Sunday, November 13, 2011

Terrorism by other means – the Herald Sun drops another improvised explosive device

The Murdoch press empire “mafia” has been in the Australian news lately for illegal conduct in a faraway land. While the UK phone-tapping was blatantly illegal and disturbingly widespread, on the reprehensiveness-meter this conduct still falls short of its campaigning – successfully – to have named individuals killed. Which is exactly what the Murdoch press “mafia” in my own – and Rupert Murdoch’s childhood – home-town has been doing.

Exhibit 1: Carl Williams
Exhibit 2: Nicola Gobbo

While Nicola Gobbo is not dead at the time of writing, today’s Herald Sun story on her is as malevolent in its timing, and as nonchalant about its revelation of very sensitive secret material, illegally-obtained, as it was in publishing Carl Williams’ status as a police informer on the day of his murder.

In both cases, the Herald Sun has relied on a fig-leaf of sorts. On 19 April last year, it didn’t actually state, but merely inescapably implied, that Carl Williams was a police informer. Today, its Invitation to Assassinate (or DIY) Ms Gobbo is pregnant with omission. The last event chronologically detailed is the fire-bombing of Ms Gobbo’s car in 2008 (16 April); after which it oh-so smarmily wraps up her life in the last three-and-a-half-years with this: “In recent years Ms Gobbo has left the bar, suffering from ill-health”.

Anyone who has followed the legal travails of Victorian ex-police officer Paul Dale over the last few years would have naturally wondered: Who is this key witness to Dale’s forthcoming Commonwealth perjury charges (over which a suppression order was partially lifted on 10 November).

The revelations come as a key witness against Mr Dale was sensationally dropped from giving evidence against him amid ‘extreme’ fears for the witness’s safety. The witness was a shock withdrawal when the hearing began under a cloak of secrecy this week.”

ABC TV’s 7pm news on 11 November 2011 gave some further details on this witness; “they” had worn a recording device in a December 2008 meeting with Dale. “Their” identity is suppressed, unsurprisingly so in the circumstances.

If you Google "paul dale" "recording device" witness you’ll probably come up with the name I did. However, I’ll leave you to do the math.

On a related matter, is the surprisingly un-queried matter of why Paul Dale is currently a free man on bail, particularly given the perceived threat to the life of at least one witness.

“‘People who assist authorities in endeavouring to prosecute Paul Dale have got a pretty poor life expectancy. Two of them have been murdered [i.e. Terence Hodson and Carl Williams]’, Garry Livermore, counsel for the Australian Crime Commission, told the Melbourne Magistrates Court [on 10 November 2011]”.

“Do I hear three?” the Herald Sun chants to the mob, meanwhile.

Update 15 November 2011

At the Crikey “Pure Poison” blog, Jeremy Sear asks:

Since the Herald Sun obviously won’t investigate this outrageous misuse of police records [re Gobbo’s 1993 charges], perhaps it’s something its rival at Spencer St might consider?”

Unfortunately, it is not possible to question the Herald Sun’s motives and timing in running the 13 November Nicola Gobbo story without suppression orders looming large – specifically those arising from Paul Dale’s current Commonwealth perjury charges. This is something the Herald Sun would have well realised before running the story; that more conscientious elements in the mainstream media would be hamstrung from making even a careful, considered follow-up/corrective to the Herald Sun hatchet-job.

Here, there has been a repeated, nasty pattern – of timid Age, bullying Herald Sun – in the comparative media coverage of the Paul Dale trials over the last two years, at least.

Thus, on 13 May this year, the Age gave-up its lunch-money (= journalistic pride), moments after Mum’s morning drop-off, with this craven, cowardly caveat:

"But also fuelling divisions among senior police is the death of Carl Williams in prison. Police had attempted to persuade him to turn informer on corrupt police. Although there is no allegation that this was a factor in Williams's death . . . ”

Admittedly, as per serious in-court discussion during Matthew Johnston’s murder trial (on 13 September 2011), there may be an argument that even after his death, Carl Williams may still be covered by witness protection program restrictions that, of course, forbid the naming of protected police informers. I am not sure of the end result of these courtroom discussions; as at that point I stopped listening – and started seething. Yes, we have a witness protection program that can’t actually protect a witness living in what should be the most secure place in the state. But never mind that – the powers that be can thwart media coverage of the full story behind a murder, under the bizarre pretext that this is somehow “protecting” the deceased witness.

Jeremy Sear (above URL) also notes something that I hadn’t previously picked up: that Nicola Gobbo’s being outed as a prosection witness against Paul Dale in his Hodson murder charges was courtesy of a successful application by the Herald Sun to have suppression orders protecting her identity lifted.

By that stage (the afternoon of 30 April 2010), it was already an open secret that the death of Carl Williams meant that the murder charges against Paul Dale would not proceed. But this would only become official on 3 June (although this time it was the ABC that ran the leaked scoop on the 7pm TV news on 27 May).

Outing Ms Gobbo as a prosection witness at this sensitive stage was an extraordinary step, then. If Carl Williams is possibly still a “protected” prosection witness in death, Nicola Gobbo’s “protection” by the state is at the other extreme. She was on that date rather prematurely declared “open season”, and the Herald Sun has relished having her in its gunsights ever since.

Further Update 20 November 2011

Now you won’t find the Crikey “Pure Poison” blog page linked to above; the page was taken down two days after posting, sometime between 9am and 9pm on 16 November 2011. There has been no explanation from Crikey of the reasons behind its suppression, AFAICT. However, I suspect that I can take some of the credit/blame here. For posterity, here’s a comment I posted on the blog:

Debate over the nitty-gritty of Nicola Gobbo’s old legal run-in nicely underscores the providence of the documents that the Herald Sun relied on for its story. I would guess that its source here was police (= leaked), as opposed to court, documents. In general, of course, the former are confidential, while the latter are public (albeit usually not easily accessible).

The fact of the
Herald Sun’s speculation – viz that Ms Gobbo’s subsequent legal admission showed that the charges did not lead to a conviction – also suggests that the paper either (i) has not bothered to check, or (ii) was denied access to, court documents as to what was the ultimate formal outcome of Ms Gobbo’s charges. (My guess is the former: after all, if the underworld are feeding you its choicest tidbits, you are not likely to want the effort of metaphorically picking your own grapes in the dusty vineyard of legal minutiae, in order to round off your “meal”)

As far as Gavin Putland’s suggestion that Ms Gobbo may have a good defamation case, I think that she may have more urgent priorities for the foreseeable future; such as avoiding the death threats arising from her (very reluctant) involvement in current underworld legal proceedings, viz page 1 of the
Herald Sun on 10 November 2011”.

Note that there’s a typo in the date on the last line – but you get the picture, I’m sure. As to whether James Campbell relied on police documents only, or court documents as well, his update today on Nicola Gobbo’s 1993 student misdemeanours clarifies this. Duly chastened, I suspect, by my above comment, he has gone digging in the Magistrates Court archives last week, and come up with gold . . . crayon colouring.

Yes, the formal legal outcome of Ms Gobbo’s 1993 misdemeanours was, in sum total:

Drug trafficking – charges dropped (not that Campbell acknowledges this)
Possessing a drug of dependence – pleaded guilty to one charge
Using a drug of dependence – pleaded guilty to one charge

For the two charges to which Ms Gobbo pleaded guilty, no conviction was recorded and she was placed on a good behaviour bond.

Mocking the Herald Sun for making big news of the fact that Ms Gobbo, when a uni student, INHALED!, would be to let it off with a proverbial good behaviour bond, however. Here, the paper can hardly claim either youth or previous good character in its favour.

A depressing element of the comments thread on the now-suppressed blog page was a tit-for-tat debate/argument between two commenters over what last week’s Herald Sun story actually meant for Ms Gobbo’s criminal record. This debate was as pointless as, say, pronouncing on the funniness or meaning of a joke to which the punch-line has been forgotten. In Ms Gobbo’s case, of course, James Campbell’s original story involved either withholding, or not bothering to look for, the only definitive document as to Ms Gobbo’s criminal record from her 1993 charges.

The fact that two punters can nonetheless endlessly dissect what I would coin an Incomplete Joke is a nice metaphor for everyday Melburnians’ attitude to the underworld that runs their city and state. In general, they are prepared to politely laugh, or ignore, the absence of a punch-line as they go about their daily lives. In their deluded generosity, time after time, they assume that the punch-line is merely forgotten, rather than deliberately withheld.

Another further update 22 November 2011

The suppression order supposed to protect Nicola Gobbo’s identity as a (ex-) witness in Paul Dale’s current Commonwealth perjury charges was lifted this morning. No media coverage so far today has drawn attention to the Herald Sun’s recent intimidation of Ms Gobbo as a supposedly protected witness.

Contrary to what the Herald Sun – and most other media outlets – reported today, while Ms Gobbo was technically discharged as a witness on 10 November 2011, evidence provided as a result of her secretly wearing a recording device in December 2008 is still set to be a key plank of the case against Dale.

Ms Gobbo thus presumably remains a howling “dog” to the underworld, an assessment that seems to be confirmed by a fresh death threat last week (penultimate URL), received after she technically became an ex-witness (and after the Herald Sun’s apparent open-season-on-Ms-Gobbo declaration in its 12 November 2011 story).

and this bewilderingly :

This case still intrigues me.
Was good meeting you during the MJ trail
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