Teacher jailed for sex abuse at elite school

A FORMER teacher who sexually abused students at Knox Grammar School will spend up to 4½⁄ years behind bars, with the judge who jailed him warning that ”no child is to be viewed by a teacher as a sexual opportunity”.Sentencing Craig Treloar yesterday, District Court judge Colin Charteris said his criminal activity had tarnished the reputation of the exclusive Wahroonga school.”He took advantage of children,” the judge said. ”He was their teacher. He had a position of trust. He abused that trust for his own sexual gratification.”Treloar, 50, has been in protective custody since his arrest in February last year. He shook uncontrollably as he was given a minimum two-year term.Treloar told the court he ”didn’t know anything else, other than how to be a teacher”. As a convicted child sex offender, he will be banned from working with children.His world revolved around Knox, where he was a student and, later, a highly regarded teacher, sports coach and boarding master. For more than 20 years he knew his crimes would come to light. He was arrested after two of his victims contacted police early last year.Treloar confessed to police but felt ”no sense of relief, because what I’ve done cannot be repaired”. He admitted offences, including indecent assault, against four students aged 11 to 13. They took place between 1984 and 1987 in his dorm room, while he showed the boys pornographic videos.Court documents reveal Treloar had indecent dealings with at least one other student who, the Herald understands, did not wish to pursue a complaint. Treloar was not charged over those matters.The court heard Treloar admitted showing students pornographic videos when confronted in late 1987 by the then headmaster, Ian Paterson. He was suspended from teaching for six months.Judge Charteris was not critical of Dr Paterson, saying Treloar did not reveal the extent of his inappropriate behaviour, such as engaging in sexual activity with students and showing films depicting bestiality and homosexual sex with underage boys.He accepted Treloar committed no offences after 1987 and was genuinely remorseful.Treloar was the first of five teachers charged over the alleged sexual abuse of former Knox students. Three have pleaded guilty, while two remain before the courts.In court, two of Treloar’s victims detailed the shadow of the abuse. As a 12-year-old, one fell asleep praying he would not wake up and vomited every morning before school.Judge Charteris said it was apparent the abuse had long-lasting effects and admired the victims’ courage in exposing it.One father told the Herald his son would phone home, insisting: ”I just want to die.” No sentence could give his son back ”24 years of an absolutely hellish life”, the man said.
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Paedophile sighting stirs unrest for poll

FOR weeks the campaigning before Saturday’s Penrith byelection has focused on the resignation of the local Labor MP, Karyn Paluzzano, traffic matters and the safety of a local bridge.Suddenly, the candidates have been given something else to ponder: what to do about Dennis Ferguson.Reports that Mr Ferguson, a 61-year-old convicted paedophile who was hounded from his previous place of residence in Ryde by vigilante resident groups after his release from prison, has been ”spotted” in the Penrith area surfaced late last week.Penrith’s police commander, Superintendent Ben Feszczuk, told a local newspaper on Monday: ”I have not been consulted about it and I have not been given any information. I’m not saying it’s false. I’ve got no knowledge of his presence here or anywhere else.”However, the rumours were given some legitimacy when they were posted on the official Facebook page of the Liberal candidate, Stuart Ayres. ”Chase the f—ing grub out of town guys!” one poster urged.Another directed readers to a Facebook group featuring comments urging violence against Mr Ferguson.Mr Ayres said he had learned of the rumours on Facebook and in the media and had called the local area command yesterday.”They confirmed with me the reports in the media [but said] they are not aware of him being in the area,” he said.”Facebook is there for people to get in touch with me, raise issues and where I can follow up on their inquiries, and that’s what I have done in this case.”The Labor candidate, John Thain, said: ”If Dennis Ferguson is in Penrith or the Lower Blue Mountains, I will do everything in my power to ensure the Housing Minister knows my views [he] has no place in my community.”As a father, I am sickened by the sheer idea of his presence.”However, Brett Collins, who has defended Mr Ferguson from previous attacks by residents’ groups, dismissed the concerns.”The reality of it is that he is safe and sound and with us a lot of the time.”There is no reason for him not to be in Penrith. He’s got friends out there as well as in Ryde. There’s no reason to be concerned.”
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Too much easy living is dumbing down our pampered pooches

THE owners of pampered pets have a lot to answer for. Domestic dogs have become so dependent on humans, they can no longer pass simple intelligence tests or solve problems which their counterparts in the wild find easy.Homeless dogs seek food from rubbish dumps or garbage bins, rather than hunt for it, they struggle to find food hidden in a maze, and have learnt to look to humans first, rather than making an effort to help themselves, says Bradley Smith, a psychologist.He studied dingoes living at the Dingo Discovery Centre, in Victoria, and found that even those socialised to be around humans were significantly faster and smarter than dogs.When the dingoes were made to travel around a transparent barrier to find food, all achieved the task in about 10 seconds, Mr Smith said. Some quickly found trapdoors which made the journey to the food shorter.But previous studies on dogs carrying out the same task showed that many failed to find a way to the bowl. Some pawed at the fence, dug at it or barked at their owners for help. Many looked confused. Closing trapdoors that had previously been open made the dogs even more puzzled, indicating they were not able to quickly adapt to a change in circumstance, Mr Smith said.In other tests, dogs and wolves were shown to behave in very different ways when confronted with unsolvable problems. After both had been taught to retrieve food by pulling on a rope or opening a bin, the task was changed so that the rope could not be pulled and the bin could not be opened.Dogs gazed at their owners standing behind them, while the socialised wolves ignored their owners. During the study, seven of the nine dogs looked back at the human after trying to obtain the food reward for only about one minute, while only two of the seven wolves looked back at all, instead attempting to solve the task on their own.
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Tour de Tweed – when the pedalling is slow and very stylish

IT IS an inspiring sight: a dapper chap sitting erect in the saddle; mutton chops on his cheeks, tweed jacket on his back. The kind of man who prefers capacious plus fours to ghastly crotch-crunching lycra.For this man – or indeed this woman, for she is his sartorial equal – cycling is a languid pleasure, not a bug-eyed adrenalin rush.Impelled not by performance-enhancing drugs and a cash prize, but sandwiches and the vivifying contents of a hip flask, these retro riders tip their woollen caps to a simpler age before derailleur gears made cycling so horribly competitive.”We travel at a leisurely pace and enjoy ourselves,” said Susan Goodwin, 32, one of the organisers of Sydney’s Tweed Ride. ”There’s simply more drama and poetry in the old style of riding. And people really dress up. Last year we had people sticking their heads out of cars in George Street shouting ‘you look fantastic!”’The first Tweed Ride was held in London in January last year, the brainchild of an online cycling forum devoted to ”fixies” or fixed-wheel bicycles. The idea caught on quickly. Paris, Tokyo, Boston and San Francisco are among cities that have hosted the rides for hundreds of cyclists in tweedy attire traversing the inner-city at a leisurely pace.Sydney’s first Tweed Ride last year attracted about 70 people. Organisers are hoping this year’s event, which departs from Town Hall at 9am (free registration from 8am) on Sunday, June 27, will be much bigger. The 90-minute ride finishes in Alexandria with a brisk game of bicycle polo. Prizes will be awarded to the best-dressed man and woman, and the most elegant couple or duo.Naomi Morris, resplendent in a herringbone blazer, crochet vest, vintage blouse and brooch, is a fan of vintage bikes as well as vintage fashion. Not that you need to own a period bike to enter a Tweed Ride. A brand-new mountain bike is fine as long as you dress up to the nines and enter into the spirit of the event.Ms Morris, 29, loves the easy pace – ”I call it tootling” – and the friendly atmosphere. And she didn’t find it at all hard to put her tweed outfit together.For more information go to www.sydneycyclist南京夜网
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Injecting room in pre-election focus

THE NSW government is set to expedite a decision on the future of the controversial medically supervised injecting centre at Kings Cross before next year’s election, with an independent evaluation due to be handed to the Deputy Premier and Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, next month.The licence for the centre, which has operated on a trial basis since its establishment nine years ago following the NSW Drug Summit under former premier Bob Carr, is not due for renewal until October 31, 2011 – seven months after the state election in March.However, the NSW health department has spent $240,000 ordering an independent report from consultant KPMG on whether the centre is achieving its objectives.The report, according to the contract summary, is to ”consider the efficiency and effectiveness of the MSIC since the trial was extended in June 2007 … against the government’s stated objectives for the trial”.A statutory review of the centre by NSW Health, which legislation dictates must be completed by May 2011, is under way.The government has supported the ongoing trial and most recently renewed its licence in 2007 under the former health minister Reba Meagher.To the end of February 2010, more than 3500 drug overdoses had been successfully managed at the centre without a fatality, according to its medical director, Dr Marianne Jauncey.The Coalition has said if it is elected there would be a conscience vote on the issue.Unlike two previous reviews, the job of evaluating the centre was put out to tender. The public health experts who conducted the previous reviews declined to participate.Professor John Kaldor, from the University of NSW’s National Centre in HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research, was involved in the previous reviews. He said yesterday the group felt it was no longer necessary to question the centre’s right to exist.”It seemed to us that to continue looking at it as a trial was not ideal from a public health point of view, to keep looking for an answer to the question of ‘Is this working?”’ he said. ”The case seemed to have been made in general terms.”The Reverend Harry Herbert, executive director of Uniting Care, the licensed operator of the centre, called for an end to the trial status.The licensing should be in ”the hands of the director-general of the department of health and the NSW police commissioner,” he told the Herald. ”It’s not as if the centre will be unaccountable … but we wouldn’t require a change to the Act every time the licence period is extended”.The centre’s founding medical director, Ingrid van Beek, was on Monday made a Member of the Order of Australia partly in recognition of her work in establishing the centre.A spokesman for Ms Tebbutt said the statutory review had ”recently commenced”. He declined to comment on whether Ms Tebbutt would make a decision about the centre’s future before the election.He said the NSW Health report must be tabled according to legislation but Ms Tebbutt was yet to decide whether to make the KPMG report public.TIMES OF TRIAL1999 NSW Drug Summit recommends the government ”should not veto” proposals for a trial of injecting centres to address street drug use2001 Medically supervised injecting centre opens in Kings Cross2007 Licence renewed for a further four years, but trial status maintained2009 State government commissions KPMG
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From routine takeoff to disaster in 15 minutes

Andrew Wilson Photo: Channel 7With his plane veering ever closer to the roofs of Sydney suburbia, Andrew Wilson spent his last minutes seeking a place to land. He failed. David Humphries and Malcolm Brown write.
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ANDREW WILSON knew he was in serious trouble as he tried to guide the six-seater charter aircraft to a safe landing in the middle of Sydney suburbia. ”We’re gonna have to put it down on the road,” he said, a challenge that would put the frighteners up battle-hardened aviators.

It was not so much what he said, however, as how he said it. For the last 2½/ minutes of his life yesterday, the 28-year-old pilot discussed options with the control tower at Bankstown Airport, maintaining a calmness that belied the life-and-death urgency of his situation.

”We’re not maintaining height here,” he told Bankstown, matter-of-factly. ”You got any sight? Are there any good roads around?” He could not see the M7 or Warwick Farm racetrack. The clearest view was of Canley Vale Road but traffic was building as children began arriving at Canley Vale public school.

By then, options had run out for Mr Wilson and his nurse passenger. The Piper PA-31P Mojave was losing altitude. Their fates were sealed but the events that followed – horrible though they were – would spare residents and school children alike.

”Miraculously, no houses were damaged or the nearby school,” said Superintendent Ray King, the Cabramatta police commander.

Just what happened to Papa Golf Whisky (PGW) will take much engineering detective work, not least because the fireball that resulted from the crash destroyed so much evidence.

The charter left Bankstown at 7.50am for Brisbane, to collect a medical patient to transport to Albury, but trouble struck 15 minutes into the flight. With his plane over Richmond air base, Mr Wilson, a Victorian who settled in Sydney a few years ago, reported engine failure.

He ignored Richmond and attempted a return to Bankstown. Greg Madden, an investigator with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said fog may have been behind that decision.

Kathy Sheppard, a 48-year-old mother with four daughters, was on board as the inflight nurse. Ms Sheppard, from King Creek, west of Port Macquarie, worked as a midwife before joining the patient transport company Wingaway.

She had a long association with the Port Macquarie Base Hospital, were she worked as a midwife for years.

Dieter Siewert, a part-owner of Skymaster Air Services, said Papa Golf Whisky was not on a medical emergency. The mission was a routine flight that Mr Wilson carried out three or four times a week.

A mechanic, Sam Elawar, saw the plane coming in low from 500 metres away. One engine was operating but with not enough power to lift the plane. ”I thought it was going to hit the workshop,” he said.

The plane roared past, hit a power pole, careered past the school and sent out a stream of sparks from the power lines before it hit another pole with such force the pole snapped. The plane crashed on to the road and exploded minutes later. Fuel leaked into the drains and caught fire, roaring up through a grill on the opposite side of the road and setting fire to a car.

Kevin Huynh, 33, was alone in his house next to the school. With flames several metres high, he bolted over the fence into the school grounds. ”People in the school were yelling out and everyone was helping neighbours get over fences,” he said.

A car with a man and three children was hit by debris. He got the children into Adams Park, where 80 people quickly gathered. The school was evacuated. Its principal, Cheryl McBride, said: ”We can’t believe just how fortunate we have been.”

Calvin Figureoa said he would have been dropping his son Calvin, 8, near where the plane crashed but had been delayed.

Power was cut to 13,500 residences but was mostly restored within hours.

It is the third incident involving Airtex Aviation – which oversees a number of smaller aviation companies including Wingaway – in nine years. Two years ago one of the company’s light planes crashed into water off Sydney, killing the pilot. In 2001, an Airtex pilot managed to land his plane, with nine passengers on-board, at Cootamundra airport after an engine fire had destroyed its landing gear.

In the past four years, at least 10 people have died in light aircraft crashes in NSW.

with Georgina Robinson, Nick Ralston and Paul Bibby

Sotiropoulos wrestles with his ambition in lightweight title tilt

AUSTRALIA’S George Sotiropoulos believes he is within three fights of conquering the UFC’s talent-stacked lightweight division.Riding an incredible six-fight winning streak, and on the back of his domination against household name Joe Stevenson in Sydney last February, Sotiropoulos has emerged as a serious contender.Sotiropoulos believes two more victories would put him in line to face the lightweight titleholder – currently Frankie Edgar, who has a rematch with rival BJ Penn at UFC 118 in August.As he approaches a showdown with Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 116 in Las Vegas on July 3, Sotiropoulos is feeling more confident by the day.Asked how many fights he believed it would take him to land a title shot, Sotiropoulos told the Herald: “I would say maybe two fights.”But I don’t look past my opponents.”I would say a win [against Pellegrino] would put me in the upper echelon of the lightweight division (70kg).”As always, if I keep winning it is going to put me against the best.”You can make plans beyond a fight but until that fight happens those plans won’t amount to anything.”Now residing in the Washington city of Vancouver, Sotiropoulos will have one more week of serious training before easing back prior to the fight.He sees an advantage in fighting Pellegrino after Stevenson, who he defeated by unanimous decision over all three rounds at the Acer Arena in the UFC’s debut Australian show.”In many ways he is similar to my last opponent, they both have wrestling backgrounds,” said Sotiropoulos, unbeaten in his five fights since entering the UFC and with a 12-2 professional record with featuring stoppages.”I think Stevenson is stronger, Pellegrino (15-4 with 12 stoppages) is more agile and faster. I think their ground games are on par.”I think they are equal calibre as fighters, I think Stevenson’s boxing is a little better.”Their business is in wrestling, they go back to that in times of need, they look for the top position. It’s all about wrestling for them.”My regime hasn’t changed, you can’t change the way you prepare because it makes you fight differently to the way you normally fight.”I study my opponents very closely. I have got all their UFC fights, I am well informed of their previous fights.”The key for me is to work on everything, I don’t ignore anything in my training, I pay equal attention to everything: jiu-jitsu, boxing, MMA, wrestling.”I have to make my strengths part of my game plan, and impose my strengths against him.”I have prepared for all avenues. if I end up on the ground, I can do well from there. Any scenario, I am prepared for. I address it all.”In his two previous fights in Las Vegas, Sotiropoulos has scored submissions wins via rear naked choke (against Billy Miles) and armbar (against Jason Dent).”I am where I want to be, my weight is coming down, my conditioning is good, sparring has been going well.”I know Australia will be watching me, and I am grateful for the support, but it doesn’t make a difference to the way I fight – for years I have been travelling around the world alone.”I have had to manage myself, ultimately I will have to rise to the occasion and show up on the night.”
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Chaos in camp will not stop NSW squaring the series in Queensland

Members of the NSW team that famously overcame massive off-field drama to win the 2004 State of Origin series are adamant the racial slur controversy won’t ruin the Blues’ chances in Origin II tomorrow night.NSW’s 2004 campaign was rocked when an alcohol-fuelled bonding session before game one spiralled out of control and two players – Mark Gasnier and Anthony Minichiello – were sacked from the team following a NSWRL investigation. Gasnier was found to have left an obscene message on a woman’s mobile phone in the middle of the night, using Minichiello’s mobile. Minichiello broke a team rule banning mobiles from the bonding session.Five other players were fined a total of $20,000 for lesser indiscretions but, with Phil Gould at the helm, NSW managed to focus on the game and win it 9-8. The Blues went on to win the series 2-1.Luke Lewis and Andrew Ryan, veterans of the 2004 series, praised Gould’s skill in getting players to ignore potential distractions and concentrate on their jobs. They believe Craig Bellamy can similarly direct the players through the minefield, and that the challenge of trying to keep the series alive will be paramount in the players’ minds.”These are the sort of moments guys play the game for – when a series is on the line,” said Lewis, who is serving a one-match suspension that ruled him out of Origin II.”Origin is the greatest challenge there is in this game, and when the odds are against you, like they are with NSW since we’re a game down, players rise to the occasion. Their mental toughness comes out.”[Gould] was a pretty special coach. The memory of playing in my first Origin game is a bit of a blur to me, because it was a such a big occasion, but I remember him calling a meeting of the players after all the drama had happened. He said what’s happened has happened, but now we’re going to move on. He said none of it was going to change what we were going to do to get ready for the game. We didn’t talk about it again after that, and we were ready to play when the game came around.”The thing about players who make it to Origin level is that they don’t allow whatever drama that might be going on to … put them off playing the game, and they don’t get ready to use it as an excuse if they don’t win.”Ryan said that, against a backdrop of drama, it was the responsibility of the players to concentrate on controlling factors they knew they could control.”Gus told us that none of what had happened was under our control, and that as individuals we had to prepare to do our jobs,” he said. ”He said that if our minds weren’t on the job then the whole thing would go pear-shaped. If we’d spent time thinking about the drama, it would have been a waste of energy.”It’s all about being strong in the mind, and worrying about yourself and what you have to do, as part of a team. It was an advantage having an experienced coach like Gus in a situation like that, because he knows how to steer you in the right direction.”Ryan has not played for NSW since 2007 – the year before Bellamy took over – but he has had experience playing under Bellamy for Country, and is certain the coach is equipped to ensure the Blues play to their ability in Origin II.”I’m sure he’ll have the team ready to play, and that the result will come down to which is the better team,” he said.Bellamy may not have coached a series-winning Origin team yet, but Lewis said he saw plenty of similarities between ”Bellyache” and Gould.”They both tell great stories that really pump you up in camp,” he said. ”Stories about football, but also stories about things that have happened in other walks of life, and courageous people they’ve met. Craig will have them ready to rock and roll on Wednesday night.”
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Director wins festival with a me-myself-and-crew film

THE French-Canadian film Heartbeats, a witty look at unrequited love, has won the Sydney Film Festival competition.A jury headed by the Australian producer Jan Chapman awarded the $60,000 prize for ”audacious, courageous and cutting-edge” cinema to the comic drama made by Xavier Dolan, a rising star of international film.The 21-year-old, who is on to his second feature as director, also wrote, produced, edited and stared in Heartbeats. He plays one of two hip twentysomethings – a male and a female – who both fall for the same man.”With a witty and insightful script and strikingly playful use of cinematic language, the jury found Heartbeats to be a boldly truthful and compassionate observation of one of the great crippling foibles of human nature – the hopeless crush,” Chapman said.An honourable mention went to the lively Australian drama Wasted on the Young, directed by first-timer Ben C. Lucas and focusing on conflict at an elite private school.Chapman said the jury was impressed with Lucas’s storytelling and visual style, tapping into a world where teenagers communicate using text messaging and social networking sites. ”It was really daring, we felt, and accomplished,” she said.Another honourable mention went to the Russian drama How I Ended This Summer, about two men working at a remote Arctic weather station who turn on each other.Chapman said the jury was impressed by the boldness of the 12 films in competition.”We found it incredibly inspiring to see that all over the world people are still making films that are really true to their own visions,” she said.The 13-day festival, which closed last night, looks to have turned around last year’s loss.Its chief executive, Leigh Small, expects a ”small profit” after a 15 per cent increase in box office takings, helped by higher prices for some tickets.Total takings are still being toted up but the festival found that patrons who bought books of tickets, FlexiPasses, used a much higher percentage than last year.Ms Small said strategies to program films with a younger appeal and screen documentaries at the Event Cinema in George Street had been successful. ”A lot of the films that sold out, for instance, Four Lions or Wasted on the Young, were a very young audience who hadn’t been to the State Theatre [and] hadn’t been to the Sydney Film Festival.”
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Policeman in the firing line

It was, Simon Overland said, a showstopper. That’s how he described Operation Briars to a hand-picked group of police at the beginning of 2007. The aim of the top-secret investigation was to charge a serving police officer with helping a gunman kill a male prostitute. ”It is not an issue I thought I would ever have to deal with,” Overland would say later.Three years on, and Overland is now Victoria’s Chief Commissioner, but finds himself dealing with another issue he probably never imagined. He is at the centre of the show and at war with Australia’s national broadsheet, which accuses him not only of breaking the law but single-handedly destroying Operation Briars, a crucially important investigation involving potentially corrupt police.Overland’s reputation is under attack from two powerful forces. One is former police union boss Paul Mullett, whose career was destroyed by Operation Briars and the related police corruption probe Operation Diana. Since the case against him failed last year, Mullett has waged a document-based guerilla war against Overland, whom he hates. The former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby, who equally loathes Overland and was his rival for the top job, is helping from the wings.The other force is The Australian. It says its explosive series of articles about Overland and Victoria’s police corruption watchdog, the Office of Police Integrity (OPI), depicted as bungling, secretive and unaccountable, were born of a genuine journalistic desire to assess Operation Briars and the OPI’s work after the spectacular collapse of its cases against Mullett and Ashby.Overland argues the newspaper is using facts selectively and ignoring the context of what was happening in Victoria at the time.At play also is a toxic feud between the newspaper and Overland, who accused it of endangering his officers by exposing terrorism raids last August. Similarly, the OPI says The Australian has it in its crosshairs because it criticised the paper’s conduct.Overland and the OPI director, Michael Strong, believe this ”disgraceful” and ”concerted” campaign is a nasty exercise in payback, and last Friday there was some evidence of that. Fairfax newspapers revealed over the weekend two incidents in which senior executives of News Ltd, publishers of The Australian, appeared to threaten law enforcement agencies in Victoria and NSW.Amid the murk of these agendas is an allegation: did Victoria’s chief policeman break the law? Was he let off too lightly by the police corruption watchdog? Does he have a case to answer?Overland and the OPI insist he does not, but on the evidence available, it appears his actions did have an inadvertent impact on the investigation. As The Sunday Age first reported last September, senior legal experts believed his use of information from a phone tap was a breach of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. The OPI says it has assessed the incident and believes he did not breach the law, but it refuses to release its legal advice and barely mentioned the incident in its final report on the events of 2007.This one conversation, as Overland himself admits, set off a chain of events. The chain ended, as the evidence shows, in the key suspects of Operation Briars being warned their phones were ”off”. In hindsight, this was a blow to the investigation. But did it derail Briars? Probably not, because the investigation was already severely compromised.Operation Briars officially began on March 26, 2007. Months earlier, a known criminal had come forward to admit he was the gunman who shot dead male prostitute Shane Chartres-Abbott in June 2003. He was willing, also, to point the finger at one serving policeman, Peter Lalor, a close mate of Mullett’s, and one former policeman, David ”Docket” Waters. He claimed Waters was present at a meeting when plans were discussed and that Lalor provided prior assistance in his murder of Chartres-Abbott by handing over his address. Both Lalor and Waters denied the allegations.Police had consistently said throughout the horrific gangland wars that there was no link between gangland killings and corrupt cops, despite suspicions. Overland, who had led the police’s successful taskforce into the gangland war, would later admit in an affidavit that the case was ”the smoking gun the media had been looking for”, the link between the underworld and police that would reawaken calls for a royal commission.A board of management, including Overland and the OPI’s Graham Ashton, was set up to oversee the Briars taskforce, and on April 13 police began monitoring six phone taps. It has always been something of a mystery why Operation Diana was set up on May 30 to investigate Noel Ashby, but according to a report by the special investigations monitor – the OPI’s oversight body – the board began to suspect senior officers of Victoria Police were leaking confidential taskforce information.The two covert operations made a spectacular public debut in a series of high-drama OPI hearings in November 2007. The results have been less spectacular. Mullett left the force but his case failed for lack of evidence. Ashby resigned but his case was thrown out because the OPI failed to delegate its powers properly to the retired judge overseeing the hearings. Former police media director Stephen Linnell, caught leaking to his mate Ashby, pleaded guilty to charges arising from the same flawed hearings and is now appealing. Lalor has denied any involvement and was never charged. Somehow the OPI has pitched this as a success.There’s no doubt that in August 2007 Overland was working in a poisonous environment. As Michael Strong pointed out on Friday, Overland was dealing with treachery: he was ”not only being undermined from without, but betrayed from within”. Mullett, using the power of the police association, and Ashby, using his power and access as a senior policeman, colluded against Overland and police commissioner Christine Nixon. Overland and Nixon were determined to rid the Victoria Police of its links to the underworld, but Mullett and the police association appeared to resist. The union funded police accused of being corrupt and campaigned against the establishment of the OPI. (The police union secretary, Greg Davies, denies that union officials ”have or ever will support corruption or criminal conduct”.)On August 14, Overland received a phone call from the manager of the Briars taskforce, Rod Wilson. Mullett and Lalor, he told Overland, had been heard on a phone tap talking about a $120,000 executive management course that had been offered to the then deputy commissioner in Fontainebleau, France. The two men were talking about leaking it to radio station 3AW’s Rumour File. Overland went to Linnell and said: ”Look, you just need to be aware I’ve got a call from Rod.” Linnell was on the high-level advisory group for Briars and knew Wilson was heading the taskforce.”I understand Mullett and Lalor are talking about this. I understand they’re going to run it through 3AW … You need to watch it.”The law covering phone taps is necessarily strict on how officers use material. It must be a ”permitted use” that is ”a purpose connected with an investigation of, or an inquiry into, alleged misbehaviour or alleged improper conduct of an officer of that state”. Experts in this law told The Sunday Age last year that managing the media was clearly not a permitted use.Overland says it was a permitted use because he was trying to protect the investigation from what he calls ”collateral attack” – the campaign being waged by Mullett to undermine him and the investigation. Strong, in a statement on Friday, agreed with him.But in many ways Overland’s explanation does not make sense. Even if the Fontainebleau rumour did undermine him, which is debatable, how could this have an impact on a top-secret investigation no one knows about?At this point in the investigation, Mullett, who talked regularly with his ”comrade” Lalor, was not supposed to know about the taskforce.Possibly breaking the law is one thing. But The Australian last week went much further. This ”critical error of judgment”, the paper said, ”led to a series of indiscretions by others – and the collapse of the covert police probe Operations Briars”.Overland himself admitted to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell last week that his actions did spark a chain of events.During the OPI’s public hearings, media reports focused on a key event – Linnell showing Ashby the Briars terms of reference on his desk computer. But the transcripts, affidavits, OPI case logs and reports show that this event happened because of what had happened the day before: the Overland admission to Linnell about the Fontainebleau trip.In his report, retired judge Murray Wilcox, QC, who presided over the private and public hearings, said: ”It is clear that Mr Linnell knew the Mullett-Lalor call of 14 August had been intercepted; Mr Overland told him so. It is clear that he made Mr Ashby aware of his concern that Mr Mullett’s phone might be ‘off’.”In less than 48 hours of Overland’s direction to Linnell, the two main suspects of Briars had been warned about their phones being ”off”. Overland was not scrutinised for sparking this chain of events in the OPI’s final report on operations Diana and Briars, tabled in Parliament. The chronology at the beginning of the report has five entries on August 14. Not one of them mentions Overland’s conversation with Linnell.The question is, did this kill Operation Briars? According to the evidence, the investigation was probably already fatally wounded. Several months earlier, on June 16, police became aware that Age investigative journalist Nick McKenzie knew about Briars, the criminal witness and that police were involved.But even more seriously, a week later on June 26, Rod Wilson became aware that Waters and another Briars person of interest, Peter Alexander, knew about the taskforce. In a sworn statement, Wilson said the pair knew about the identity of the star witness and the circumstances of his alibi.What is crucial is whether Lalor knew his phone was tapped before August 16. Given what Waters knew in June, it is likely that he told Lalor and he would have at least suspected his phone was tapped. In an interview with the OPI in October 2007, Luke Cornelius, the then head of ethical standards, complained about the early breaches of security. ”The thing that sticks in my craw is that it looks like the breach – if that can be established – the breach of confidentiality occurred very early on in the piece.”OPI investigator Sharon Kerrison, who gave evidence that she had listened to more than 5000 of Ashby’s phone calls, more than 2000 of Mullett’s, and ”numerous” conversations of Lalor’s, replied: ”Yeah, it did.”On one reading of events, Overland, with a bit of ego and in the midst of a brutal campaign waged against him personally and against his and others’ efforts to clean up the force, tried to manage yet another attempt to undermine him and his investigation. This is a far cry from Mullett’s and Ashby’s behaviour, which the Ombudsman, George Brouwer, said displayed ”betrayal, collusion, deceit and abuse of authority”. On another reading, Overland acted out of self-interest and, trying to protect his reputation, The Australian argues, broke the law and breached the security of one of the police’s most important murder investigations.If Ashby’s case had gone to trial, his legal team was intending to pursue these issues with ”some degree of force”. But Ashby walked free without a trial and, without an independent anti-corruption commission, the issue continues to fester. This is probably why, almost three years after Overland had that conversation with Stephen Linnell, it is still being talked about.After November’s state election, regardless of which party wins, Victoria will get an anti-corruption commission. Mullett, no doubt, will bide his time until then. The problem for him, however, is that if the OPI is transferred into the new structure with no change of personnel, the police watchdog is likely to remain reluctant to reopen the wounds of 2007.
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