro­vided to po­lice the bill of lad­ing, or cargo man­i­fest, for a ship car­ry­ing a con­tainer of tomato tins from Naples to Mel­bourne. Hid­den in those tins were 3.4 tonnes of ec­stasy pills.

That in­for­ma­tion, if true, seeded an AFP in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to the world’s largest MDMA bust and jail­ing of more than 30 peo­ple in­clud­ing two clients she acted for, Pat Bar­baro and Karam. The bill of lad­ing is said to have been sup­plied to Lawyer X by Joe Man­nella, an­other client. In her 2015 let­ter, she names all three in a “top 10” list of the most sig­nif­i­cant po­lice ar­rests she con­trib­uted to.

Lawyer X claims in­for­ma­tion she pro­vided to po­lice is con­tained in 5500 sep­a­rate in­for­ma­tion re­ports or IRs — in­tel­li­gence brief­ings used by de­tec­tives to pur­sue leads and gather ev­i­dence. There is an­other level on which Lawyer X po­ten­tially aided the pros­e­cu­tions of her own clients.

From July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2009, a six-year pe­riod of fre­netic ac­tiv­ity for gang­land-bust­ing Pu­rana task­force and the con­tentious Bri­ars and Petra in­ves­ti­ga­tions, Vic­to­ria Po­lice se­cured 2049 war­rants en­abling po­lice to in­ter­cept the phone calls and other com­mu­ni­ca­tions of sus­pects. The sworn af­fi­davits sup­port­ing these war­rants and the in­for­ma­tion cited in those af­fi­davits can­not be dis­cov­ered by de­fence lawyers. In how many in­stances were war­rants for tele­phone taps based on in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by Lawyer X? Once a royal com­mis­sion starts turn­ing over those rocks, there is no telling what it might find.

The royal com­mis­sion will also fol­low the money.

In her 2015 let­ter to po­lice, Lawyer X claimed she re­ceived no pay­ment for the in­for­ma­tion she sup­plied.

“In fact the con­trary is true,” she said. “I paid for all kinds that po­lice usu­ally pro­vide fi­nance for such as in­ces­sant phone calls to crim­i­nals, en­ter­tain­ing (cof­fees not al­co­hol), count­less trips to pri­son etc.” She also claimed she turned down po­ten­tially lu­cra­tive briefs be­cause she was con­flicted, hav­ing in­formed on the very peo­ple who were ask­ing her to rep­re­sent them. From what we al­ready know, these state­ments ap­pear to be false.

When Paul Dale was charged with Hod­son’s mur­der, his le­gal team sub­poe­naed any in­for­ma­tion they could about Lawyer X’s deal­ings with po­lice. This in­cluded any fi­nan­cial in­duce­ments or re­wards she might have re­ceived for agree­ing to tes­tify as a prose­cu­tion wit­ness against her client and, in ef­fect, cruel a on­ce­promis­ing le­gal ca­reer. They dis­cov­ered that Vic­to­ria Po­lice, in Lawyer X’s fi­nal 10 months as a reg­is­tered po­lice in­for­mant, pro­vided her a $1000 weekly al­lowance and paid for 38 busi­ness class flights worth $21,000 and $22,000 worth of hire cars and chauf­feur ser­vices. They also picked up the bill for $76,363 in ac­com­mo­da­tion and her Vic­to­rian Rac­ing Club mem­ber­ship.

In all, Vic­to­ria Po­lice pro­vided $194,769 of good­ies to Lawyer X in less than a year. This did not buy them her loy­alty. The fol­low­ing year she ini­ti­ated le­gal ac­tion against chief com­mis­sioner Over­land, and even­tu­ally se­cured a re­ported $2.9m pay­out.

‘They were will­ing for the ac­tual psy­chopaths to be walk­ing the street’ ZARAH GARDE-WIL­SON DE­FENCE LAWYER


De­fence lawyer Zarah Garde-Wil­son, left; right, from top, gang­land fig­ure Carl Wil­liams, con­victed mur­derer Ange Gous­sis and Vic­to­ria Po­lice Chief Com­mis­sioner Gra­ham Ash­ton

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