Eight legal figures leaked to police, royal commission told

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In the commission’s first directions hearing on Friday morning, it was revealed police have referred another seven people who could have breached professional privilege.

But Commissioner McMurdo said only one of the police contacts, a male solicitor who met with officers in April 2014, was identified by the force as possibly breaching their professional obligations.

Police referred to the solicitor as a “community contact” and “given the risks posed by his profession”, he was not approved as a police informer and his file was deactivated in May 2014 without intelligence being obtained, the commissioner said.

Police disclosed there was another lawyer, now deceased, who had provided information.

This lawyer’s death is the subject of an “ongoing homicide investigation,” the commissioner said.

It is understood he was slain mafia lawyer Joseph “Pino” Acquaro, although he was not named in Friday’s royal commission hearing.

Joseph 'Pino' Acquaro was gunned down in Brunswick in March 2016.

Joseph ‘Pino’ Acquaro was gunned down in Brunswick in March 2016.

The 54-year-old, who represented several prominent Melbourne gangland and Calabrian crime figures, was shot and killed as he left his Lygon Street cafe Gelobar in Brunswick East in March 2016.

His client list included convicted drug trafficker Francesco Madafferi and underworld identity Rocco Arico.

Last year homicide squad detectives charged 69-year-old Vincent Crupi with murder in relation to Mr Acquaro’s death.

More details of other police sources were detailed in the commission’s hearing.

One was a court clerk who was registered from January 8, 2011 until May 11, 2016 and had “access to information by virtue of their roles”, Commissioner McMurdo said.

Another, registered from October 1, 2009 until May 11, 2016, was possibly a court clerk or legal secretary with a law firm but was not a practising lawyer.

Police had said this person was not “privy to any legal advice” and the information they supplied did not come from meetings between any lawyer and client.

Another was possibly a legal secretary in a corporation who was considered a “community contact” but not an informer, in 2015.

And another was a self-proclaimed legal adviser, but was not a registered legal practitioner, and they too were not registered as an informer, but had a file initiated from December 2015 until January 2016.

But, from Friday’s hearing, it seemed most of the commission’s work will focus on Informer 3838.

Given the registered number 3838, the lawyer turned supergrass and shared information about Melbourne’s criminal underbelly, some of whom were her own clients.

In her decade-long career as a barrister, Informer 3838 represented a cross-section of Melbourne’s underworld. becoming a trusted adviser to drug traffickers, murderers and Mafia figures.

Counsel assisting the commission, Christopher Winneke QC,  said Informer 3838, given the acronym EF, was first registered as a human source in 1995, and again in 1999 before her deregistration in 2009.

The inquiry will also investigate the conduct of current and former members of Victoria Police in their recruitment and handling of her, as well as the force’s management of human sources more broadly.

Mr Winneke said the commission will investigate if any legal advice was sought by Victoria Police before or during 3838’s registration.

He said her status and information was not disclosed to the state or commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

“The commission will examine whether this apparent situation is in fact correct, and if so, why there was no such disclosure,” he said.

Commissioner McMurdo said the commission expected to receive hundreds of thousands of documents from Victoria Police alone and it would have to establish secure premises to store the sensitive information.

The maze of suppression and non-publication orders that prevent 3838 from ultimately being identified is being “steadily addressed” by the commission, Commissioner McCurdo said.

“This has not been straightforward,” she said.

“As much as possible, the commission intends to hold hearings in public.”

Those hearings will start on a date yet to be fixed, and the commission will be required to report by December 1 this year.

It does not have the power to quash convictions, change sentences or order retrials.

Mr Winneke said the significance of this royal commission cannot be understated.

“The legitimacy of our criminal justice system relies on the process being fair and even-handed,” he said.

“All members of the community, including importantly the victims of criminal activity, must be able to trust that the justice system and the individuals working within it … will adhere to the highest standards of integrity and propriety.”

The at-times chequered history of Victoria Police’s handling of human sources was also touched upon in Friday’s hour-long hearing.

Two high-profile police informers have been murdered while under the care of Victoria Police or Corrections Victoria, including Terence Hodson – who was killed along with his wife Christine Hodson – and Carl Williams.

The Hodson murders were linked with corruption in the drug squad in the early 2000s and subsequent reviews found handling of informers was secretive, unaccountable and police had little, if any, control over informers.

The royal commission was announced following a damning High Court decision that described Victoria Police’s conduct in their use of Informer 3838 as “reprehensible” and her use had “debased fundamental premises of the criminal justice system”.

It came after the Director of Public Prosecutions and Victoria Police fought an epic two-year legal battle over whether the barrister’s former clients should be informed that her dual role as a lawyer and informer had compromised or contanminated their criminal cases.

The DPP notified 20 convicted criminals their cases could have been tainted, including Faruk Orman, the gangland getaway driver convicted of murdering Victor Peirce.

Drug traffickers Rob Karam and Tony Mokbel, who earlier this week was stabbed in maximum security prison after boasting that he would overturn his conviction due to the scandal, are also appealing.

Who they are

The people referred to the royal commission into police informers are :

  1. A court clerk.
  2. A possible court clerk or legal secretary.
  3. A legal secretary in a corporation, who was a “community contact”, but not a registered informer.
  4. A solicitor who was a “community contact”, but not a registered informer. This solicitor did not give police information about their own clients.
  5.  A former solicitor, who provided police with information over three days, but was never registered as an informer.
  6. A “self-proclaimed legal adviser”.
  7. A lawyer, now deceased, who had provided information to police. It is understood he was slain mafia lawyer Joseph “Pino” Acquaro.
  8. EF, also known as Informer 3838 or Lawyer X

With Bianca Hall. 

Tammy Mills is a Crime Reporter for The Age.

Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.

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