The journalists Anthony Dowsley and Patrick Carlyon are outstanding practitioners of their craft. They have written a must-read, cracking story of Australia's worst ever legal fiasco. Naturally, it involves Victoria Police.
What is one to make of Anthony Dowsley’s and Patrick Carlyon’s recently published book Lawyer X (HarperCollins 2020)?
The authors are both Melbourne Herald Sun journalists, mercifully old school, and therefore committed to truth, transparency and the urge to make known to the public that which should be known to the public. They have lifted a thousand rocks to discover what lies beneath. And the authors themselves are a key part of the story they tell, adding to what is already a captivating read.
One is simultaneously repulsed by the material covered in this outstanding and deeply troubling book, yet compelled to read on through the slime that is revealed. Every page prompts the response – is this for real? In twenty-first century, democratic Australia?
Alas, it is all true. Not the stuff of fiction, but a mirror held up to our naïve perceptions of justice in our land. It is numbing, unbelievable, “unprecedented”, to borrow from the Covid lexicon of 2020.
Then you remember – it is all about Victoria Police. Nothing – nothing – should surprise. A peculiar institution whose self-image is: we are above the rule of law, excused of all sorts of subterfuge in order to enforce our version of it.
But it is also about a crooked lawyer the like of which Australia has never seen before. Her name is Nicola Gobbo, the daughter of privilege and a woman of astonishing skills and ambition. A girl who wished to be queen, and who decided to be a double agent and who made multiple choices that led, certainly, to the conviction of criminals, but also to the crushing of any faith one might have in the system of justice.
It is a story about the drug dealing, ersatz glamourous criminal classes of Melbourne, for whatever reason a particular magnet for those who would seek to make millions out of human misery.
And the book is also about the State of Victoria. The state of sleaze, as it happens. A state of blood wars. Not that liveable, after all, despite all the accolades. It is a book about the absolute power of the police, wielded by those who should have known that their duty was to be servants of what the citizens of Victoria might have reasonably hoped would be a far more limited notion of government.
The cowboys south of the Murray – who still, to this day, control the levers of power – are revealed in all their hideousness in this tawdry tale. They pulled off nothing short of the greatest legal scandal in Australia’s history. Nothing else comes close. The whole basis of the justice system was overturned. Gutted. Covered up. Lied about. Under oath. By senior civil servants on massive salaries and egos to match, with nothing of concern to them other than their own reputations.
They will say – it was all done in a noble cause. The end to the drug wars of Melbourne, the biggest political issue in Victoria during the 2000s. I beg to differ. It is all self-serving b.s., propagated by rogues on a mission to do … who knows what?
This is a book about awful people. Sadly, not all of them are career criminals. It is a book about a drug war, about politicised and utterly compromised police, about unimaginable cover-ups, about a corrupt, failed state. And about a neo-communist government in the hands of creepy megalomaniac that, strangely, survives with ongoing popular approval.
To set the story down briefly.
A criminal lawyer who represented the key figures of the Melbourne underworld decided to become a police informer. Against her own clients, from whom she continued to collect massive legal fees, and to whom she continued to offer legal advice while, all the way through, she was helping the cops to put them away. Some were her friends. The biggest names in the underworld. Some were lovers. It is entirely plausible that she was, on occasion, an accessory to all sorts of crimes. Her services to criminal justice were unparalleled. Not in a good way. She trashed the core principle of Australia’s legal system. The inviolability of the lawyer-client relationship. She sensed in VicPol an institution more than ready to comply with her bizarre mission.
The McMurdo Royal Commission, finally called to try to sort the mess and the direct result of Anthony Dowsley’s outstanding, indefatigable, fearless journalism, has recently reported (late 2020).
What will come of it? Victoria Police, a shadow government, a law unto itself, a hillbilly dictatorship that puts Joh’s Queensland to shame, will not be giving in just yet. Not by a longshot. When VicPol was excoriated by the High Court, it simply regrouped and came back again for another crack. The McMurdo Report will be seen by VicPol as a minor bump in the road. VicPol assigned 100 officers to the task of keeping information from the Royal Commission and spent $1.5m a month so to do. Serious commitment to the people of Victoria? Arse-covering, more like it. The one thing that VicPol does well.
The book’s principal character is, of course, Nicola Gobbo. Aka Informer 3838.
A totally weird, troubled, conflicted, perhaps mentally ill – she has been treated by psychologists for decades, though it isn’t clear whether her mental state was the cause or the effect of her double dealing, or both. A freakish personality who all but blew up the State of Victoria. A woman who lived on the edge, about whom it was said by one of her police minders – “she has rooted most of us”. In every way, it seems. The entanglements, sexual and otherwise, were mind boggling. Over decades, in which she acted as a police informer both formally (Informer 3838) and informally. She generated massive intel which allowed a whole generation of coppers to claim that thet were winning the gangland war. A political issue. Servants of the Victorian state apparatus. All out of the public’s view. That is, until a journo (Dowsley) with a nose for a story turned up, and started asking the sort of questions that most of his peers now seem unable to ask.
His was to be a five-year campaign to reveal the truth, obstructed at every turn by a VicPol determined that the truth would never come out.
Gobbo was good. Her capacity to walk on all sides of the law while (mostly) safeguarding her cover bespeaks (weird) courage, sublime acting skills, forensic attention to detail, if motivated by her obsessed desire to keep her secrets safe, crazy-brave risk-taking on an industrial scale. She generated 5,500 information reports between 2005 and 2009. She claimed that 386 arrests were down to her. Her capacity for deceiving her criminal clients was impressive. Most implicitly trusted her. Carl Williams came to realise her game. Most of the others did not. To keep this up, through episodes of anxiety, depression, paranoia and fear for her life, was astonishing, and is covered in detail in the book. And a stroke in 2004. She was relentless in her pursuit of criminal convictions that bent the law totally out of shape.
Gobbo was a drug, an addiction, for VicPol. A ticket to political and public approval for “ending” the drug wars. And they knew it was wrong. The book makes this VERY clear. VicPol spent years and serious money to cover up the arrangement with Gobbo. Ostensibly, to help protect her from the inevitable attention of those who she had betrayed. In reality, to protect themselves, including the top brass, from prosecution for crimes against the state. Small “t” treason.
Gobbo fell out with her salivating protectors in VicPol. Despite a payout of $2.88m in 2010 for services rendered, she turned on them and sought a $20m payout after they dumped her. To no avail.
But the book’s import is far wider than the machinations of the blonde bombshell lawyer who threw justice to the wolves. It exposes what might be termed deadwood justice, just down the road. In our country. Now.
To be honest, I am not that interested in Gobbo, the nutjob, bogan lawyer from central casting who screwed criminals and coppers (in every sense) at will and betrayed just about everyone she infected. Yes, this is her story, the title of the book. But she is so repulsive that one can almost ignore her during the read, and look beyond at the greater questions that her story reveals.
Here are some of my key take-outs from the book:
- Victoria Police is hopelessly political. The abandoning of the whole justice system in the pursuit of victory in the gangland wars was politically motivated.
- Three Police Commissioners have had their credibility completely shot to pieces. Lying under oath is a plausible hypothesis.
- Then there are three amigos, all recruited from the Australian Federal Police. Overland, Ashton and Luke Cornelius.
- Victoria Police is a law unto itself, protected by a succession of Labor Governments going back to 1999.
- The lengths to which VicPol has gone to pervert the cause of justice and to cover up its grotesque sins simply beggars belief. The lengths to which VicPol went to hide its evil, self-serving ways, costing the taxpayers of Victoria tens of millions of dollars, bespeak a breathtaking lack of self-awareness and misplaced priorities. An embedded culture that says – we are above the law.
- Nothing, absolutely nothing, trumps VicPol’s corporate instincts for reputation protection.
- There is no rule that these people will not break.
- Like every modern corporate, VicPol’s core raison d’etre is not law enforcement, but “a result” at any cost. Any cost.
- The bungling, the make-it-up-as-you-go-along practices, the confused sense of right and wrong, the utter relativism of the police involved in the deceptions, and the complete absence of any sense of what a justice system is, are revealed in spades.
- Hundreds of police knew about Gobbo. Hundreds. The shifty top brass, the handlers, the various task forces who only nailed crooks because of Gobbo. All culpable.
- The utter laziness of policing in Victoria. They didn’t have a clue how to stop the gangland wars until Gobbo came along. They fought the gangland wars by getting Gobbo to nudge minor gangland figures to grass on their bosses in order to reduce their own prison sentences. They became addicted to success achieved without any contribution by them.
- Nobody, but nobody, emerges from this saga with a shred of credibility.
The star criminal characters in the book have some interesting names. The European. The Driver. Shifty. The Assassin. Mr Average. Mr Beautiful. The Watcher. The Chemical Brothers. Fatboy. Teflon Tony. The Golden Greek. The Red Baron (none other than Robert Richter QC, who, before representing Cardinal Pell, defended underworld figures). Drug barons, supergrasses, criminals in blue, celebrity crooks like the Mokbels and Carl Williams. Rodney Collins – the Hitman. Most of them ended up dead, before their time.
This is not Breaking Bad. It is Melbourne, Australia.
Sinister people, evil people, whose main reason for being was to manufacture, supply and obscenely profit from drugs consumed by the vast middle classes and underclasses who “use”. The professionals, the youth, the elites who pop ecstasy and methamphetamines. Our work colleagues. Our neighbours. Our family members. Who have either decided that the real world is just too boring, or that they need something else to get by. Ordinary, drug-using people are the ones who make their world. Their market.
This is a story about our troubled age. Where truth is cast asunder routinely and without blushing, for political and career ends, by overpaid people who possess neither moral backbone nor any real sense of decency or public service. Where the state makes up the rules as it goes along, absent perspective and a sense of the moral order, the result is Gobboland.
What a truly disgusting organisation Victoria Police has become.
Its “leaders” still walk free. Ashton, the circus ringmaster, retired and unlamented. Simon “I never kept a diary, oh, oops I did” Overland, mercifully sentenced to life as a shire clerk for a middling rural centre in Van Diemen’s Land. Christine “Big Kev” Nixon, who seemingly cannot recall a thing, spruiking her mediocre services on the second-tier speakers circuit and pretending to be an expert on “leadership”. A circle in hell should be reserved for these second-rate bureaucrats who desired nothing more than aggrandizement and status.
Back to the book.
What a service these journalist warriors have performed for us. We knew some of the story, thanks to the Herald Sun’s courage in pursuing the story of Lawyer X, and to the recent, exemplary work of the McMurdo Royal Commission. (The Herald Sun’s then editor, Damon Johnston, who empowered the authors, deserves massive credit).
The latest in a long line of mediocrities to head up VicPol, at least apologised following the release of the McMurdo Report. His name is Shane Patton, yet another internal appointment to the role of Commissioner. One of the Get Pellers, incidentally. He prospers, but who among us would want to be heading up VicPol? He should be embarrassed to collect his salary.
But apologies are not enough. Not by a long shot. Nothing short of a change of government, and a new government with cojones, will suffice to put this woeful charade of deadwood justice behind us. Charges must be made. Heads must roll.
And yet, VicPol just rolls on, undeterred and unembarrassed. All is buried amid the Covid madness, where all matters other than the pursuit of a virus are parked indefinitely. Not only does VicPol just roll on, undeterred. It has ramped up its role to ever new heights. It has taken to its new role of bullying citizens with the relish of an institution mightily relieved that there is now something to distract us from its crimes against justice. What luck!
Maybe the answer to the gangland wars was to just let all of these drug barons kill one another, and to get on with looking after the interests of the rest of us citizens. Not one of those killed on the killing fields of Melbourne was lamented. But no. There was a political imperative. Governments demanded that police solve a political problem. So, the cowboys delivered. With the help of a harlot. With big blonde hair, big tits, short skirts and no moral compass. Yes, she delivered. But she delivered to a corrupt institution that sold the rule of law down the river. An institution which had absolutely no corporate understanding of what the rule of law actually means. For short-term glory and the thanks of mediocre politicians.
Job done. Er, not quite.
Thanks to Dowsley and Carlyon. Two very worthwhile candidates for Australians of the Year. In a year when our journalists have largely quit their jobs, these men are standouts. They got down among the weeds, and so did us all a massive favour. They did it in style, too. This is a well written tome. Carlyon is, of course, the son of a giant of Australian journalism, Les Carlyon. And Dowsley is no slouch either. They have managed to tell a very, very complicated story with clarity, precision and authority. They have cleverly woven into the narrative their own tortured and painstaking journey of discovery. All the while battling the expertly deployed and secretive forces of the Deep State. And the Deep State doesn’t get any deeper than that of Victoria. A state of totalitarian control, as 2020 has taught us.
They don’t answer every question. But they lay out all the relevant facts, with considerable support from their inevitably anonymous sources, and in so doing point the way for others to unpack further the import of their story. The important questions for democracy and the justice system need further work. These guys have set it all up.
The story is far from over. Crooks embedded in Victoria’s prisons – those that aren’t dead, like Carl Williams – are lining up to have their compromised trials overturned. From the sleazy Mokbel thugs down. Up to six hundred trials, according to the authors. What a circus. Ashton’s Circus.
What over our intrepid double agent?
Who cares, really? She eschewed police protection all those years, for whatever reason. Much of the VicPol cover-up was ostensibly to protect the informant, whose life would be endangered if the truth were revealed. She made those choices. The Supreme Court judge – one Timothy Ginnane – who finally called time on VicPol’s five-year campaign to suppress the truth and the High Court got it right. The High Court’s view was that VicPol was “reprehensible”. That it “debased fundamental premises of the criminal justice system”. It “poisoned the fountain of justice”. The rule of law wins over concerns for the safety of a low-life snitch who betrayed everyone she knew.
Gobbo should be charged, of course. Just like half of VicPol. Watch this space.
This book is a must-read. Unedifying but compulsory. A page-turner that reveals to us the worst things that we could learn about our country. It tells us that we have little reason to trust those who govern us and who are charged with our protection. They are either crooks or so consumed with their own importance that they simply don’t give a rat’s. We have lost our innocence. That is to be lamented, and pondered.
A minor criticism of the book. No index! Do better, guys!
Hey, you are forgiven.