Bugging bombshell as secret files revealed
what? police are crooks? who'd have guessed!
Police report confirms 'bugging' rumours
An internal report from NSW police confirms that a secretive police unit spied on more than 100 officers and may have used listening devices illegally. Neil Mercer reports.
Documents obtained by The Sun-Herald, allege some officers in Special Crime and Internal Affairs - or SCIA - falsified information to obtain listening devices, telephone intercepts and search warrants and, in one case, induced a criminal to commit perjury in front of a magistrate.
They also show that Parliament, the public and rank-and-file police have been repeatedly misled about the reasons why one listening device warrant contained the names of 112 serving and former police and two civilians, including a journalist.
In that case, many officers, including the present deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas, believed they were victims of a personal "vendetta'' by officers within SCIA.
Former detective inspector Malcolm Brammer (left) and former detective sergeant John Dolan in 1991. Photo: Supplied
And M5 - the corrupt officer turned undercover operator who secretly taped his colleagues - agreed. He told investigators: "I was assisting, nurturing corruption." He also said: ''I smelt a rat … I was settling old scores which related to my supervising Superintendent."
The bombshell allegations are contained in long-suppressed reports of internal strike forces code-named Sibutu, Tumen and Emblems, which were established to investigate complaints made about SCIA between 1997 and 2002.
The Sun-Herald has now seen copies of all three reports, which the police hierarchy and successive governments have refused to release.
Strike Force Emblems was set up in 2003 to investigate a controversial listening-device warrant approved in September, 2000. It contained the names of 112 serving and former police and two civilians - and it was one of dozens sought by SCIA officers and the NSW Crime Commission, which were running a covert inquiry into police corruption, Operation Mascot.
But its net was so wide that it placed under surveillance dozens of honest officers, including the current deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas, Detective Inspector Wayne Hayes, Assistant Commissioner Ken Mackay, and Detective Superintendent Paul Jones.
The key player in Operation Mascot was a corrupt NSW cop, code-named M5, who wore a listening device for two and a half years and recorded hundreds of conversations with his colleagues. His home was also bugged, as was his car, his briefcase and his mobile phone.
The Emblems report says eight SCIA officers, including its then boss, Assistant Commissioner Mal Brammer, his deputy Superintendent John Dolan and then acting Inspector Cath Burn were among those investigated. Ms Burn is now Mr Kaldas's fellow deputy commissioner, and both are touted as potential commissioners. Emblems does not make any findings against any particular officer.
It says its inquiries were hampered by the refusal of the NSW Crime Commission to hand over crucial documents, including affidavits, and it therefore could not reach definitive conclusions.
Nevertheless, it found:
There were clear indications that "criminal conduct may have occurred surrounding the affidavit".
On the available evidence there was no justification for 54 serving and former police and the journalist Steve Barrett being placed on the listening-device warrant.
Previous Strike Forces Sibutu, Tumen and Operation Banks had identified "systemic corruption and mismanagement" within SCIA in relation to listening devices, telephone intercepts and search warrants. Serious adverse findings of corruption had been found against senior officers attached to SCIA.
Strike Force Emblems suspected similar "alleged corruption". It reveals M5 became disillusioned with his SCIA handlers and believed they were sending him to record conversations with honest police in a bid to settle old scores. It is believed one of those was Mr Kaldas.
It is well known in police circles that at one stage, Mr Kaldas and John Dolan had a serious disagreement. Emblems says that, about a month after that confrontation, M5 approached Mr Kaldas, who then became suspicious and reported the matter to the then deputy commissioner, Ken Moroney.
M5, who worked undercover between February 1999 and mid-2001, said: "I was sent by my supervising Superintendent to a particular person five or six times, I smelt a rat … I was settling old scores.'' He said he was uncertain of the true motives of those supervising him.
Mr Brammer, who left the force in mid-2002, yesterday denied any wrongdoing and strenuously denied any knowledge of a vendetta. [See separate story.]
Mr Brammer has been the subject of adverse findings in previous internal police reports, including for "untruthfulness" a "manifest conflict of interest" as well as "bias" and "a lack of fairness". One inquiry found he allegedly perverted the course of justice by improperly arranging an internal investigation against an officer.
Mr Dolan, who has also left the force, could not be reached for comment.
Mr Brammer has previously said Operation Mascot was run with the full co-operation and supervision of the Crime Commission and the Police Integrity Commission. He said the current Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, was involved at the time and he knew of no improper conduct by Ms Burn or anyone else.
At least one former SCIA officer has raised the "vendetta" allegation. In a formal record of interview with one of Emblems' predecessors, Strike Force Tumen, the detective Paul Albury says he thought the targeting of Mr Kaldas was based more on a "personal vendetta" rather than any evidence.
The officer says there was deep concern by some within the unit that serving and former officers were being targeted on the basis of "third and fourth-person hearsay''.
The previous Labor government and the O'Farrell government have refused to release the Emblems report, despite the current police minister, Mike Gallacher, pushing for its release while in opposition.
The Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission, David Levine, has been asked by the State Government to investigate whether the Strike Force Emblems report can be released. He is currently working his way though documents provided to him by NSW Police and the Crime Commission. It is not known when his inquiry will be completed.
Some former detectives named on the warrant believe he has not been given the resources needed to get to the bottom of the long-running saga. They believe an independent judicial inquiry is required - free of police intervention.
They say the Police Integrity Commission is disqualified from investigating the matter because it was intimately involved with SCIA and the Crime Commission in Operation Mascot from an early stage.
Strike Force Emblems interviewed 35 people who complained about their names being on the warrant. Emblems found there was no justification for 22 of those, including Mr Kaldas, being on the warrant. Overall, it found that of the 114 people named, there was probably no justification for 54 of them being on it.
"The use of 114 names on the subject listening device is an abuse of process and not in the 'spirit' of the legislation. It is not conceivable each person would be part of a conversation over a 21-day period."
(Warrants are approved for 21 days. Police need to reapply if they want to continue bugging).
Many other police named on the warrant are respected and senior detectives. The vast majority have never been told why they appeared on the warrant, let alone questioned or charged.
Emblems investigators said their inquiries were hampered because the then head of the NSW Crime Commission, Phil Bradley, after initially agreeing to co-operate, refused to hand over crucial documents. These included affidavits which were presented to the Supreme Court to support the application for the listening device.
Strike force investigators, which included five detective inspectors, clearly found themselves under intense pressure and took the extraordinary step of recording their fears that they may be subject to "payback''.
"Although there is no evidence of a 'payback' or 'reprisal', the nature of the Strike Force Emblems investigation, with the alleged corruption identified, indicates there is a potential for retribution against Strike Force members," the Emblems report said.
Investigators also reveal they were directed to be less than truthful with the 35 people who formally complained about their names being on the warrant.
It says they were "instructed" to tell complainants ''we are working towards obtaining the affidavit''.
"At no time have the complainants been informed that the affidavit has been refused or that the Crime Commission is being obstructive."
The Sun-Herald asked Mr Scipione, Ms Burn and Mr Kaldas for comment.
Through a spokesman, Mr Kaldas said he was "unable to comment".
Ms Burn did not wish to comment, except to say she had never been the commander of SCIA.
The Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said: ''All matters relating to Strike Force Emblems and any associated materials have been referred to the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission. NSW Police has provided all materials asked for by the inspector.''