Cops tried to bury Lawyer X scandal
Once the royal commission kicks off there is no telling what it might find
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