Sir Ken blows the police whistle
BECAUSE he appeared there on a Friday, before a weekend awash with Boris, what he said is yet to resonate. The testimony given by Sir Ken Jones last week at the Lawyer X Royal Commission has implications that go beyond the Nicola Gobbo scandal. The ex-deputy commissioner of Victoria Police accused its highest ranking officers of crimes, “unethical” behaviour and “toxic” malice. Senior officers had a “strong culture of loyalty” to the chief commissioner, Sir Ken told the Commission, but “not to the law.” That attitude led to the “illegal” use of Ms Gobbo to inform on her clients and constituted an “industrial subversion of the criminal justice process,” he said. The Office of Police Integrity (OPI) – tasked as a corruption watchdog – was in “lockstep” with VicPol leaders. In other words, it looked the other way. Less a watchdog than a castrated poodle.
At the time, the commissioner was Simon Overland and the assistant director of the OPI was none other than Graham Ashton. Honest cop on the beat – and one of the most honoured of his generation (Fulbright Scholar, UCLA associate professor, Queen’s Medal, knighthood) – Sir Ken was forced out in 2011 on suspicion of leaking to the media. Infamously, his phone was tapped during the heated stand-off – which arose over Mr Overland manipulating crime statistics to assist the Brumby Labor government prior to the 2010 state election. In 2014, the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission found the Overland leaking claims to be baseless nonsense. The fear Sir Ken inspired was apparently limitless. He testified on Friday that he was made aware of a plan by the OPI to “illegally burgle his home and interfere with his computer.”
Mr Ashton gave evidence to the Royal Commission earlier last week. Asked about his failure to rein in criminal police conduct, he said using Ms Gobbo was “sanctioned” by higher-ups. (The Nuremberg defence). He was also grilled about why he stopped making diary notes for two years during which Gobbo-sourced intelligence was being exploited in relation to two murder investigations. He denied under oath that he was following advice proffered by Mr Overland to keep records of the operation beyond subpoena.
Documents released in April showed that both men, Messrs Overland and Ashton – who oversaw Ms Gobbo’s spying between 2005 and 2009 – believed she was mentally ill but persisted anyway. Alternatively, they wanted suspicions of mental illness in the record for insurance purposes. (Note what was being filed and what wasn’t). Nor did they seek legal advice about using her, it being easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Whether Hopper’s aphorism proves true only time and the Royal Commissioner’s findings will tell.
An ever-lengthening rap sheet
By 2013, Simon Overland had fallen on his sword, Sir Ken’s vindication was a year away and Graham Ashton was now Deputy Commissioner. The media and political drumbeat against child sexual abusers in the Catholic Church was becoming louder as the echoes of the final shots in the Melbourne gangland killings faded away. Peter O’Callaghan QC, in charge of the Catholic Church’s Melbourne-based complaints system, was excoriating Mr Ashton for the false testimony he had given to the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into sex abuse in late 2012. Described as a “withering takedown” by John Ferguson in The Australian – the newspaper that obtained a transcript of O’Callaghan’s rebuttal – it left in tatters VicPol’s allegations about Church failure to report abuse to police and the number of suicides attributable to it.
This was a humiliation for Mr Ashton whose reputation had suffered an unrelated blow a few years earlier when the Overland-ordered pursuit of former police union secretary Paul Mullett and assistant commissioner Noel Ashby crashed and burned. Mr Ashton played a lead role in the hunt – seen as yet another paranoid vendetta. A pattern was discernible by now in the way Victoria Police dealt with critics.
With help from the ABC – whose loathing of the Church was newly consonant with VicPol’s own fury – the ultimate prize became the man behind Peter O’Callaghan: Cardinal George Pell. Other clerics had been tried and jailed but a line-up of unknown geriatric perverts wasn’t sating a ravenous hunger for a suitably thrilling denouement to the Gillard Royal Commission. There were no accusations against the Cardinal but that was no problem for Victoria Police. They were willing to burglarise the home of a knight. Setting up a cardinal was no big deal. They had the means, the motive and the opportunity. And they had form.
Update (or bridge for sale): Overland insists he wasn’t made aware Gobbo was giving up client information.