Evidence tendered to the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants has also led counsel assisting to allege that “some of the most significant criminal trials in the state’s history” may have been contaminated after police housed three key witnesses in the same prison unit where they were able to share information.
There was no intention on the part of any officer to knowingly act contrary to law.
Lawyers for Victoria Police
The submissions, which were published late on Tuesday, suggest for the first time that potential miscarriages of justice extend well beyond the direct conflicts of interest of the former star barrister, who represented clients while simultaneously informing on them to the police.
Victoria Police has contested many of the recommended findings by counsel assisting Chris Winneke, QC, Megan Tittensor and Andrew Woods, even though they acknowledge mistakes were made.
“There was no intention on the part of any officer to knowingly act contrary to law,” lawyers for the police force have argued.
But the royal commission has been told by counsel assisting that two clients of Ms Gobbo – now known only by pseudonyms Mr Thomas and Mr Cooper – were manipulated into becoming prosecution witnesses because Ms Gobbo was instrumental in orchestrating their arrests or convinced them to co-operate with the help of Victoria police.
Counsel assisting have found Mr Thomas and Mr Cooper provided 65 sworn statements against a who’s who of suspected underworld figures and allegedly corrupt police, including drug kingpins Tony Mokbel and Carl Williams and former detective Paul Dale. Mr Dale was never convicted on any charge. Their co-operation included identifying photos of suspects, translating coded speech on wire taps and providing key evidence in major drug and murder prosecutions.
Mr Cooper, a drug cook and key associate of the Mokbel crime family, became the most prolific supergrass turned by Ms Gobbo and Victoria Police, delivering testimony that was used to secure 24 convictions via guilty pleas or jury verdicts.
Questions have also been raised about whether police investigators contaminated cases involving Mr Cooper by secretly funnelling money to him inside prison while he was co-operating as a prosecution witness. It appears from records available that those inducements were never disclosed to the legal teams of the defendants he testified against.
“In some instances, it is submitted that it is open to find that the evidence of those persons … may have also been obtained improperly or illegally by virtue of it having arisen in consequence (even if indirect) of the impropriety or illegality of Ms Gobbo and members of Victoria Police that led to Mr Cooper’s assistance and cooperation with authorities,” Mr Winneke wrote.
Mr Thomas, an underworld figure closely associated with drug dealer Carl Williams, was used as a witness to secure five major convictions, including two for murder. One was for Faruk Orman, whose conviction was quashed last year by the Court of Appeal.
Counsel assisting also found that “some of the most significant criminal trials in the state’s history” could have been influenced by a police decision to allow three underworld witnesses, including Cooper and Thomas, to be housed in the same prison unit.
“Each of these three men went on to make numerous statements to the police and became significant witnesses in multiple prosecutions. It is apparent that the defence in those cases were not told of their being housed together and the potential for the sharing of information, let alone Ms Gobbo’s association and role with each of them,” counsel assisting wrote.
Ms Gobbo has long claimed her work “turning” another of her clients, known by the pseudonym Mr McGrath, created a precedent for others in the underworld to follow after he became “the crack in the damn wall of silence that led to a flood”.
“He laid the foundation for the prosecution of numerous murderers and others followed his example,” Ms Gobbo claimed in a 2015 letter to Victoria Police.
The royal commission has heard that police allowed Ms Gobbo to review Mr McGrath’s police statements and suggest corrections. Mr McGrath would be used repeatedly to buttress cases against other defendants and former clients of Ms Gobbo, including Carl Williams and Mr Thomas.
“The concealment of Ms Gobbo’s role in providing clients advice to cooperate with police was already an issue in relation to Mr McGrath, and, it is submitted, would become a constant refrain,” counsel assisting wrote.
Mr McGrath also made an appearance as a witness as late as 2017 in a high-profile case mounted against an underworld hitman who was convicted of the murder of Graham “The Munster” Kinniburgh. He was used in that case after allegations of misconduct by Ms Gobbo and Victoria Police had already been uncovered by several internal and independent investigations and court proceedings.
Counsel assisting the royal commission has flagged the possibility that evidence could be contaminated if it were obtained from people who became co-operating witnesses after people manipulated by Ms Gobbo gave evidence against them.
“In some instances, it is submitted that it is open to find that the evidence of those persons … may have also been obtained improperly or illegally by virtue of it having arisen in consequence (even if indirect) of the impropriety or illegality of Ms Gobbo and members of Victoria Police that led to Mr Cooper’s assistance and co-operation with authorities.”
Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.