News & Current Affairs Criminal Law

By Peter Woodhouse


Police corruption remains a threat to the rule of law in Australia

A lot of you can be forgiven if the name Jason Roberts doesn’t ring a bell.  It didn’t with me – well, not until a couple of days ago.

On Monday, Roberts was acquitted of the murders of two police officers, Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller who died in Moorabbin, Victoria, in 1998.

Roberts had been convicted of their murders in 2002, along with his girlfriend’s father, Bandali Debs, but faced a 3-month long retrial in the Victorian Supreme Court after 3 appeal Court judges found the long-undisclosed conduct by one particular officer had corrupted his initial trial “as to poison it to its root”.

The Court of Appeal found Senior Constable Glenn Pullin destroyed his original statement about the murders and substituted a backdated statement which included dying declarations of Miller, indicating there were two offenders, rather than one.

The same police officer then perjured himself by lying about the second statement, and failed to disclose its existence, which the court found amounted to a “gross and fundamental corruption of the trial process”.

That was combined with the fact initial statements by 4 other officers were not kept and were now missing, only revised statements were included in the brief of evidence and a senior detective initially told officers not to include Miller’s remarks in their statements.

When ordering the fresh trial, the Judges presiding over the appeal concluded that “although the non-disclosure did not result from innocent mistake and reflects reprehensible conduct by police officers, we do not accept that the need to deter repetitions of such behaviour is of itself sufficient to justify an acquittal”.

Roberts was just 17 when the police officers were murdered and has sadly spent more of his life in jail than out of it.  He was immediately released on bail when after the verdict was handed down on Monday.

Whilst we’d all like to think those sort of corrupt police practices don’t happen anymore, especially after the various Royal Commissions in NSW and Victoria – don’t get too excited.

Just this week, a News Corp journalist revealed that “one of Australia’s top law enforcers is under investigation, with suspicions he is a mafia informant and over decades may have compromised some of Australia’s most notorious organised crime cases.”

The allegations have apparently been handed to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (“ACLEI”) – which, because of their jurisdiction, means it involves a Commonwealth agency, most likely the Australian Federal Police.

ACLEI is apparently looking at dozens of potential criminal cases that may have failed during the person’s tenure as a senior officer working for and with multiple law enforcement bodies across Australia.  The article also mentioned there were fears that other senior law enforcement figures, the judiciary and politicians may have been influenced by the man.

It was reported that the former officer’s identity came to light only as recently as 2019 when another law enforcement agency, believed to be ASIO, uncovered apparent close associations to known Italian organised crime figures.

ACLEI has confirmed an investigation is underway.  The article notes the former officer’s career spans as far back as being involved in elements of the police investigation into the assassination of AFP assistant commissioner Colin Winchester.

I don’t know why this story hasn’t taken off, particularly in Canberra – but it seems there will be plenty more to come.  Interestingly though, the AFP were quick to come out at the same time to say they were not reopening the investigation into the assassination of Winchester.

Whether we are dealing with current criminal investigations or investigations that are 25 years old it is imperative that an accused person be investigated fairly, dispassionately and without prejudice.  That is the right of every accused person and it is the role of every criminal defence lawyer to protect it.