The Un-Protected Witness – Judicial Cover-up and Media Inaccuracy

Fake Media? Judicial system or political cover-up? Huge possibility! Just ask Trump and he’ll name every publication in the United States who are in on the ‘conspiracies’ but Is President Trump correct in accusing the media of reporting news which is “not accurate”?

We, in the media, are not perfect nor do we pretend to ‘know it all’. Most of us report on information our “credible source’s” find on any particular matter and then we expand on it with our own investigations – well, that’s how I like to operate. Normally, these “credible sources” are those who work for the larger Media Organisations and are almost, always first on the scene of any crime or scandal. How credible are they and how much damage can a news story do if it weren’t really accurate? Would it then be justifiable to call it a “Fake Media report”?

Only yesterday I met with an acquaintance I have known for quite some time, from the very small ‘Journo Circles’ in Sydney and he was discussing a current case in court. The case heavily relied on two Police Prosecutor’s witnesses, who are now part of the ‘Witness Protection Program’… so their names have legally changed to protect their identity and the Court was closed to the general public, including crime reporters and Investigative Journalists. I am sure we will hear the final court ruling in due course regarding this matter but will this be the TRUTH? Will the public know what really happened? In closed court matters, so much is said that we, the general public don’t hear about the full facts nor hear the evidence in detail and will never know about unless, of course, there is a leak of some type.

This discussion took me back to a case I was reporting on in my younger years in the year 2000, 17 years ago. I can not discuss the matter in full as this was also a ‘Closed Court’ case. This is not public knowledge and probably, never will be. This particular case involved a special operations group from the NSW Police, QLD Police, Federal Police and one former Police Constable.

The original information police received or “tip-off”, as we like to refer to it, came from a former employee of the NSW Police Force, the same former Police Constable I refer to in the last paragraph. When an informant such as an ex-cop speaks to a current member of any Police Force, everyone listens carefully.

For the purpose of this article, we will refer to the ex-cop as Mr. J. and I will try and summarise this lengthy investigation, the best I can in the space I have been given to write this article.

In the year 2000, Mr. J, a Sydney based business owner and former NSW Police Officer came across information on illegal activities being conducted by a well organised criminal group which involved a national crime syndicate. As a trained investigator, Mr. J gathered as much information as he could, without raising too much suspicion with all the questions he was asking of his newly acquainted criminal contact. After receiving this information, Mr. J telephoned a Police Officer who was known to him and informed him of what he had just learned. The Police Officer referred Mr. J to the relevant Police Detectives who handle such matters.

Mr. J then meets with two Detectives, at a local café, from a specialist group in the NSW Police Force and speaks with them openly about the information he has just come across, from his new acquaintance, Mr. E. The two Detectives take this matter very seriously and sign Mr. J as an informant, making it official that he is working with the NSW Police on this matter. The Detectives then ask Mr. J to remain in contact with his original source, Mr. E and ask further questions. The questions were normally scripted by the Police but the problem was, Mr. J was to act as if he was interested in the criminal proposal. How else could one get inside information if they are not at all interested in “doing business”? Although very hesitant, Mr. J accepts the Police proposal and goes on to find out more information for the Police, at the same time, trying hard not to expose himself as a former police officer now turned informant. Difficult task? Sure was, not only difficult but extremely dangerous and in reality, only a person trained in undercover police work could pull it off without the criminals working it out.

A couple of months pass and the investigation into this criminal syndicate has become more intense as Mr. J has infiltrated through to the main organisers, past the “gatekeepers”. He is now well within the trusted circle of this criminal group and his stress levels had just gone up a few notches.

Mr. J. speaks with his NSW Police Detective contacts and advises them that he can now get the information they need for them to make an arrest and close this illegal enterprise. The Police Detectives ask Mr. J to request a number of illegal goods from his criminal contacts (I cannot mention what goods they were as we need to protect the identity of Mr. J).

Mr. J, once again, confirms with the Detectives that he would need their urgent assistance if the situation goes pear-shaped and should he need to pull out at any point if he felt threatened in any way. The Detectives assure Mr. J that they “have his back just as long as Mr. J does not do anything illegal himself and only follows Police instructions”. Easier said than done, right? When you are working for the Police in a covert operation and you are not a current member of the NSW Police Force, there are many ways you could get yourself in trouble. Mr. J believed that he would be supported by the Police no matter what, considering the complexity of the case.

After 9 months of ‘undercover’ work for the Police, Mr. J received a phone call from his criminal contact in Queensland saying he may be able to help Mr. J with his requests (requests of the NSW Police, in reality). Mr. J explains to the Detectives that he needs to travel to Queensland to meet up with the criminal group. The Detectives remind him that his phone is also monitored as they have legal TAPS placed on all the criminals that Mr. J has exposed and in discussion with. Mr. J had no issues and was quite comfortable with being recorded as he believed it was all a part of the operation and whatever he did say, whether legal or illegal, was all for the benefit of the Police operation considering it was their request to start off with.

During the meeting in one of Queensland’s suburbs, in close proximity to the NSW border, between Mr. J and the original criminal member (Mr. E) he met back in Sydney nearly a year before, Mr. E tells Mr. J that he has in his possession the goods Mr. J had been asking for. At this point, Mr. J was seriously in panic mode as he wasn’t expecting to be receiving anything from his criminal contact. Mr. E then goes to his car and pulls out a large plastic bag and informs Mr. J that the bag is for him and tells him, “when you sell them, just give me the money as per the list inside the bag but remember to add something on top for yourself”. Not knowing exactly what to do, as he doesn’t want to expose himself and refuse to accept anything from his criminal contact after months of asking for these ‘goods’, Mr. J tells Mr. E to just put the bag in the back seat of Mr. J’s car. The reason behind this was not to get Mr. J’s fingerprints all over the bag.

As Mr. J and Mr. E said goodbye to each, Mr. J got in his car and as he drove away from the carpark and once he was sure Mr. E was not in sight, he picked up his mobile phone and called the Detectives back in Sydney but there was no answer (court and phone records show that Mr. J did attempt to make those calls). He continued to drive and intermittently call the Detectives he had been working with from day one on this case, but again, no answer. All Mr. J needed to know was what did they want him to do with the plastic bag he had just received, not even knowing what exactly was in the bag but it surely was something to do with the illegal business he had been talking and asking about for a very long time. Not a good position to be in at all, either you accept the ‘goods’ (knowing they are illegal) or refuse and expose your cover and risk getting killed as an informant.

As Mr. J crossed the border into NSW from QLD, he was pulled over by a Highway Patrol Officer and was informed by the officer that he was speeding and was asked for his licence while the Officer went back to his car to, obviously, check Mr. J’s details. Mr. J, tells me that there was some type of relief at this point as he would need to tell the Officer he may be carrying something illegal but wasn’t sure of the contents in the plastic bag in between the back seat and the driver’s seat. He had no other choice as he had not made contact or heard back from the Detectives in Sydney and carrying these illegal goods for much longer would be a huge risk.

As the NSW Highway Patrol Officer walked back to Mr. J’s car, Mr. J told him about the plastic bag that he had picked up in QLD but wasn’t sure what was inside and wanted to be taken to the Police Station to be able to make a call to Police in Sydney (his Detective contacts). The Police Officer took the bag out from the back seat and placed the bag on the back of the car’s boot. As the Officer was checking the contents, several other Police vehicles arrived and placed Mr. J in handcuffs and told him that he would be conveyed back to the closest Police Station. This is what Mr. J was hoping they would do and take him back to the nearest Police station but was quite upset that he was now put in handcuffs for something which was originally organised by the police? At this stage, Mr. J tells me that he was relieved that this was all going to end and arrests would be made and he could go back to his ‘normal’ everyday life but was wondering as to why and how did these extra unmarked police cars arrived so quickly to his location. As a former Police Officer, his intuition told him that these same cars would possibly be part of a surveillance team who were involved in the investigation into this matter. Either way, the situation would be sorted out… so he thought.

How wrong could Mr. J have been? As he arrived at the Local Police Station, a Detective spoke to Mr. J and introduced himself as Detective Sergeant AJ (full name withheld) and that he was the head of the Investigation (Cannot disclose the name of the operation). Mr. J asked Detective Sgt. AJ if he could call the Detectives in Sydney and they would explain the situation better. The Detective told Mr. J that he would allow him to make a phone call to his Solicitor but no one else at this stage. This had Mr. J confused and very worried. Mr. J made a call to his solicitor and told him the situation, the solicitor advised him that the Detective’s intention was to charge him but they would grant him bail. Mr. J remembers at this time, his blood pressure just “shot up” and thinking, “have I just been stitched up or are the Police playing along with the scenario so they don’t blow my cover”?

The car had been searched inside out, nothing more was found and Mr. J was charged with a crime (cannot mention the exact charges as to protect Mr. J’s identity). Mr. J was handed back the keys to his car, granted bail and was released from Police custody. As Mr. J got in his car, he tried to call the Detectives he had been dealing with from day one but again, no answer. He thought he’d best leave it for the time being and attempt to make contact when he got home as it wasn’t a good idea to drive and talk as he was extremely upset and confused as to what had just occurred.

As he arrived home, after a very long drive, the local Police from the closest station to Mr. J’s residential address, served Mr. J with a search warrant and his house was searched but nothing illegal was found. He was asked to report to Police every day until his case was heard in court. Mr. J agreed to the conditions as he had no problem doing what was right and legal. Once again, he tried calling the Detectives in Sydney and this time the phone was answered. Mr. J told the officers what had just occurred and they informed him that they had been told about the situation and needed to see him ASAP at the usual café they had met at from the start.

When Mr. J met with the 2 original Detectives at the usual meeting spot, Mr. J was advised that because he was charged with the offence of ‘Possessing Illegal goods’ they could not continue talks and they informed Mr. J that they were asked by Police Head office to suspend the ‘Police Informant Agreement’ until the case was heard. At this point, Mr. J was furious that he was put in this position by the same officers who had asked him to help them in gathering more information, which he did, but believed he would be supported if something like this would occur. The Detectives advised Mr. J to just attend court and that they would see him there as witnesses to the matter and once again, told him that he would just “need to trust them”. Without any further discussion, Mr. J tells me that he felt so “used” and had “lost all trust in the Police from that point on.”

Mr. J had appointed several legal practitioners to look after the matter while he was reporting at the local police station daily for one year and nine months awaiting the court hearing. Now, that’s a sentence in itself without being sentenced.

The court hearing was set for the latter part of the year in 2001 and as it was a closed court because of all the sensitive information I have supplied so far in this article, no media or public apart from Mr. J, his Lawyers and family were allowed in the court for the hearing. Mr. J, upon the advice of his Lawyers, did not accept to be a Prosecution witness as this would expose him as an informant and expose the Police operation in detail but rather, he remained as a Police Informant, for the very good reason to not let the criminals know who he truly was but make them believe that he was charged just like the rest of them… as a part of the criminal consortium, so to speak.

If Mr. J had chosen to become a Witness for the Prosecution and accept registering for the ‘Witness Protection Program’ that would mean he would need to have changed his name, move his family away from his current address and assume a new identity totally and look over his shoulder for the rest of his life or he could remain quiet and continue with the court case in a closed court proceeding and the criminals would not know the true involvement of Mr. J and they would believe he was just an unfortunate victim in this, just as they were all unlucky to be caught.

When situations like this occur, in a closed court proceeding, the public hears the final decision of the court which meant that we heard Mr. J had received a sentence for a few years for the offence/s he was charged with but we do not hear the entire story publicly (cannot state the exact length of time to protect the identity of Mr. J). The problem with this is that, Mr. J will forever be known, publicly, to have been sentenced for this crime but was he really? I asked Mr. J for an interview about the whole matter to find out more about what was the “real” outcome. This is what was said;

MH:  Mr. J, thank you for accepting to discuss this matter with me, it must have been one hell of a ride for you. I understand that you cannot speak about most of the case openly as you have sworn to keep it all completely behind closed doors with the Courts but can you tell us was the sentence true, as we read it in the media?

Mr. J: First of all, Thanks for taking the time and your interest in the case to do the interview, you are absolutely right, this case has sure been hell for me. To answer your question, the sentence which was handed down by the court on the day is legally recorded- that is all I can say.

MH: This case was probably one of the biggest “busts” on this type of illegal operation in the country, do you regret now, getting involved at all?

Mr. J: No, I don’t regret telling the police about the illegal operation when I first found out about it but I do have some regret in accepting to get involved deeper than I wanted to initially.

MH: Why is that? Why do you regret getting involved “deeper” than you hoped to?

Mr. J: I knew from the very start that it would mean I would have to neglect some of my everyday work if I got myself involved. It would also affect my family. I would have to lie to them on where I was and what I was doing. It was very difficult for me as I have always been open and honest with my wife.

MH: You say, “this case has sure been hell for me”, what exactly do you mean by that?

Mr. J: There are many reasons why – first is that I lost faith in the Police procedures and rules they say they abide by. I was disappointed that the laws could not cover me in a situation where I was forced into accepting illegal goods when I had no personal intention to do so but was only doing a job to help in the investigation and a job I was asked to do as a Police informant. A major problem was dragging my family through all this, no one knew where this would all eventually lead to and the question was, could I be going to go to jail on a technicality? They (family) did not ask for it nor were they aware of what I was doing while working with the Police. This was a total shock to them. The main reason it has been hell for me is that the conviction was legally recorded, as far as the public was concerned. Although I love new technology, I am hating the internet because I can be found on search engines as this “criminal” and I really can’t defend myself and explain to people the real reasons why it’s up on the net and what the case was all about.

MH: It is true what you say, the media does receive news stories from court reporters on cases every day. I do remember receiving the story of your case and thinking, wow, this should be an interesting case but when I went to read the court transcripts, there wasn’t anything available for the press or the public to read apart from the final court decision. Was this a “fake court hearing” to throw the criminals off as you were, as we know it now, a Police informant?

Mr. J: No, it wasn’t a fake court hearing, as you put it. It was real, very real. I mean, the case involved real criminals who are now all behind bars and I assisted with that. The sentence the court imposed on me was also very real. The judge, the prosecution lawyers, my defence lawyers were all real.  What happened behind closed doors and the agreements we made, I cannot discuss- and that is what is not helping me at the present time because the newspaper stories say one thing and yet, it is really not the full facts of the matter but only what the public are meant to know.

MH: What do you mean by, “not helping you at the present time”?

Mr. J:  It doesn’t help me trying to move forward with my life. I still have bills to pay and a life to live. I need to work to feed my family but in today’s world, if people want to know more about you they search the internet. What they will see is my name, me… involved in a serious criminal case and automatically, I am this bad person… and as I have mentioned before, I can’t tell them that it is not what it looks like and that it is just what the public can be told by the media. Look, I am even struggling to make it clear for you to understand and you’re a journalist who understands a lot more about ‘closed court’ matters better than the average Joe.

MH: I do follow what you are saying and I appreciate that you are bound by a large degree of secrecy and can’t discuss this in detail apart from what you have told me generally about the case. I also understand that by abiding by these rules, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Can you tell me, did you spend time in jail as it was reported by the media?

Mr. J:  I can confirm that the media did publish that I was in prison but as I mentioned before, there were discussions in court that I cannot talk about and unfortunately, I cannot discuss that publicly.

MH:  There was another person involved in this same matter whom you met originally by the name of Mr. E who turned on all his friends and became a Crown Witness, his name doesn’t appear anywhere at all apart from being referred to by his “Witness Name”, a name which is similar to that of a cartoon character. Why is that?

Mr. J:  Well, quite simple really, as a Crown Witness he accepted to take on a different identity and signed up for witness protection program which means he could never be identified and yet, I did all the undercover, dirty work for the police and my name is splattered everywhere. Go figure.

MH: Yes, like the sex offenders who cannot be named. Would you say it is fair that someone, like yourself, who has assisted Police with one of the biggest busts in Australian history has his name plastered everywhere on the net and yet the real criminals can hide?

Mr. J: No chance in hell is it fair. You are right not even the sex offenders have their name published and are protected by the law.

MH: I know many people would agree with me when I say you deserve a medal for exposing this consortium and putting your life at risk by accepting to take that risk by going undercover for the police. What would you change, if anything? What have you learned from the experience and what advice would you give others who could end up in the same situation?

Mr. J:  One thing I would love to be able to change is the laws to protect people like myself who’s intention was never to commit a crime but to assist Police. I can’t do that though, they are the laws. I understand that I did have the opportunity to sign on as a Crown Witness and I wouldn’t have been in this position I am in now publicly known as a criminal when that is far from the truth but to have signed up as a Crown Witness, I would have had to drag my whole family into the situation again by relocating and having them all change their names, lifestyle and possibly moving overseas. I just couldn’t do that. All I can do now is live with it, keep my mouth shut and struggle.

What I have learned from this whole ordeal was to never trust what anyone tells you, not even the Police. Just because you sign on as an informant doesn’t help you much in the end and be sure to read the fine print. Although there wasn’t any fine print on the papers, one should realise that the Police can make their own rules up as they go along. I really feel let down by it all, unfortunately.

MH:  I really do appreciate you taking the time to meet with me to discuss your situation. I do believe it is important to let people know that not everything they read can be taken as gospel. We, Journalists, do report what we hear and see but it is not always the full story or should I say, all fact. I have had the privilege to read through this particular case, thanks to you for making it available to me and I must say, the media can be cruel in how we deal with cases especially in cases like this where an individual suffers because of it.

Mr. J: I am glad you see it and hopefully others will take note as well. If it’s a closed court, there is always a good reason for it. I appreciate your honesty and your time to get this message across to the general public.

As an investigative journalist for over 30 years, I have learned that believing in something without fact checking is the wisdom of a fool. In this particular case, reporters working on the day of Mr. J’s sentencing, all heard the same story as it was reported by the Court reporters. Majority of reporters ran to their computers and published the court’s findings. But what was behind those findings? These same reporters would not be able to tell you as they don’t know it themselves.

A handful of us went that one step further and asked for the court transcripts through the Freedom of Information Act and was refused access to any of those files. It is obvious to an experienced Journalist that there was much more to the story than met the eye. There was much more information we would never know about. This occurrence is rare but it does happen in our legal system to either protect the Police, Informants or any other “good guy” involved in an undercover Police investigation.

My advice to all reporters and the general public is, if you can’t get access to the court transcripts and only have access to the court’s findings then don’t be in a rush to publish a story as there is a lot more to it, or as far as the public is concerned, don’t judge the person unfairly and believe in what you have just read or been told. At the end of the day, they may be a hero who has just taken a bullet for the sake of our legal and justice system.

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