Editor's Column

VicPol’s Shame: Smelly Cans to Open

Last month the former Victorian Labor factional warrior and discarded minister from the Andrews government, Adem Somyurek, got enough support for a motion in the state’s Upper House to refer the “Red Shirts” affair to the corruption watchdog, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC). Somyurek declared that the electoral rort that elevated Daniel Andrews to Premier in 2014, using public funds to employ Labor operatives to campaign in marginal seats, was “the biggest political scandal in Victorian history”. However, there are two other contenders worthy of consideration for that title: the Lawyer X Affair and the Persecution of Cardinal George Pell. They have some revealing connections.

Although they were factional enemies, once Labor was returned to office at the 2018 election Andrews appointed Somyurek Minister for Local Government. The year before, the City of Whittlesea on Melbourne’s northern suburban outskirts had appointed former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Simon Overland, its Chief Executive Officer. Overland is now best known for his role in the Lawyer X scandal. During his time as Chief Commissioner from 2009 to 2011, he personally approved the recruitment of the criminal defence lawyer Nicola Gobbo as a secret police informer who provided information that put her own gangster clients in prison.

Overland was also known as a long-time loyal supporter of the Labor Party. He was forced to resign his position in 2011 after the Victorian police ombudsman accused him of doctoring crime statistics to support Labor at a time when law and order had become a big election issue. I recorded much of this in this column in December but will do a short reprise here.

The City of Whittlesea was itself a cauldron of factional infighting and in December 2019 Overland’s opponents on the council had the numbers to sack him. This happened at a time when publicity was rife about the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants under Margaret McMurdo. Overland was sacked by the council just a week before he was due to give evidence to the commission himself.

Premier Andrews was furious at the Whittlesea decision. He immediately moved to take revenge on the council and anyone who defended it. He terminated Adem Somyurek as minister, and appointed himself Minister for Local Government in his place. Andrews then sacked the entire Whittlesea council and replaced them with his own appointed administrators. This all happened from March to June 2020.

The connection between Overland and the prosecution of George Pell came in June 2019 when Overland used his position as Whittlesea CEO to give a job to a then unemployed rock singer and casual bartender, known as Witness J, the former choirboy who falsely accused Cardinal George Pell of child sexual assault in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne. While Pell languished in Melbourne’s Assessment Prison, Witness J enjoyed his first full-time employment in five years.

Walter Starck observed on Quadrant Online about this kind of government employment: “How better to assure that Witness J remains careful about anything he might say regarding the Pell trial, than to buy his ongoing caution with a well-paying salary for an undemanding job followed by a comfortable pension.”

There is a further connection between Overland and the Pell case that also should be better known. This is Overland’s relationship with Detective Inspector Paul Sheridan, who among Victoria Police personnel did most to secure the trial and initial conviction that sent Pell to prison for more than a year.

 

SHERIDAN joined Victoria Police in 1974. As well as completing Arts and Law degrees while on the job, he also took basic and advanced detective training. His early career included detective work for drugs, missing persons, homicide and organised crime. In 1998 he became a celebrity when he headed the multi-squad Lorimer Taskforce that provided the evidence that jailed two men for the murder of Victorian police officers Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller. The four-year manhunt for the killers was turned into one of the episodes of the television crime series Underbelly, in which Brett Climo starred as Sheridan.

In 2008, when Sheridan was a Superintendent of the inner-urban Melbourne region, Overland appointed him to conduct a review of the leaking of documents from Victoria Police’s elite Intelligence and Covert Services Division. The investigation and new security measures which Sheridan advised so impressed Overland that in 2010 he promoted him to head the Division itself.

It was there that Sheridan came to know about the information services provided by Lawyer X, Nicola Gobbo, and Overland’s responsibility for them. He was experienced and educated enough to know at the time that the connection between Gobbo and Victoria Police corrupted the prosecutions of her clients and debased the criminal justice system, as the High Court found when adjudicating on the issue in 2018. He also knew by then who else within the police hierarchy also knew of Gobbo’s role, and that it was a matter of strict confidentiality within the force itself. Not only defence lawyers of criminals were to be kept in the dark but Victoria’s own Crown Prosecutors were not to know either.

Sheridan retained that position until February 2015, when he was made Detective Inspector of the Serious Crime Division. His responsibilities there were for police squads devoted to fields he knew well: homicide, missing persons, arson and explosives. But he also became responsible for squads in the field of sex crimes, of which he had no experience. This included the Sano Taskforce on sexual abuse against children, and Operation Tethering which had been formed in March 2013 with the sole intention of finding evidence to nail George Pell.

Since 2012, the principal public figure in Victoria Police on the issue of child sexual abuse had been Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton. It was Ashton who made the submission to the 2012 parliamentary inquiry on the subject and fielded questioning by its members. It was Ashton who also had most influence on how the lower ranks of the police hierarchy responded to the crime. In July 2015, Ashton was promoted to Chief Commissioner. Almost immediately, he made a radical change to Operation Tethering, dropping the police previously responsible who, after two years of investigation, had no runs on the board. He turned to Sheridan to salvage the case against Pell.

However, Sheridan too found very little he could use. His detectives recorded interviews in Ballarat with complainants who made accusations about child sexual abuse at the local hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He found that the few witnesses who accused Pell were mostly psychiatric cases or local petty criminals motivated by the inquiry’s publicity and the prospect of compensation payments.

By the end of 2015 all Sheridan had was a story by a former choirboy who claimed that in 1997 he and a friend had been sexually abused by Pell in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral soon after Mass on a Sunday morning. Two desperate media appeals by police for people to come forward if they knew of any similar incidents, at either the cathedral or the city of Ballarat, were flops. A police raid for documents in the cathedral’s offices produced nothing of value.

Moreover, when he finally got around to interviewing Pell himself in Rome in 2016, Sheridan discovered the choirboy’s story of sex after Mass did not hold up. As Pell made clear in the interview, there was no time in the priests’ sacristy when a sexual assault could have taken place, it was impossible for the boys to leave their formal procession and get to the room when it was empty, and Pell was never alone after Mass as the choirboy claimed.

Rather than give the whole game away, Sheridan turned to the methods of policing that had served his career so well in the past. The choirboy’s original statements, which had already been revised to make them more credible for the committal hearings, were revised again. By the time Pell first faced a trial in court in August 2018 there was even more revising done to cover up some more of the holes in the story exposed at committal.

 

NOW, NOT ALL  of Sheridan’s colleagues in Victoria Police were as impressed by him as Overland and Ashton had been. At the same time as he oversaw the Pell case in 2015, and while the news media and public opinion were overwhelmingly on his side, Sheridan had some problems of his own generated by some of his fellow detectives in Victoria Police. Their target was the case that had made him famous, the murder of police officers Miller and Silk in 1998.

One of the convicted murderers in this case had always declared he was not present when his co-accused shot the officers. He offered a witness who gave him an alibi. Most of the evidence in the case was based on the fine detail of debris retrieved from the crime scene, which identified the car from which shots were fired, plus the final words of Senior Constable Rodney Miller to one of the first police on the scene as Miller lay dying on the ground nearby. In his review of the evidence used to convict the murderers, the Homicide Detective Sergeant Ron Iddles found that the statement given at the trial recording the final words uttered by Miller had been altered. Instead of the dying policeman’s words referring to two gunmen, the original statement written by the constable who comforted Miller to his end referred to only one:

Original statement:I said to him “Did you hit him?” and he replied “I don’t think so.” I closed the chamber of the firearm and replaced the firearm on the ground where I had found it.

Statement presented to court:I said to him “Did you hit him?” and he replied “I don’t think so.” I also asked him, “Were they in a car or on foot?” and he replied “They were on foot.” I asked him “How long ago did it happen?” and he replied, “Couple of minutes.” Miller was quite obviously in pain so I didn’t ask him any more questions. I tried to comfort him. I closed the chamber of the firearm and replaced the firearm on the ground where I had found it.

This alteration allowed Sheridan and his team to supplement their largely forensic case, which had not identified more than one guilty person, with a winning hand that persuaded the jury to declare that two were guilty.

Iddles, however, found little support for his findings within Victoria Police. His original review had been made in 2012-13 but the hierarchy was unwilling to question Sheridan’s methods or the trial conviction. The hierarchy advised the Attorney-General in the Andrews government, Martin Pakula, not to re-open the case.

Iddles eventually resigned from the police force in 2015, and took his case to IBAC. The anti-corruption commission opened a file on it but took its time. By 2017 it had launched a fully-fledged inquiry named Operation Gloucester, which required the presence of Sheridan as a witness. IBAC published its findings, as well as the transcripts of its interrogation of witnesses, in July 2020. The IBAC report, titled Operation Gloucester (available online), targeted Sheridan as one of the major offenders of improper evidentiary and disclosure practices, especially for supplementing the original witness statements made by or given to police with excerpts from statements recorded many months later that altered the meaning of the original:

Victoria’s independent police oversight body, IBAC, reveals that improper evidentiary and disclosure practices were used by some Victoria Police officers connected to the investigation of the murders of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller in 1998. A number of statements made by important witnesses were never included in the prosecution brief or disclosed at trial. 

IBAC is concerned that the improper practices identified in Operation Gloucester continue to be used by some Victoria Police officers today, and this has the potential to adversely impact the administration of justice in Victoria.

In short, not only was Sheridan’s approach unacceptable in the Miller–Silk case, but it had been rife within Victoria Police for decades, in particular among the fields for which Sheridan had long had responsibilities: homicide, missing persons, arson and explosives, and sex crimes. Without mentioning the Pell case, IBAC condemned practices that occurred during the period of his prosecution. IBAC said:

Because Victoria Police has never clearly called out and stopped such improper practices, IBAC has found there is a real risk that these practices continue to be used by some police today. We’ve seen recent cases, for example, involving the contamination of statements, fabrication of contemporaneous notes, and non-disclosure of relevant evidence.

These practices are not only still in use by some police today, they have also taken place right under the noses of journalists in the local and national news media. These are people who profess to be a fourth estate that keeps the bastards honest. In reality, only a handful of journalists have been aware of what has been going on—Anthony Dowsley of the Herald Sun and John Silvester of the Age are the stand-out exceptions in Victoria—and an even smaller number of media practitioners have had the guts to expose it.

Instead, journalist clubs and unions have heaped awards on those who have been ignorant of this form of police corruption and, as a result, have been led by the nose to create the kind of public atmosphere the police want.

With our mainstream news media such an appalling failure today, the cause of freedom and justice has lost a once reliable partner. As the Pell case showed, that cause is now dependent on a few wise heads in the judiciary who still have a lot of very smelly cans to open.

19 thoughts on “VicPol’s Shame: Smelly Cans to Open

  • Brenden T Walters says:

    Are you going to devote one of your writings, Keith, to explaining why there was/is such hatred for Cardinal Pell. And thank you for continuing the sage. I knew the Cardinal and if there is any justice in history, it should record him as one of Australia’s very greatest men.

  • DougD says:

    Yes Brendan, an interesting topic. Two of my elderly friends, intelligent and well-educated, vehemently reject suggestions that Cardinal Pell is innocent. They aren’t troubled in the least by the High Court decision, though one practised for decades as a barrister. Neither adhere to any religion though both are committed Labor voters.

  • Brenden T Walters says:

    Recently someone argued that Cardinal Pell was not found to be innocent, just not guilty. There is a presumption of innocence. One is innocent up until the time the jury reaches a guilty verdict. Otherwise he remains innocent. Your friends would have been comfortable on the jury in the Cardinals second trial – that’s probably why they don’t let barristers on juries.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    The only other person that I can recall to have suffered from such virulent and apparently irrational hatred as Cardinal Pell is Tony Abbott. Both are Roman Catholics, both are conservative, and both have been the subject of biassed and largely defamatory campaigns by the leftist media, among which the ABC has been the most vindictive. It’s no surprise that it was the ABC’s Barrie Cassidy who made the comment that Brendan referred to about Cardinal Pell not being found innocence. That the ABC continues to provide a sheltered workshop for such profoundly ignorant dunces is outrageous.

    • peter dwyer says:

      I think you’ve forgotten (maybe you were too young) what was done to Lindi Chamberlain and to a lesser extent her husband Michael. She was demonised by the same media that we have today with the exception of Sky News AFAIK. The poor woman was convicted by the Australian media just like Cardinal Pell. She was thought by some (just like Cardinal Pell) of being too cold in her demeanour. I suppose if she were a sobbing mess evertime a media camera was shoved in her face then she may have been treated differently. She was also seen as belonging to a weird religion (7th Day Adventists) so she must be suss.

  • mazziepudding says:

    Brenden asks why there is such hatred of Cardinal Pell. I can only offer some reasons from my own immediate circle.
    1. Cardinal Pell doesn’t come across as warm and fuzzy in TV interviews.
    2. He’s a Catholic authority figure.
    3.. Cardinal Pell is a man of conviction just as Tony Abbott seems to be. Some people have a problem
    with those who have firm beliefs.
    4. He’s been demonized by secular authority such as the government, the media and the police.
    5. One person in the circle was abused as a child by a relative and she carries the scars of that experience
    into old age, so that is the vale she sees any child abuse cases through.

  • pgang says:

    So the guy found guilty of murder is still in prison?

  • guilfoyle says:

    Wasn’t it the case that the Victorian police were heavily criticised by one of the Royal Commissioners? Does the pursuit of Cardinal Pell have anything to do with deflecting blame so that sexual abuse becomes the sole domain of the Catholic Church? The hatred of the authoritarian, mysogenistic, generally dreadful Catholic Church was, of course, what motivated the ABC and the Fairfax press. The reality is that networks operated within many institutions and that they were frequently protected by the police. Cardinal Pell was notable as the person who stepped up and took on the horrible task of addressing the abuse and compensating the victims. I agree with Brendan Waters – one of Australia’s greatest men – quite humbling to contemplate his forebearance.

  • Petronius says:

    Thank you for this ‘footnote’ to the whole miserable saga.

    Pell was made into a demon by popular opinion and the media and this dehumanising fed into the way he was perceived by the police, juries and judiciary. After all, if he was not really human but demonic then fairness, justice, procedure, and rationality were degraded in turn. What is really remarkable is how Cardinal Pell kept his courage, composure and human spirit.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    The more one scratches the surface of Vic Police, the more dirt is revealed. I suppose we should add Ron Iddles to Justice Weinberg as part of the small group in Victoria who understand how justice is supposed to work.
    As far as the Pell case is concerned, the main outstanding issues we know about are:
    1. What, if any, impact the money transferred to Australia by Cardinal Angelo Becciu may have had on the case?
    2. What is the exact relationship between Pell’s accuser and Simon Overland?
    Of course neither will be officially investigated in Victoria as long as Andrews is premier. The fish, as they say, rots from the head.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    I think the key to understanding how and why the Pell case played out as it did, is the politicization of the Victorian Public Service, and in particular the Victorian Legal system. I think it is telling that as soon as the case left Victoria (to the High Court) it was rejected unanimously by the full Court. I don’t think that the case would have got past first base anywhere else in Australia, except possibly in Queensland, which currently seems to be heading in the same direction as Victoria.

  • mazziepudding says:

    6. Cardinal Pell does not believe in anthropogenic global warming.

  • Michael Waugh says:

    Paradoxically ,the Pell scandal has been a fillip for the Church because of the Cardinal’s nobility in the face of such wicked corruption on the part of the media ( especially the Fairfax press and the ABC), the police, the majority on the Court of Appeal, and the politicians like Dan Andrews. The Church’s moral position on the preciousness of life from conception to death enrages many people, male as well as female, who wish to pretend that abortion (at any stage of pregnancy) and euthanasia are morally permissible at the whim or convenience of the killer. Such people are further enraged at the idea that sexual intercourse is a holy act that should only be performed under the sanctity of solemn vows of marriage between a man and a woman. That the most sacred duty of the married couple is the succour and nurture of their children. These moral strictures are an anathema to a society soaked in self-indulgence. It would be so pleasurable to such people to tear down the Church. The male hierarchy of the clergy is another reason to feel justified in hating the Church. Pedophilia, a societal problem, has been ingeniously weaponised to destroy the Church. It helps to justify anti-Catholicism, which is no more morally justified than , say, anti-Semiticism.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    1. What, if any, impact the money transferred to Australia by Cardinal Angelo Becciu may have had on the case?
    Good question IM.
    Looking up the transferee I found it had spun off the particular Vatican endowed entity to a company in Canada.
    It explained its function in an opaque way.
    What it appeared to offer was the ability to analyze societal movements and organize influencers to allow for a particular marketing outcome.
    Presumably there was a fee involved.
    ‘Nice work if you can get it….”
    It struck me that there was unlikely to be two million dollars spent on say, Project Compassion.
    Peter’s Pence did not even reach a low bar, as it was an appeal made from the pulpit.
    So the question remains, what did the Vatican spend this money actually on?
    I find it hard to see a marketing campaign involving the defense of the Church with its enormous practical works of support for the poor.
    Its hard to see that the Vatican even had this money as ready cash, judging by my reading of the 3rd edition of George Pell’s prison diary.
    So if not seen to be spent, was it being laundered?
    Watching these articles roll in Quadrant I note that our ABC has just dropped the infamous seminal, 7.30 report on George Pell down the memory hole.
    I hope the wayback machine retains it or perhaps a bevy of litigation lawyers.
    However, one remembers the famous Keating line ‘Mate, I want to do you slowly”
    There has to be a Pulitzer in this somewhere.

  • Sydgal says:

    Cardinal Pell explained the Cathedral protocols and practices to officers P Sheridan and C Reed in the 42 minute Oct 2016 Rome Interview in the public domain. There seemed to be confusion about the wine location and Sheridan asked about Cardinal Pell’s usual exit practices at the conclusion of Mass. Sheridan seemed to be very aware of detail. A New York Times article about the Committal in March 2018 reveals that Sheridan had led the investigation for the previous 2 years. The article stated Sheridan stood for the entirety of his cross-examination and angled his body and eyes away from R Richter. Sheridan agreed that “It would be horrible if an investigator decided not to pursue an obvious line of questioning just because he was afraid that the answers might destroy his case.” Who were the pre-March 2016 police investigators of the statements put forward by the complainants? One retired officer was interviewed by L Milligan in her March 2019 ABC 4 Corners Guilty program. Why weren’t the altar servers, con-celebrant priests and female staff who worked in offices at the Cathedral interviewed, and why wasn’t there an experiment on the timing of the long procession after Mass? If Milligan’s July 2016 730 program is missing from the ABC website, there should be an explanation as to why the content no longer appears.

  • Macspee says:

    The comment about the one- eyed barrister reminded me of the Chamberlin case and riding in an Elevator in Owen Dixon Chambers where there were cartoons stuck on the wall with a dingo with a smirk on its face saying ‘I didn’t ‘
    do it’ or to the effect that of course she was guilty. Some time ĺater of course she was vindicated, the Dingo convicted, and the cartoons disappeared.
    You can’t keep a good one-eyed leftie down.

  • searlesy0 says:

    Thanks Keith, for your good work. The continuing, firmly entrenched failure of the mainstream media is a crying shame. Unfortunately, Billy Gates & co. have got the political class, and the MSM, of the West eating out of their hands, like noisy, pointless little lapdogs. I do pity those sad, often well-meaning Australians who still listen/watch and even believe, the worthless drivel being dished out every day by our corrupt, dishonest leftist media..

  • Michael Waugh says:

    If memory serves, Lindy Chamberlain was paid some $3m when she was freed after 3 years. That was in the mid -1980s. I guess Dan is still trying to work out a fair sum to pay the Cardinal for his 404 days .

  • vdsrm says:

    I don’t really wish to contemplate the passing of Cardinal Pell as I am sure he will be around for some time yet. But let me say that when that time comes around, our spineless and vindictive media, ABC at the forefront, will mark Cardinal Pell’s passing with spiteful untested and irrational statements about his alleged past. They will rehash everything they can and instead of detailing the qualities of a person that are clear and inspiring, they will attempt to turn his passing into a ritual mob driven crucifixion. I would anticipate that the ABC will resurrect old archived interviews with alleged victims and those who always hated Pell.

    It can be seen in ABC stories even now about Cardinal Pell and the freshly aquited Zach Rolf in the Northern Territory. Despite being found Not Guilty, the stories keep providing full details of the “alleged” crimes. They keep providing all the points brought up in Court, they keep providing the perspectives of alleged victims and only somewhere hidden in the story do they confirm a Not Gilty verdict. In both Pell and Rolf and I am sure other cases, the vindictive media will continue to try and get it’s own back on those found Not Guilty despite the media’s best efforts.

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