Should the buck stop with the cops?
“Put simply, noble-cause corruption is the belief that the ends justifies the means, the noble cause being the putting of criminals behind bars,” he says.
Actually there is no such thing as noble-cause corruption. There is corruption, whether the motive is accepting bribes to keep crooks out of jail or fabricating evidence to put them in there.
A decent policeman once told me cops who planted evidence or faked statements were too lazy or stupid to do the job properly. He also said they were too egotistical to accept there wasn’t enough evidence to get a legitimate conviction.
It is fair to say Winneke took no prisoners in his submission, which turned a blowtorch on police from the handlers to the top brass.
The irony is that the royal commissioner, Justice Margaret McMurdo, has already said she too will not be taking prisoners, as she is disinclined to recommend criminal charges.
The reasons are twofold: witnesses are compelled to answer questions, which takes away their right to avoid self-incrimination; and the duty of a commission is to find the truth and recommend changes to stop the same mistakes being made again.
Whether charges should be laid, we were told, would be a matter for the Office of Public Prosecutions – but the OPP says that while they prosecute criminal breaches, they don’t investigate them.
Clearly McMurdo is going to find that police should not have used Gobbo as an informer and the former barrister breached her ethical duty to her clients.
But well before the commission started the High Court found “Victoria Police were guilty of reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging [Gobbo] to do as she did and were involved in sanctioning atrocious breaches of the sworn duty of every police officer”.
It is a great pity the commission’s brief is so narrow that it retraces the steps of the High Court without examining how Gobbo went off the rails and why her profession was unable or unwilling to deal with a rogue in their ranks.
There appears, at least publicly, no sign of any legal authority looking at how Gobbo was able to act as she did.
As a university student in 1993 she was arrested when a large amount of methamphetamine was found at her home. She pleaded guilty to two charges of possessing a drug of dependence and one of using a drug of dependence. No conviction was recorded and she was placed on a good behaviour bond.
Such a history would disqualify her from becoming a police constable and yet she was admitted to practice law.
And she is not alone. There are lawyers who have pleaded guilty to criminal offences escaping conviction after arguing they would lose their potential careers.
Not that police get it right all the time. When the colourful Detective Sergeant Paul Dale produced a dubious statement to support Tommy Ivanovic’s bogus self-defence argument at his murder trial, the alarm bells should have been ringing like Big Ben at midday.
Dale claimed that while drinking in a Brunswick pub, an unidentified man told him that Ivanovic was a “dead man walking”.
Dale’s statement was dismissed in court and yet the experienced detective was allowed to stay in the high-risk drug squad. He would later be implicated in a massive drug burglary and the murder of police informer Terence Hodson and Hodson’s wife Christine – allegations he has always denied.
One policeman found to have conspired with Hodson to rob a drug house, Malcolm Rosenes, was always considered to have an unhealthy interest in money, once offering to sell the newspaper he had just read at half-price.
Years earlier when police suspected a detective was bent they took him off the road, where he was a nuisance, and put him in charge of stored evidence in the drug squad, where he could get rich.
He engineered the theft of seized chemicals stored in locked containers to be sold back to drug dealers. While we should all encourage recycling, this was a step too far.
Gobbo was always a loose cannon and long before she was known to be too close to the cops, she was known to be too close to the crooks.
As a junior barrister she was socialising with a Mexican drug cartel boss. One lawyer who invited her to lunch in Carlton spotted her arriving in a Ferrari driven by drug boss Tony Mokbel.
While magistrates, judges and senior barristers repeatedly warned her she was breaking conventions by socialising with shady clients, no one did anything officially. She was not subject to a professional investigation and was not warned, admonished or punished.
Everyone turned a blind eye.
The Royal Commission (quite rightly) is examining the case of a witness known as “Mr Cooper”, a drug cook who worked for the Mokbels for years.
Gobbo and Cooper were close (he says it was sexual, she says it wasn’t). Gobbo tipped off police he was doing a cook in Pascoe Vale and later advised him to plead guilty to get a sentence discount.
As it was the third time he had been caught and this time he was in the lab (he stunk so much of drugs they ended up selling the unmarked police car), pleading guilty was the smart thing to do.
He worked as a police agent gathering evidence against others – evidence that will now be examined to see if it was admissible.
From the age of 14 he was close to the Mokbels and manufactured drugs for them for years but when Tony tried to force him to plead guilty to previous charges to protect one of his brothers, Cooper knew he was on borrowed time.
Gobbo says she did not betray professional privilege relating to passing on the drug lab information as theirs was not a client-lawyer relationship. She also says it was in Cooper’s interest to plead guilty. “The advice she gave Cooper was appropriate in the circumstances,” her counsel submitted.
Gobbo’s advice to Cooper to plead guilty is under the microscope yet when she stopped Cooper’s brother from doing exactly the same on the orders of the Mokbels it is of no interest to anyone.
According to a key police informer, when Cooper’s brother was arrested in 2003 over a Rye drug lab he was on the verge of confessing and implicating others when Paul Dale rang Gobbo.
‘‘She said that Dale must have realised that [the brother] was about to start talking about the Rye drug job and who was involved and he wanted to give up everyone. Nicola said that Dale then rang her to get her to come and talk to [the suspect]. Nicola said that on that day she convinced [the suspect] not to roll [talk].
“She was coming in and out of the police station and she would come and talk to Horty [Mokbel, brother of Tony] and me around the corner.”
The commission’s job is to deal with how police handled Gobbo, but the question remains: Does the buck stop with the cops?
At the commission Gobbo used the second grader’s excuse: “I didn’t mean it – they made me do it – don’t pick on me.”
Her lawyers argue the commission wants her head on a plate without looking at others further up the legal food chain: “There was material to suggest two current Supreme Court judges, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) and DPP/OPP knew of Ms Gobbo at the very least acting in conflict.”
The DPP flatly denies the claim, stating police deliberately concealed Gobbo’s role as an informer.
The Royal Commission has missile-locked on a model of a widespread conspiracy by police to use Gobbo even though they knew it was wrong. But what if they thought what they were doing was right? That if Gobbo breached her ethics that was her business?
Gobbo has been portrayed as a lone black sheep yet the commission received evidence that another lawyer had laundered tainted cash for Tony Mokbel at a Queensland casino.
The response was the legal equivalent of breaking wind in a crowded elevator. Everyone can smell it but no one has the slightest interest in identifying the offender. Better to stare straight ahead, hold your breath and pretend it didn’t happen.
And what have you got – At the end of the day?
What have you got – To take away?
A bottle of whisky – And a new set of lies
Blinds on a window – And a pain behind the eyes.
John Silvester is a Walkley-award winning crime writer and columnist. A co-author of the best-selling books that formed the basis of the hit Australian TV series Underbelly, Silvester is also a regular guest on 3AW with his “Sly of the Underworld” segment.