Commissioner Margaret McMurdo has delivered a damning assessment of Victoria Police's recruitment and management of barrister-turned-informer Nicola Gobbo, which helped end Melbourne's gangland war but corrupted the state's criminal justice system.
In its final report, the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants identified entrenched cultural and organisational problems within the force along with a litany of individual failings that could lead to criminal charges against serving and former officers.
Nicola Gobbo outside the Supreme Court in 2004, at the height of her criminal defence career.Credit:Vince Caligiuri
"If the organisation and systems were flawed, it was because the individuals who made up the organisation and developed its systems, particularly senior leaders, lacked the moral clarity, vision and ability to fix those flaws," the report stated.
Ms McMurdo was scathing of the role played by former chief commissioner Simon Overland, particularly his failure to seek legal advice upon learning of Ms Gobbo's recruitment to the Source Development Unit.
"Mr Overland should have identified at this early stage the grave risks involved in, and the need to carefully consider, the extraordinary step of registering a criminal defence barrister as a human source," Ms McMurdo stated.
"The commission is of the view that the most likely reason that he did not obtain legal advice was that he feared it would limit the information he hoped to obtain from Ms Gobbo to help solve the gangland wars."
Former police commissioner Simon Overland arrives at the royal commission last year.Credit:Jason South
The royal commission found that more than 100 officers were aware of Ms Gobbo's role as an informer – but not one sought advice.
Despite repeated claims by police that it was Ms Gobbo's responsibility to manage legal privilege with her clients, the royal commission found that her handlers, and force command, wilfully ignored her professional obligations.
"Ms Gobbo and her handlers knew that what they were doing was unethical and unprofessional but were unwilling to stop," the report said.
The royal commission accused Commander Stuart Bateson, who was a detective sergeant with the Purana taskforce when Ms Gobbo was again recruited in 2003, of "conduct that may have undermined the administration of justice".
"Mr Bateson knew or should have known when he gave evidence at these relevant proceedings that on or around July 9, 2004, there was an earlier draft statement that materially changed following Ms Gobbo’s involvement (or at least that aspects of the statement had been materially altered) and this was never disclosed to the prosecution or defence."
The report handed down after almost two years identified a raft of probity and governance failings by Victoria Police including:
A culture where police officers are driven to get results at any cost;
- A culture of exceptionalism; that is, an attitude that police are "special" and can operate outside of rules and policies because of the nature of their work;
- Poor ethical decision making, including by leaders;
- Limited consideration of human rights, and
- A resistance to exposure, accountability and transparency.
Ms McMurdo also fired a salvo at recently retired chief commissioner Graham Ashton, who had been accused of defending Ms Gobbo's role as a human source by the convictions she helped secure.
"His statements tended to suggest a ‘desperate times, desperate measures’ excuse for Victoria Police’s conduct," the report stated.
"The chief commissioner could and should have conveyed a clear public message about the improper and unacceptable conduct perpetrated by Victoria Police."
The commissioner found neither Victoria Police nor the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption taskforce were suitable to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by officers involved with Ms Gobbo.
"It recommends that the Victorian government establishes a dedicated special investigator with all necessary powers to investigate potential criminal conduct on the part of Ms Gobbo and relevant current and former Victoria Police officers, and any disciplinary breaches by relevant current Victoria Police officers."
Ms McMurdo also found that Victoria Police's public interest immunity claims (which make information confidential if it's deemed sensitive) hindered the work of the commission.
Chief Commissioner Shane Patton on Monday afternoon.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui
She recommended an amendment to the Inquiries Act to prevent organisations refusing to produce documents to a royal commission on the basis of public interest immunity.
On Monday afternoon, Chief Commissioner Shane Patton again apologised for the use of Ms Gobbo, which he described as a "profound failure by our organisation that must not, and will not, ever be repeated".
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