10th February 2020

A recent article in the Herald Sun on the life and crimes of Dennis Allen, aka Mr Death, makes very interesting reading.

We are not fans of glorifying the activities of a low life, the likes of Allen, but if accurate, it is illuminating. Of greatest interest to us, in light of the Royal Commission into the Police Management of Informers, are the similarities between the handling of Allen and Gobbo.

It is interesting that the handlers of Allen back then ran the strategy of assisting him with bail applications to remain at large and therefore indirectly being party to his crimes committed while on bail, which would seem to be prolific. We can be confident in speculating that there were other inducements for Allen to continue to inform on other criminals.

Allen would have been considered a valuable asset, and just like Gobbo, the informing became a part of his life. Indeed, they both relished being an informer. It was as addictive as any drug.

Trying to explain the mishandling of Allen and Gobbo, and there would be others, is difficult, as police would no doubt believe they are using the assets to serve the greater good, to solve major crime, but are they misguided?

Cultivating and using Police informers is a legitimate tool of policing with evidence of its use as far back as records of policing exist. The line is crossed when the Police consciously and deliberately allow an informer to continue or to participate in anything unlawful. As soon as the Police cross that line, the informer has the whip hand. The crook knows of the Police indiscretion and can use it as an empowering bargaining chip in the ongoing relationship.

It is worth visiting the Oath that each Police officer undertakes-

“…from this date, and until I am legally discharged, that I will see and cause Her Majesty’s peace to be kept and preserved, and that I will prevent to the best of my power all offences, and that while I continue to be a police officer I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties legally imposed on me faithfully and according to law.(Schedule2 of the Police Act)”

There are parallels to Informers and Police relationships, with a Lottery. The punter buys a ticket hoping for the Million Dollar prize, and when it doesn’t come they buy another next week, and so it goes on, week in week out, with tantalising small wins the addiction eventually escalating over time and even when they win a good prize it is never enough, the lure of an even greater prize hooks them in.

The problem for Police is when the Police management loses sight of their role and becomes as hooked as the Investigators, the management then becomes a real problem because they lose objectivity and start directing activities, getting dirt under their fingernails.

Failing to recognise a loss of objectivity is evident in the Gobbo matter and a damming indictment of the police executives’ lack of competence. The buck, however, stops with the Chief Commissioner and in this protracted affair, no less than four Chief Commissioners failed to resolve or wheel in this train wreck and each of them took a similar Oath to the other Police involved.

It is worth noting at this point that the Gobbo informing stretched over fourteen years and would possibly be continuing today had journalists with the support of their employer not relentlessly challenged the matter.

As for the Police subordinates involved in this fiasco, we have sympathy for many of them who found it impossible to extricate from the situation because to survive in the Police organisation they needed to acquiesce to the leaders who hold all the power, especially over their career, and who have unbelievably deep pockets (with taxpayers money) to take on any dissenters.

That sympathy does not extend to those that wantonly broke the law.

There are even suggestions that the Government may have known. With all the parties and authorities that were aware of the issue, it comes perilously close to a State-sanctioned activity.

We have argued that although the matters canvased at the Royal Commission are very serious, the most damming aspect of the evidence thus far is that the executives failed to consider and apply an exit strategy for the problem they knew they had created.

The distinct probability exists that they lacked the skill to deal with it. Amongst the pleather of executives involved in this debacle, only one identified the problem and tried to do something about it. The then Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones who paid a heavy price for his attempt to address the problem.

The question is, how can this problem be addressed.

An attractive solution is to go for more supervision, more checks and balances and more input from the legal profession, but that strategy is fundamentally flawed because as we now know with the Gobbo matter, there were senior Law Officers involved as well as Supervision at the highest level of Police and even the Police watchdog was actively involved.

To fix the problem, it is necessary for two things to happen. Firstly, those particularly in executive roles, both Police and Law Officers must be made an example of, and the RC must ensure that every senior Police member and Law Officer who have had any direct or indirect association with the Gobbo matter must be identified to ensure they lose influence within their respective professions – the price to pay.

Secondly, the culture of VicPol must be addressed, and that solution is too complex to deal with in this piece, but it must be dealt with. The key to that is having the organisation lead by somebody of faultless integrity and a deep understanding of the policing function, a genuine Leader not tainted by the demise of the organisation.