The lie from which the Gobbo scandal grew
The Purana taskforce made its reputation as a gang buster on the day it convinced one of Carl Williams’ henchmen to roll against his boss.
The McMurdo royal commission has now exposed that reputation as being built on a lie.
Then-Senior Sergeant Stuart Bateson leads members of the Purana taskforce away from Melbourne Magistrates Court in 2003.Credit:Michael Rayner
When a nasty crook identified in royal commission documents as "McGrath" agreed to turn Crown witness against Williams in 2004, he broke Melbourne gangland's version of the omerta.
From that moment, it was every gutter-level criminal for themselves as killers turned supergrass and helped Purana detectives jail Williams, track down Tony Mokbel in Greece and end the bloodshed.
The royal commission has now broken another omerta – the preparedness of police detectives and senior officers overseeing their work to compromise the entire justice system and keep their deceit hidden.
McGrath blazed a path for other crooks to follow and they found reduced sentences and preferential treatment as a result. He also “provided the template for Victoria Police’s relationship with Ms Gobbo", according to the royal commission's final report.
Ready to roll: the Purana Taskforce helped Nicola Gobbo conceal evidence in their pursuit of gangland kingpin Carl Williams, pictured here leaving court in 2004.Credit:John Woudstra
The defining feature of this relationship was the police knowledge that Gobbo was acting as McGrath’s lawyer while informing against him. If they didn’t encourage it, they condoned it.
Gobbo wasn’t yet registered as an informer but, as the royal commission noted, she was in effect operating as one. Later she became an “agent’’ of the Purana taskforce.
In return, Purana detectives helped her to cover her tracks. Fatefully, they ensured that changes she made to McGrath’s statement to bolster the police case against Williams were not disclosed to the courts or other defence lawyers.
From this lie, the Informer 3838 saga grew.
Royal Commissioner Margaret McMurdo.
“Had the true nature of Ms Gobbo’s involvement with Mr McGrath been disclosed the events giving rise to this commission would probably not have occurred,’’ Ms McMurdo concluded in her report.
“The conduct of Victoria Police and Ms Gobbo in Mr McGrath’s case began the web of deceit that grew more complex over time. The need to conceal her assistance to police to protect her safety clouded officers’ decisions and allowed them to rationalise their conduct.’’
The episode shaped how the Purana taskforce later used Gobbo to rat out and manipulate other clients – the killer who framed Faruk Orman for a murder he didn’t commit and the drug cook who provided police more than 40 statements and underpinned a major drug conviction against Mokbel.
Gobbo also became a snitch for hire in a series of Purana spin-offs. She floated then scuttled the Petra taskforce investigation into the murders of Terence and Christine Hodson. She emerged as a Hail Mary witness when the Briars taskforce investigation into the murder of Shane Chartres Abbott was beyond redemption.
It is only now, with the entire, rotten mess exposed, with crooks queuing to get out of jail and the Purana legacy in tatters, that police will admit that what they did was wrong.
Until as recently as last year’s royal commission hearings, current and former police called to testify offered a “simplistic solution to the ethical dilemma’’ of Gobbo betraying her clients: that Gobbo’s conflict was hers to manage, not theirs.
When examining the case of McGrath, Ms McMurdo rejected this outright.
“The commission is satisfied that Victoria Police officers who knew of Ms Gobbo’s role in relation to the preparation of McGrath’s statements, and knew that they were not disclosed to the defence, engaged in conduct that may have undermined the administration of justice.’’
Nicola Gobbo, when she was still a familiar sight around the Melbourne courts precinct.Credit:Vince Caligiuri
Some of the names of the police involved will be familiar to those who followed the extraordinary events and aftermath of Melbourne’s gangland war. At the time of the McGrath arrest, the Purana taskforce was overseen by Simon Overland, a future chief commissioner of police, and run by then detective senior sergeant Gavan Ryan.
Stuart Bateson, now a Victoria Police Commander, was the lead detective.
In 2005, just as Gobbo's informing was heating up through the Source Development Unit, Jim O’Brien took over the running of Purana. From Gobbo’s very first meeting with the SDU, it was made clear they and Purana were targeting her biggest client of all.
“Tell me everything you know about Tony Mokbel,’’ her senior handler Sandy White said.
Ms McMurdo has recommended that police who ran and oversaw the Purana taskforce and the members of the SDU be referred to a special investigator with the powers and resources necessary to investigate them for crimes and charge them with disciplinary offences.
“Although these matters occurred more than a decade ago, it is critical that serving and future police officers have moral clarity about their duties and obligations as police officers,’’ Ms McMurdo found.
“Abuses of those obligations, even in the context of extreme pressure from the community to solve dangerous crimes, cannot be tolerated. If detected, even years later, they will be exposed.’’
On Monday, Attorney-General Jill Hennessy promised to establish that office. In doing so, she referred to a decision taken last week by the federal government to establish a special prosecutor to deal with Australian soldiers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.
In response to allegations against our special forces, the ADF disbanded a Special Air Services squadron at the centre of the scandal.
Victoria Police might consider whether the Purana taskforce should go the same way.
Start your day informed
Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in National
Source: Read Full Article