Australia's latest crop of official coverups

Victoria police still full of corruption

Detective Sergeant Bill Patten is not one for visible displays of emotion. But his eyes glisten and his body tenses when he recalls the late-night phone call from fellow anti-corruption investigator, Mick O'Neil. It was 10pm, and O'Neil had just opened his letter box to find two police-issue .38 bullets. Engraved on the bullets were the names of O'Neil and his wife. "Mick was just a blabbering mess," says Patten. "I still get the hackles up the back of my neck, just talking about it."

It has been two years since the phone call and almost five years since Patten, 47, became one of the first investigators to join the Ceja taskforce, whose work would uncover some of the worst police corruption - from drug trafficking to money laundering - in Victoria's history. This week marked the official end of Ceja. With suppression orders lifted, the public learned that five drug squad officers had been convicted of drug trafficking. Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon praised the success of Ceja: "The investigators did a terrific job . and they put them before the court and I think that's the important part for the community to understand," she told ABC radio. But Patten, a policeman for 28 years, tells a darker, inside story of Ceja. He says he wants, for the first time, to "set the record straight".

According to Patten, the rot uncovered by Ceja went further than has ever been exposed. The response from force command to all that Ceja found led to missed opportunities to stamp out corruption; no senior officers have been brought to account; internal disciplining was "pathetic" and the official refusal to acknowledge links between corrupt police and the underworld was deceptive.

Patten tells, too, of the ostracisation, the harassment and the death threats against the men who worked in the taskforce, who were treated - and are still being treated, he says - as outcasts in a culture which often values loyalty above all. It is that betrayal that he has found so devastating. "We formed our own self-help group because we are the only ones who care for each other," he says. "The organisation doesn't care. We have just been cut loose."

Police officers are forbidden to speak publicly without authorisation, and Patten knows the risk he is taking. "I have been one of the most loyal, devoted police members for just short of 28 years," he says. "I gave the force 150 per cent to the detriment of my family. I have nothing to gain, but this is a public interest issue." ...

In early 2002, Patten headed to Melbourne to meet Detective Inspector Peter De Santo, whose Operation Hemi had recently charged two detectives, Stephen Paton and Malcolm Rosenes, with drug trafficking. Patten was told police command wanted a taskforce to examine allegations about drug squad corruption that had spilled over from Hemi. It was the first time Patten heard the name "Ceja". He had no inkling that, in a matter of months, he would begin "stepping on landmines". "As far as I was concerned, I went to do a job like any other job. We were told it was going to be a six-month test of the allegations to see if it had been all wrapped up by Hemi." Three years later, he was still there.

Patten was one of 11 recruits who began a covert intelligence probe into the drug squad practice of using criminal informers to supply raw chemicals sourced by police to drug-making syndicates. The "Controlled Chemical Diversion Desk" was a way of leading police to the so-called "big fish". It was a high-risk strategy but it was the potential for its abuse by police that Ceja was interested in.

The probe centred on claims that police corruptly sold huge amounts of chemicals to criminals and pocketed the profits and it took Ceja deep into Melbourne's criminal underworld. The task of corroborating or eliminating allegations was painstaking, given that many of Ceja's sources had little credibility. Ceja's eventual boss, Commander Dannye Moloney, called his team "the super-toe cutters", which members took as a reference to their thoroughness. Their detractors thought otherwise; as Ceja's existence became known, its members were slagged as "promotion-seeking lightweights at the filth", according to one crime department source. Whispers turned into threatening phone calls and warnings to back off.

All up, the list of threats against Ceja investigators could have been dreamt up in a film studio: bullets in the mail sent to one investigator; another investigator's wife and young daughter followed; one detective's house was broken into, but nothing taken. A criminal was found with a list of police car registration numbers, including several belonging to Ceja officers. "Mental torment is the thing that can f------ break people," says Patten, "and we had threats that someone from the underworld was physically going to murder an investigator. Vulnerable is not the right word."

There is ongoing disgust among the Ceja investigators about a lack of support from police command. "The bullets Mick got in his letter box; Ceja investigated it, no one was thrown into the investigation to support us. We were investigating our own threats! I mean, spare me!" The threats reflected the gravity of what Ceja was discovering. What started as 14 allegations against suspected corrupt police snowballed to more than 100. In one secret briefing to force command, 30 officers were singled out as possibly corrupt, including several who had left the drug squad and were working elsewhere in the force. Ceja's resources also grew; more than 40 staff members, including financial investigators and a barrister, fed into what ultimately became an almost five-year investigation into police drug trafficking, evidence planting, theft, drug taking and "green-lighting" (allowing criminals to commit crimes). "No one realised the gravity of what we found," recalls Patten. "It literally blew up in everyone's faces."

CEJA began to charge officers in 2003. Chief Commissioner Nixon committed to reforms, including overhauling drug investigation and informer management practices. But Patten says the reforms and Ceja's achievements fell far short of what Victoria deserves. "It has been five years now. Some of it (the corruption) is very significant and some of it has just gone out into the ocean. It is long lost. "There are probably a dozen to two dozen policeman in the Victoria police who haven't been charged who I say are crooks or who turned a blind eye to corruption. Some are commissioned officers (above the rank of senior sergeant) and senior detectives."

Those never dealt with range from officers who had active involvement in corruption to those who turned a blind eye, "selling their jobs by leaking information, inappropriate (criminal) associations, to those who had knowledge but were not strong enough to stand up and be counted."

Some of Ceja's unfinished work has been passed on to police internal investigators at the Ethical Standards Department and the Office of Police Integrity for review or examination; the OPI has questioned some officers in private hearings on the basis of Ceja intelligence. But Patten insists the opportunity to properly examine much of what Ceja initially found has been lost. To properly investigate all of the taskforce's corruption files would have meant a trebling of resources. Even then, he says, it would not have been enough. "There would have only been one successful way to investigate this stuff and that would have been a royal commission. No one else could walk away and say that Ceja was the appropriate investigative body to do the job. We did a good job, I'll still say that, but I say some of the rot would have been got rid off."

In opposing a commission, Nixon, the Ombudsman and the Government have argued that Ceja achieved more tangible results, while sparing the force the demoralising trauma that accompanies such a major government-ordered inquiry.

Patten responds that officers involved in corruption remain in the force, including in management positions. While he won't publicly reveal names or detail the evidence (he can be charged for leaking such information), he bases his comments on "various things like electronic surveillance". "Once you have been exposed to what we were exposed to, at the level we were exposed to it, there is evidence to make a decision on (as to whether someone is corrupt) as opposed to sufficient evidence to convict them."

Several investigators, closely aware of Ceja's work, back up his claims and share Patten's frustration at the "pathetic" internal disciplining of some police, which sometimes amounted to a sideways shift and a confidential admonishment.

They include a sergeant with significant unexplained wealth and numerous ties to several criminals and corrupt police, and a detective superintendent with a long history of suspected corruption. Patten blames an unspoken culture of protecting commissioned officers for the failure to bring to account those under whose watch corruption flourished....

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Police coverup in NSW

Senior NSW police and talk-back radio hosts have come in for stinging criticism in a report on the handling of December's race riot in the Sydney beachside suburb of Cronulla. A sanitised summary of the report - prepared by retired NSW police assistant commissioner Norm Hazzard - was released by the Government yesterday as a result of political pressure that has destabilised Police Minister Carl Scully. But The Australian understands the full report will reveal that the police commander responsible for quelling the riots lost control of the operation when he was trapped at Cronulla railway station by the violent crowd.

This serious problem could have been better managed, Mr Hazzard says, if Assistant Commissioner Mark Goodwin, commanding the operation, had been positioned in the hi-tech Police Operations Centre, designed for major policing operations and originally used during the 2000 Olympic Games. "The command structure and facilities to assist the commanders during the day were inadequate," the summary released yesterday says. "The review concluded that the risk assessment to indicate the necessary level of response was flawed. "Subsequently, the planning for the event was not adequate and some specialist resources that could have assisted in the management of the operation were not deployed." Mr Hazzard also says that in the six days leading up to the riot, "media interest in anticipation of public disorder had a continual presence in the Cronulla area".

The report says that, like the Redfern riots in February 2004 and the Macquarie Fields riots a year later, Cronulla showed that the NSW police hierarchy appeared unable to deal with serious public disorder.

Opposition police spokesman Mike Gallacher told The Australian last night that Mr Hazzard's report was "comprehensive proof that everything the Government has been saying about its support for police and resourcing is completely and totally false". He said the parts of the report on the revenge attacks that followed Cronulla, when released, would be even more revealing because "that's really where things turned pear-shaped".

Contrary to the official reason given for yesterday's release of part of the report - that further "unprecedented public speculation" on its contents could damage the reputation of police - it was rushed out on the explicit orders of NSW Premier Morris Iemma. Mr Iemma decided early yesterday that any political damage flowing from the report would be less painful than the circus created around Mr Scully's contorted accounts of why it could not be made public. Mr Scully's reasons have shifted. He originally told parliament the report was not complete, despite the fact that Mr Hazzard gave what he understood to be the finished version to NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney a month ago. Mr Scully later said the report had to be held back because Mr Hazzard was "deficient" in not interviewing enough senior police - a comment he has admitted he apologised to Mr Hazzard for on Wednesday.

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Coverup for a negligent bureaucracy

Victorians will be kept in the dark over why sex monster Mr Baldy was given a home near schools and playgrounds. The State Government has won a secrecy fight over documents about notorious pedophile Brian Keith Jones's shift from jail to a Flemington house in an area dubbed "kid central". The ruling also protects the criminal's personal affairs.

Kent St residents were furious when they learned last year that the sex predator had been put in their midst. Jones, 59, was moved to a unit in the grounds of Ararat prison just a day later. Concerned parent Margaret Simons sought details, through Freedom of Information laws, on the checks done before Mr Baldy was moved to the Flemington house, which was near a meeting place for children walking to and from school and was next door to a family with two young children.

But the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal refused access yesterday after objections from the Department of Justice. VCAT vice-president Judge Sandra Davis agreed the documents were exempt. Releasing them could undermine the parole system, reveal the personal affairs of Mr Baldy and corrections officers, give offenders sensitive security information, and discourage public servants from offering frank and candid advice. A disappointed Ms Simons is considering an appeal.

Jones, one of 700 registered sex offenders in Victoria, got his nickname by shaving the heads of six children he abducted and sexually abused. He was freed on July 13 last year after serving 12 years' jail for child sex crimes. Under a supervision order, he must wear an electronic ankle bracelet, keep a curfew and not contact anyone under 18. The VCAT decision follows allegations that the pedophile was able to give authorities the slip for more than three hours in August because his electronic tag could not keep track of his movements.

Corrections Victoria insisted Mr Baldy was removed from the Flemington home only out of concern for his safety and not because of second thoughts about the chosen location. The tribunal heard that checks on accommodation for released sex offenders not only assessed risks but also considered how to protect the community.

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1 comment:

  1. Well said John, your post was just before the secret meeting between Fish Mullett and Premier Bracks.

    There can never be a Royal commission into corruption while Bracks makes secret deals with the police union. It must be bloody hard to keep your integrity as a Victorian cop when so many around you are bent. the corrupt culture extends to Commissioner Nixon who is always shocked at reports of Corruption, she has been sidelined by Brasks and Mullett, the death of a Westminster democracy when the legislature colludes with the executive.

    http://www.hereticpress.com/Editorials/Editorial07.html#union

    Tim

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