Monday, April 19, 2010

Carl Williams, police informer

That’s a headline that was merely implied in this morning’s hardcopy Herald Sun (front page splash) – the official line was “that for legal reasons it is unable to detail why the payment [of daughter’s school fees and father’s tax-office debt] was made” (next URL). The school-fees/ police-informer story has since been expunged from the Herald Sun website. A case of blood on their hands, it would seem.

However, most other media outlets have been remarkably reluctant to point their finger at the tabloid attack dog. A Google News search at 7 pm AEST produced only two extant re-reports of the Herald Sun story. Neither of these was the Melbourne Age, supposedly the Herald Sun’s arch-rival. Neither of these commented/speculated further on the police-informer implication, but tonight’s 5 pm Channel 10 (national) news did.

Rather than go after one of their own, the media pack have instead generally gone for the opposite jugular – sanctimoniously pointing out that Williams, murdered in prison about 8 hours after the Herald Sun hit the streets, had it coming (“no surprise”), and duly re-hashing Williams’ lengthy criminal record. That Williams may have had at least one redeeming quality (a major one, IMO) – agreeing to be a police informer, in spite of the obvious risks – is the love (of daughter and father) that dare not speak its name, it would seem. All too human for a “serial killer”*?

Williams’ faith in the (presumed) strong assurances of Victoria Police that his police-informer status would be rock-solid confidential – despite all his instincts no doubt telling him the opposite – is touching. Or maybe, facing thirty years plus in prison, he was just resigned to the inevitable - that a corrupt police force and an amoral tabloid would sooner or later conspire to murder him, one slow-news Monday. At least, as a sort of pre-emptive legacy, he could provide for his daughter and father, come what may.

Either way – naïveté, or self-sacrifice (with possibly some self-interest** too) – in death, Williams looks mighty good in comparison to Victoria’s other underworld – our seamless, sordid media/government complex.

Update 23 April 2010

While looking for a reference for Simon Overland’s 2007 “serial killer” jibe, I came across a revealing comparison. Googling "Victoria's worst serial killer" comes up with a couple of 2007 references to Williams, and a whole lot more references to other killers clearly nastier than Williams. I could not find a direct Overland citation, however – for the record, my source was something I read online (probably the Age or Herald Sun) that afternoon (19 April). The context of Overland’s hysterical jibe (which if it were made, would have been immediately after Williams’ sentencing in May 2007) was apparently as a counter-balance to his public defensiveness two months earlier over Williams’ March 2007 plea deal with Victoria Police (a fact surprisingly little-reported in the last few days). In any event, Premier John Brumby has since taken on the “serial killer” hysterical jibe as his own. Presumably Brumby also has something unpleasant to expunge by so doing.

I wrote the post in a hurry, and should elaborate on what I meant by police corruption and Williams’ death. What I then meant by “corrupt police” was not mostly in a speculative sense. The leak of highly-protected information to the Herald Sun presumably came from deep within the Victoria Police. As early as Monday afternoon, it would surely not be difficult to, if not easily identify the leaker, narrow the field to a handful of police. The fact that several days later, AFAICT no progress (and quite possibly, no attempt at) has been made at prosecuting this serious crime – leaking strictly-confidential information, so as to perhaps (at least) incite a murder – speaks volumes.

The much-reduced life expectancy of high-profile criminals unmasked as police informers is well known. But in Victoria, you don’t need to rely on this as a general truism. Since the 2004 murder of Melbourne police-informer/criminal Terrence Hodson (and his wife), there has been an apparent strong link – still the subject of criminal proceedings – not just involving unmasking police-informers leading to murder, but also plain police corruption involving leaking highly-protected confidential information (straight to Hodson’s gangland rivals, not to the media as intermediary as in Carl Williams’ case), and far more else besides.

Former Victoria Police detective Paul Noel Dale (and his alleged hired gun Rodney Charles Collins) were charged with the Hodsons’ murders in March 2009. Progress on the prosecution since appears (see next para) to have been glacial, although Dale was granted bail on 11 September 2009. This was an extraordinary allowance made for a murder accused, who according to one of two separate pre-appellate judges denying Dale bail, “posed too great a risk to witnesses” (same URL).

Media reports on Tuesday (20/4) referred to a high-profile, unnamed criminal prosecution that, as a result of Williams’ death, would now almost certainly not proceed. It would be a striking coincidence – but also a very Melbourne, small-world thing – if this prosecution were that of Dale. I emphasise that this is pure speculation on my part; all factual information for this post comes from Google; i.e. the public record (which, from its scantness on the Dale prosecution, suggests sweeping suppression orders are in place over reportage of the case).

Speaking of the public record and suppression orders, Williams’ lawyer Rob Stary said this on ABC2 News on Tuesday (20/4):

“There have been 46 successful prosecutions of corrupt police in this state, but the public would have no idea about that". (video replay)

There is no transcript of this segment, and text reportage of what Stary said has wilfully omitted this surely important, succinct piece of fact.

You read it here first.

Further update 24 April 2010

From today’s Australian:

“It is already understood that one association that has appeared on the radar of the OPI and Task Force Driver is a decade-long link between one of Williams's fellow prisoners, Thomas Ivanovic - who was in the day room and reportedly on the telephone during Monday's attack - and a former detective on murder charges”.

and Age:

“It is fair to say that police have established Taskforce Driver to investigate the broader issues over the killing because they fear that corrupt police or former police may be involved. It is also fair to say that a high-profile case may have suffered a fatal blow at the same time as Carl was suffering his”.

You do the math.

And to Thomas Ivanovic, as the operator says – Hold the line (Friends aren’t always on time).

* In 2007, then Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Simon Overland (previously, between 2003 and mid-2006, leader of the Purana Taskforce on organised crime) labelled Williams a serial killer (see also Update 23 April 2010, above), despite the fact that (AFAICT) Williams only killed within his own criminal fraternity. Ivan – now that’s a serial killer – Milat would no doubt be chuffed at Overland’s insult to Milat’s innocent victims, and the corollary beatification of Williams’ fellow-underworld victims. (Why didn’t they “have it coming”?)

** Assuming that Williams thought an early death preferable to serving his sentence.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Booby prizes

The current Wynne Prize/Sam Leach controversy is remarkable for being a near-identical re-run of the 2004 Archibald Prize (both administered by the Art Gallery of NSW) legal challenge – big-mouthed boomer artist challenges talented, 37 y.o. Xer (Craig Ruddy, in the latter case).

Eminent” Australian landscape artist Tim Storrier* – who likes a good Chesterfield armchair pose – is the most likely force behind the oh-so-boomer gesture of the email that “began landing in arts journalists’ inboxes” on Tuesday afternoon (13/4) – such precision timing and targeting, only matched by the level of its gutless anonymity (I’m presuming). Hint to Tim: if you’re so “eminent”, then maybe you don’t need to get your hands quite so dirty. Even if Storrier wasn’t behind the email, his on-the-record opinion that Leach’s prize-winning painting is “a flicker of that rather odious post-modernist practice of appropriation, which essentially is theft” is laughable. Apart from accusing Leach of a criminal act, he implies – rather “odiously”, surely – that the Wynne Prize judges are woefully ignorant of Dutch old masters and/or the Australian landscape. In contrast, Leach at least had the professionalism to be “quite confident that [the judges] would recognise the painting as being from that particular period” (penultimate URL), as well as (presumably) that the landscape was dubiously “Australian”.

I’m sure Leach now regrets entering the Wynne Prize – its modest $25,000 purse seems inverse to the Everest of vitriol heaped against him. Patrick White had the right idea about Australian prizes – not worth the bother of entering, or declining them if he was involuntarily entered. The National Gallery of Victoria, meanwhile, perhaps having read my 2006 blog post, has belatedly decided that it was “not in the business of promoting and awarding prizes”, which meant rejecting outright a $400,000 bequest to establish an award for a painting by an Australian artist “in sympathy with the work of E. Phillips Fox”.

* Storrier has never won the Wynne Prize

Monday, April 05, 2010

Expert treatment of paedophile priests circa 1980

The latest Pope Benedict brou-ha-ha has featured a surfeit of moral outrage, from people who I am sure otherwise see public expressions of morality as on a par with corporal punishment in schools – something one is (of course) intrinsically unable to even imagine doing oneself, but is presumptively latent, and on hair-trigger setting, across a large swathe of the population otherwise. Personally, I am all for atheism in principle, if only it didn’t involve so-much goddamn tub-thumping, and so little doggedly clinging to empirical stalks of fact. For magnificently replacing the mainline opiate of the masses with a stealth-drip shovel-load of codeine tablets – take a bow, Christopher Hitchens.

Two particular stalks of probable fact have been given surprisingly little consideration: (i) the therapeutic and medico-legal treatment of paedophile priests between 1970 and 1989 (the high-water years of offending, other than in specialist (not boarding schools) institutions*), and (ii) the comparatively low rates (AFAICT) of paedophile offending by GenX men who were sexually abused as boys. The latter admittedly involves several assumptions and speculations, and really needs a lot more research before it can be rationally discussed. I am quite confident, however, that a strong correlation exists between male Xers (born between 1/7/62 and 31/12/76) and child victims of paedophile priests, and that adult male GenXers are not currently over-represented as paedophile offenders. I stress here that I am not, in any way, minimising the harm that was done to this child victim cohort. On the contrary, as I have frequently blogged before, Xers in general, particularly men, have some striking, sui generis indicators of poor mental health. This post is otherwise not much about Xers’ adulthoods, however – but by shining a much-needed spotlight on the expert treatment of adult paedophile priests c.1980, I hope some incidental glimmerings may emerge of how the same system, at the same time as it purported to “fix” adults, uniquely and comprehensively “broke” – or at the very least ignored – a 15-year cohort of children.

In hindsight, it hardly needs to be said, whatever the expert treatment comprised, (i) it generally did not work (i.e. prevent further offending by the patient), and (ii) would not be considered today, other than as an adjunct to a custodial (presumably) sentence following first-resort criminal proceedings (and such treatment, even today, is of doubtful efficacy anyway). But to be fair to the Catholic hierarchy, if they were following lay/“civilian” best practice at the time, a fair measure of blame and moral indignation can surely be shifted to the relevant experts.

Unfortunately, my “spotlight” here doesn’t illuminate much specific data. It certainly appears that some kind of “treatment” was very common in the interlude between a paedophile priest being moved out, and in to the next location, Father Peter Hullermann’s case being a seemingly shocking example of how indecently short (he resumed duties a few days after treatment began) this interlude could be. Not known by me, but all important, is the relative scientific value of the “treatment” at the time. At one extreme, “treatment” could be a euphemism for a cynical PR-exercise: burying the problem as quietly as possible, all done 100% in-house. At the other extreme, the Catholic hierarchy would be placing their utmost good faith in outside experts. However, because the latter has never been overtly pleaded (AFAICT), by those who it would surely most exculpate, it appears quite improbable. Much more likely, then, is that the “expert” treatment received by paedophile priests c.1980 was of doubtful or nil scientific value, even at the time. That said, this is a topic which could certainly use some detailed further investigation, and an open mind.

The case of Father Peter Hullermann provides a useful postscript here:

Father Hullermann resumed parish work practically on arrival in Munich [where he was to undergo treatment], on Feb. 1, 1980. He was convicted in 1986 of molesting boys at another Bavarian parish” (same URL).

Umm, that’s actually quite a long gap, as far as the offending patterns of paedophile priests go, unless the 1986 charges cover conduct back to about March 1980. But no, it appears they relate to the Sep 1984 – June 1985 school year. Somewhat surprisingly, then, Peter Hullermann’s “treatment” actually may have worked, at least for a while. Other reasonable alternative possibilities, however, are that there are unknown/unreported offences from the intervening years, or that he was kept on a tight leash, such as working in girls’ schools only (penultimate URL), during this period.

More saliently, the 1986 charges also resulted, inter alia, in Peter Hullermann’s treatment – I have omitted the quotation marks this time because its medico-legal bona fides are clear: Hullermann’s sentencing package was an 18-month suspended sentence with five years of probation, a 4,000 marks fine, and an order to undergo therapy. Laughable today, of course, but hard to lay solely at the feet of the Catholic hierarchy.

And as to why all this came out only recently, it should come as no surprise that we have the undeservedly only slightly-famous Xer from central casting to thank, or blame:

“The case that has raised questions about the future pope’s handling of a pedophile priest in Germany came to light three decades after it occurred, and then almost by chance. It happened when Wilfried Fesselmann, an early victim, said he stumbled on Internet photographs of the priest who sexually abused him [at age 11], still working with children. Fesselmann, who had long remained silent about the abuse he suffered in 1979, said the pictures stunned him and spurred him to contact his abuser. Thus began the convoluted process, which included an extortion investigation against Fesselmann for the emotionally raw e-mail messages he sent the church in 2008 demanding compensation, that ultimately put Pope Benedict XVI in an uncomfortable spotlight. After the police investigated him for blackmail, Fesselmann did not discuss his charges [which were dropped in 2008, after several weeks of investigation] publicly until last month . . . [Meanwhile, charges against the priest for what he had done to Fesselmann were ruled out as ‘clearly past the statute of limitations, [so] no investigative proceedings against the priest were started.’]

Fesselmann, now 41, an unemployed father of three . . . [and] a large man with a gentle manner, . . . was no stranger to public attention. He has written two books on living well off the German welfare system, and he has appeared on television many times”.

Xers in adult life have never played by the book, for which we have often paid the price, as per the obscene – but sadly, also quite predictable – attempt by the German state to cast Wilfried Fesselmann as criminal perpetrator. The secular system – never mind the Catholic church – has failed Xers since birth with a comprehensive malice. Our reaction to this has only barely begun to be expressed.

* In these specialist, non-boarding school institutions, offending peaked in, or possibly before, the 1960s, in large part because such institutions closed soon thereafter.

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