Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ombudsman George Brouwer finds ghost ship at Barwon Prison on the day Carl Williams died

On 19 April 2010 Barwon Prison was a hive of activity – in the sense of unexplained busy-ness, with no one in particular in charge. That is the gist (reading between the lines, of course) of Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer’s recent report “The death of Mr Carl Williams at HM Barwon Prison – investigation into Corrections Victoria” (“the Ombudsman’s Report”). In addition though, one explosive (IMO) new revelation is made by Brouwer – one that has received no media attention to date.

I recently posted on David Prideaux, general manager of Barwon Prison before and after Williams’ murder, but on assignment elsewhere in April 2012, and Nicholas Selisky, aka Nick Selisky, acting general manager in lieu. The Ombudsman’s Report f.n. 16 states gives a much lengthier time of secondment for David Prideaux than other information implies, with Prideaux, according to Brouwer, absent from the general manager role between 14 June 2009 and7 May 2010. That’s quite a break, but it apparently didn’t stop Prideaux from being sent an email as general manager on 23 April 2010 (ibid para 225). No doubt Williams’ murder days earlier justifiably brought forward, in some respects, Prideaux’ return to his role, but this small ambiguity/slippage over who was actually GM on this day – Prideaux or Selisky – is emblematic of Brouwer’s report; with the same ambiguity/slippage repeating, with two other key figures also mysteriously present (i.e. theoretically accountable), and yet able to stare Brouwer down with “not my job” assertions, around the time of Williams’ murder.

The first such key figure is Peter Hutchison, operations manager for security and emergency services group for Corrections Victoria (i.e. the man directly responsible for prisoner placementand security arrangements). If you scan the fine print of the Ombudsman’s Report, you’ll divine that Hutchison went on leave sometime before 6 April 2010, and returned from leave on 10 May 2010. During this reasonably lengthy absence, apparently no one was acting in Hutchison’s absence, with Hutchison, in an interview with Brouwer, almost crowing about his absence around the time of Williams’ murder thus:

“so [my] Supervisor … was not and could not have been critical of me regarding any action or inaction as a result of them [i.e. the heated Matthew Johnson phone calls to an unnamed criminal associate in April 2010]”: para 227 Ombudsman’s Report.

Curiously, George Brouwer doesn’t take up, either with Hutchison in interview, or in his later considered report, who the buck here might stop with, in lieu. But this, as I’ve said, is part of a larger pattern anyway.

Andrew Mackenzie, Acacia Unit supervisor, received considerable media attention as the only Barwon Prison staff member Brouwer singled out for possible disciplinary proceedings. The trouble here is twofold: first that the acts subject to these disciplinary proceedings (Mackenzie forwarded lewd chain emails, etc) have little or nothing to do with the multiple derelictions of duty at Barwon Prison that enabled Williams’ murder, and secondly (and here is the bit that you won’t read about), that Mackenzie left his role as Acacia Unit supervisor in or before June 2010; para’s 533, 538 Ombudsman’s Report (Mackenzie had started in the role c.November 2009; para 518). While at least in this case Mackenzie unambiguously held his supervisor role on 19 April 2010, Brouwer’s lack of follow-up to the circumstances of Mackenzie’s leaving his role in the fall-out to Williams’ murder is disturbing, as is Mackenzie’s ability to duck a curly line of inquiry (para 538) by simply stating he’d left the role by then (no successor required, apparently). And Brouwer’s recommendation of disciplinary proceedings against Mackenzie for unrelated matters is all the more laughable in the circumstances.

Two figures the Ombudsman’s Report, curiously IMO, doesn’t recommend disciplinary proceedings against are Michael Trotter and Suzette Gajic, who I’m presuming is the “Prison Officer B” in the Ombudsman’s Report. Para’s 530-538 of the Ombudsman’s Report detail some (alleged) seriously askew conduct by Trotter and “Prison Officer B” (Gajic). The allegation made by an unnamed Senior Prison Officer is that he witnessed Trotter (Operations Manager of Barwon Prison at the time) on 20 April 2010 ask “Prison Officer B” (Gajic) to speak with Acacia prisoner Tommy Ivanovic – a direct witness, if not accomplice, to William’s murder – out of “curiosity”. A 40 minute conversation between “Prison Officer B” (Gajic) and Ivanovic “in a non-English language” (presumably Serbo-Croatian) ensued. “Prison Officer B” (Gajic) denied to Brouwer than there were more than a handful of “non-English language” phrases used in the 40 minute conversation, but apparently did not deny that it took place. Michael Trotter, meanwhile, was apparently not even interviewed by Brouwer over what are surely very serious allegations. But then Trotter is a shadowy figure indeed; his name comes up no where in else in the Ombudsman’s Report or in any public documentation on Barwon Prison and/or the murder of Carl Williams, other than as a job contact (Google search "Michael Trotter" "Barwon Prison" on 25 April 2012).

If Michael Trotter is an elusive figure,“Prison Officer B” (Suzette Gajic) doesn’t hide behind a bushel. Gajic appears to have been the “console operator” (i.e. person responsible for monitoring the CCTV screens) on the day and time of Williams’ murder. You may remember that most of her 58-page interview transcript was suppressed at Matthew Johnson’s committal proceedings for Williams’ murder in December 2010. Since then, Gajic has gone to ground, admittedly – an even smaller part of her 58-page interview transcript was read to the court at Matthew Johnson’s trial (on 12 September 2011).

As to what was in the (suppressed) remainder of her statement, Herald Sun journo Paul Anderson wrote in December 2010 of the following explanation why Gajic was temporarily not watching the CCTV screens at the time of Williams’ murder:

Sounds (just) plausible, and random, enough. The trouble, is, however, that the Ombudsman’s Report has a completely different scenario why the unnamed “console operator” (again, I am presuming it is Gajic) was temporarily inattentive of the CCTV screens at the time of Williams’ murder. A guard-escorted trip by another Acacia prisoner (not from Williams’ Unit One) from his cell, to and from a jail interview room (to see his lawyer; routine, I would have thought), apparently required Gajic’s full and undivided attention at the CCTV console, including even for a couple of minutes after the prisoner had returned to his cell: Ombudsman’s Report para 313.

The credibility of Gajic’s recollection here (she was interviewed on 14 April 2011) would surely compare unfavourably to the professionalism of a five-year old caught red-handed with lollies. Its nakedly dissembling preface “From what I’ve been able to work out . . .” is scarcely required – but it does add weight to the bizarre circumstance of why the Ombudsman’s Report simply accepts such dissembling, and in doing so is left unchallenged by the mainstream media. Helpfully for Gajic, the Ombudsman’s Report instead goes off in a completely different direction, waxing lengthily on how small and inadequate the CCTV split-screens were. David Prideaux, interviewed by Brouwer shortly before his disappearance, apparently did not believe the size of the CCTV split-screens was a (or the?) problem, but Brouwer posthumously slaps Prideaux down on the too-small-CCTV-screen matter (Ombudsman’s Report para’s 320-322). Again, you wouldn’t read about this.

I’ll finish with a potential third story Gajic may want to try next time – this one has twin advantages: of being an Acacia-wide alibi, and of not emanating solely from her say-so. Oh, and it has also received no sceptical media coverage. So here it is:

“The morning of Mr Williams’ death was a very busy morning for the staff in the Acacia Unit, as we were conducting a review of our fire procedures. The staff had no time to do anything other than their professional duties . . .” (emphases added)
- Andrew Mackenzie, Acacia Unit supervisor, para 610 Ombudsman’s Report.

Update 12 May 2012

Bob Hastings has resigned as Corrections Commissioner, at a press conference late yesterday afternoon (too late for the Friday 6pm news). While Hastings is well into his sixties (and is presumably eligible for a generous defined-benefit super lump-sum/pension upon retirement), he is soldiering on to take up a position as a road safety adviser for the Indonesian police. I’m sure that Jakarta’s notorious traffic will indeed be a holiday compared to the apparently bottomless cesspool of accountability at Corrections Victoria and the Department of Justice.

The person under Hastings successor as Corrections Commissioner will also be a newbie (or at least have a new job title), with the new role of Director, Security and Intelligence (as per Para 300 of the recent Ombudsman’s Report) being advertised recently. Penny Armytage (who is, of course, a previous Corrections Commissioner herself, when the role was titled Commissioner, Office of Correctional Services), will indeed be busy over the next few weeks recruiting two new managerial deckchairs, in the optimal arrangement for her good ship, “Justice”.

In a written statement, Armytage did allude to Hastings having publicly represented Corrections Victoria in “difficult times”, but balanced this with the apparent good-news-highlight of his three-year tenure as Corrections Commissioner: the opening of the 88-bed Springhill Unit at Marngoneet Correctional Centre in June 2011 (same URL). This time however, I fear that Hastings’ ribbon-cutting on that day, however exemplary, may not quite be a core skill for his new role dealing with Jakarta’s traffic.

While Penny Armytage is re-shuffling her managerial deckchairs in the perilous waters of prison security, she may want to remember she has two incumbents whose roles are either alarmingly vague or completely unknown to the general public (at least via a Google search).

The first such incumbent is Bruce Polkinghorne. At Matthew Johnson’s 2011 trial, Polkinghorne’s job-title was variously given as (in descending order of rank): “in charge of security at Corrections Victoria”, “prison security boss” [i.e. presumably Barwon Prison only, and not all CV prisons] and “corrections officer”. Compounding the ambiguity here, (but solving an earlier mystery, per my original post), Peter Hutchison said at Matthew Johnson’s trial (in giving sworn evidence on 13/09/2011) that Bruce Polkinghorne was actually “in charge” at Barwon Prison on the day in question. Presumably, this means that Polkinghorne was acting in Hutchison’s role (operations manager for security and emergency services group, Corrections Victoria) on the day Carl Williams was murdered.

Yet in late May 2010, two and a bit weeks after Hutchison returned to his role, Polkinghorne was titled “Manager of the Security and Emergency Services division”. Perhaps it was Polkinghorne’s cornerstone-status at the Australian Service Dog Association trials (“Bruce really supported us, helping us get it all up and running”, same URL) that gave him a courtesy title for a bit longer than he really held it.   Perhaps also the next Australian Service Dog Association trials (apparently due sometime this year) will reveal more.

The second incumbent is simply a dark horse. Michelle Hosking – as Acting Manager, Major Offenders Unit, Corrections Victoria – gave sworn (albeit very brief) evidence on 15/09/2011 that there were “no issues raised whatsoever” regarding the relationships between Carl Williams, Matthew Johnson and Tommy Ivanovic, prior to Williams’ murder. Her evidence attracted no media reportage at the time, nor mention in the Ombudsman’s Report. With such apparent teflon-coating, I reckon that Michelle Hosking could be Bob Hastings’ star point-person for his new role – she could stand safely in the middle of the main crossroads, directing Jakarta’s traffic with aplomb.

Monday, April 16, 2012

David Prideaux, and “fervent speculation” at the Oz

Gotta love how a paywall can – quite unintentionally – help solve a mystery/crime. Here goes how.
Today’s Oz website carried an “EXCLUSIVE” story: “No crime link to missing jail boss”. Not surprisingly, it was pay-walled, so I trotted off to my local library to read it for free. Sure enough, it contained no important, or even new revelations. Or so I thought at the time. Leaving the library, my eye caught one of those true crime books I usually assiduously avoid, but this time picked up – you know, like the sweet treat you might pick up at the supermarket checkout, to compensate for the thankless chore you’ve just done. Flipping through the book turned out to be quite one sweet treat – the (unusual) surname of a prison officer with apparent gangland connections was the same as that of the missing/dead Barwon prison boss the subject of the Oz article. The brother’s names are Peter Prideaux (of whom more about shortly) and David Prideaux, respectively.
Needless to say, Chip Le Grand in the Oz today draws no such connection: “Despite fervent speculation about [David] Prideaux's disappearance because of his job, neither his family nor police suspect foul play”. Then again, Le Grand doesn’t even know what year Carl Williams was murdered in (it will be the second anniversary this Thursday 19 April), saying that David Prideaux went missing in June 2011, “six weeks after his highest-profile inmate was murdered in the jail's maximum security unit”.
In fact, the timing of David Prideaux’ mysterious disappearance can be pegged to significant developments in the pointy-end aftermath of Williams’ murder. Some of these I’ve previously briefly alluded to, but my new sneaking suspicion is that in June 2011, David Prideaux may have been preparing to spill the beans on Corrections Victoria complicity in Williams’ murder – one possible occasion for this being the Matthew Johnson murder trial, which commenced three months after Prideaux’ disappearance. So why do I now think that Prideaux would not have held the “I saw nothing” line that everyone else at Corrections Victoria has so far successfully maintained?
In short, because of two material facts I didn’t know, or in the second instance, fully appreciate, until today: (a) that Prideaux’ brother was/is a prison officer with apparent gangland connections, and (b) Prideaux was temporarily NOT boss (general manager) of Barwon Prison at the time of Williams’ murder – a fact that has received no direct media attention at all. A Leadership Victoria tribute page to David Prideaux contains this (presumably unintentionally) revealing snippet on what Prideaux’ secondment c. April 2010 was like: “at a time when David was acting in a role away from Barwon Prison, David talked about how he was working incredibly hard and how this was impacting him and his family”. (Nicholas Selisky, aka Nick Selisky, was acting general manager of Barwon Prison at the time of Williams’ murder. He briefly gave evidence in Matthew Johnson’s murder trial, on 12 September 2011. Otherwise, there is no further public information on the where and why of Prideaux’ brief secondment, and replacement at Barwon Prison by Selisky c. April 2010.)
As for Peter Prideaux, his apparent gangland connections I am inferring from two slender mentions made about him in print by Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read. “Chopper” is these days usually touted as an ex-criminal, which I’m sure is more or less true, but his 2010 tome “One Thing Led To Another”, published shortly after Williams’ murder, also reads as a PR homage to a senior Melbourne businessman and gangland figure sometimes named, but more frequently only named by implication, as having arranged/ordered the murder of Carl Williams. For the record, here is “Chopper” on Peter Prideaux:
“One of the screws photographed with me was Big Peter Prideaux, a bloke with a real Aussie sense of humour, a hard man but a fair man. When Peter and the boys were in H Division [Pentridge Prison], the place ran like clockwork . . . Peter Prideaux will fight anyone toe to toe, fair and square, and is an honest, straight-down-the-line screw with a realistic attitude and that black sense of humour you need to survive in prison. Sadly, his sort are few and far between these days”.
- “From the Inside: Chopper 1”, Pan, 2012, page number unknown (Google Books search), possibly same as 1991 book also titled “From the Inside”.
“But one of [the H Division screws] Peter Prideaux, came to my wedding, and also my fiftieth birthday party [on 17 November 2004]”.
- “One Thing Led To Another”, 2010, p156.
The fact that David Prideaux may have been a “key witness” in the legal fall-out to Williams’ murder was actually made explicit in this report at the time of Prideaux’ disappearance. Curiously, none of the other “media reports” andspeculation” that that Age report refers to show up on a Google search.
Going back to Chip Le Grand in the Oz today (“Despite fervent speculation about Prideaux's disappearance because of his job, neither his family nor police suspect foul play”), I think you’ll find, Chip, that this fervent speculation is currently almost as invisible as Prideaux' corpse – and that instead, some hard (and probably not very palatable to his “family”) facts may be in plain sight.

Update 9 December 2012

Since the day Rupert Murdoch’s mother died on Wednesday, the Melbourne and national arms of his newspaper empire have played a sick game of good-cop and bad-cop with the ongoing what-happened-to-David-Prideaux mystery.  Between them, they have done a sterling job in trashing David Prideaux’ reputation/memory, if not also in derailing a current coronial inquiry into his disappearance.  

The broadsheet Oz broke the story: Adam Shand, “Break in case of missing jail boss”, Australian 5 December 2012.  There appears to be – unusually – no trace of this article online.  The gist of it was that David Prideaux apparently had a mistress, and that this information had caused an adjournment in current coronial inquiry (the article’s first para actually said the coronial investigation was “reopened”, but this hyperbole/lie was corrected in this next day’s Oz).  About one-third of the way into the article was the following para:

“Members of Victoria’ deer-hunting community had planned to mount a new search for Mr Prideaux’s remains last month.  But his wife Joanne angrily rejected the offer, accusing the hunters of having ulterior motives”.

This (side?) issue receives no other comment or reference.  (See also: Shane Fowles, “Prideaux search”, Geelong Advertiser, 12 October 2012)

The following day Thursday, the obituaries started raining down at News Ltd for Rupert Murdoch’s mother.  Perhaps out of respect, the Oz only ran a small, inconsequential follow-up story: Adam Shand, “Cops probe jail boss 'sighting'”, Australian 6 December 2012. 

However on the same day the tabloid attack-dog bared its teeth: Anthony Dowsley, “Probe reopened after possible sighting of missing Barwon Prison boss David Prideaux”, Herald Sun, 6 December 2012.  These are the opening para’s:

“A mystery witness claims to have seen missing prison boss David Prideaux interstate . . .Police have been called in to investigate whether a sighting of the former Barwon Prison head in a remote Australian town last month is credible . . . Efforts are under way to track down any intelligence about the experienced bushman, amid speculation he may have vanished to be with his mistress. The sighting was in a township to which his lover had moved”. (Ellipses are solely of known facts)

Note here that there was no intro/back-story on the allegations relating to Prideaux’ unnamed “mistress”/“lover” – just the tantalising detail that she had moved, at some stage, to the unnamed “remote Australian town” that an acquaintance of Prideaux’ had supposedly seen him in – once.

On Friday, the Herald Sun needed two journalists to write a story which added very little to the previous day’s, other than that the “remote Australian town” was now “a coastal town interstate”:  Anthony Dowsley and Mark Buttler, “David Prideaux did not respond to greeting but mate says it was prison boss”, Herald Sun, 7 December 2012

On Saturday, the Herald Sun had a front-page splash, naming the mystery town as – wait for it – Broome, but otherwise adding very little substance to a now three-days-old, very light on hard facts story.

For its part Saturday’s Oz rather bizarrely chimed in, with an unbylined (Adam Shand temporarily succumbed to shame, perhaps?) article, quoting the same day’s Herald Sun naming of Broome as the town, and introducing, for the first time in the Oz, the “mistress”/“lover” secret-bolthole aspect (assuming there was any truth in the initial information, re a bare claim of a "mistress" , it would be equally probative had Prideaux been murdered or committed suicide (added 10/12).  As if all this wasn’t dubious enough, the anonymous journo’s last two para’s read:

“Members of Victoria’ deer-hunting community had planned to mount a new search for Mr Prideaux’s remains last month.  But his wife Joanne angrily rejected the offer, accusing the hunters of having ulterior motives”.

Sound familiar?  There is also – unusually – no trace of this article online.   

I’ll finish with the last para of Adam Shand’s first salvo in the whole sordid mess:

“Conspiracy theorists have tried to link Mr Prideaux’s disappearance with claims that corrections officers had been involved in the murder of gangland murderer Carl Williams at Barwon prison in April 2010.  However, police have dismissed such theories as completely without merit”.

Wow, that’s a big claim, Adam – as well as a quantum leap from his colleague Chip Le Grand’s similarly-themed “fervent speculation” April 2012 article (cited above), which more factually cited the police’s supposed dismissal of sinister possibilities in Prideaux’ disappearance thus:
“At the time Prideaux went missing, then police chief commissioner Simon Overland said there was no evidence linking his disappearance to his job running Barwon Prison, where Williams was bludgeoned to death”.

Further update 2 March 2013 – Adam Shand joins the “conspiracy theorists”

In a well-researched article in today’s Australian Magazine, “My brother’s keeper”, investigative journo Adam Shand is back in business.  After an annus horribilis in 2012 – in which he could not seem to shake the out-of-his-depth Chip Le Grand from sharing his bylines, follow-up articles and transparently lame agendas – Shand has picked up where he seemingly left off in mid-2007.  That is, corrupt Victorian police had much to fear should Carl Williams ever give evidence against them

Fortunately for some corrupt police, in 2010 bit-player Matthew Johnson rather proved Shand’s 2007 point.  So is David Prideaux’ disappearance, and possible murder, a sequel by the same producer and director?

You can read Shand’s article for yourself.  But I’ll add a few salient comments.

Discrepancy in the key “last seen alive” time. Shand doesn’t notice the apparent discrepancy in the stated time that Robbie Dale and Prideaux set-off in different directions on 5 June 2011 – Shand quotes Dale as saying this was at 7:45am (which was about 15 minutes after sunrise on 5 June), while a recent News Ltd article has this happening at 8.30am “in good light”. (“The last sighting of Mr Prideaux was by his brother-in-law Robbie Dale as they separated in good light at 8.30am near Tomahawk Hut.” Mark Buttler, “David Prideaux's brother Peter says he is dead and did not fake his disappearance”, Herald Sun, 12 December 2012).

Mobile phone coverage* [see further update 22/3, below] – I’m pretty sure that this would be sketchy over most of the area in question, but I wouldn’t be surprised that you could get a call in from one of the high points close to Tomahawk Hut – and conveniently in this area (as Shand informs us, via a local expert), the roads generally follow the ridges, and not the the valleys.  It would be interesting to know whether there are some such handy mobile phone “white” spots.  Oh, and also to know how long after dark on 5 June (sunset was at around 5:09pm) Robbie Dale waited before driving to find a location with mobile phone coverage, so as to make his first Prideaux-is-missing phone call, at 9pm.  I’d guess that he left Tomahawk Hut no earlier than 8pm. (Shand is ambiguous as to whether Tomahawk Hut, or the point at which Dale made the call, is a “half-hour’s drive” from Mansfield – the former seems optimistic, particularly at night.)   

The CD-ROM-herring. Shand’s teaser-without-a-tease article in the Oz yesterday ("Gangland info with vanished jail chief David Prideaux"banged-on about what may, or may not, be a mysteriously missing CD-ROM, with top-secret gangland information on it.  Given that Mattthew Johnson apparently had copies of everything to do with Carl William’s co-operation with (honest) police at his fingertips before the murder, this lightly-reported fact – which of course happened under Prideaux’ nominal watch at Barwon Prison – is surely of more interest than a minor, at most, instance of a similar thing (perhaps) happening.     

The money-shot.  This is it:
Paul [Prideaux] has heard from underworld connections . . . that his brother [David] was approached by two people he knew on the Buckland Spur Track; one was a prison warder. While one kept Prideaux busy, the other shot him three times in the back, says Paul. His body was buried in a shallow grave nearby on flat farming country owned by a well-known crime identity”.

I should say that, as the next line makes clear, Paul Prideaux, and possibly Shand also, is by no means convinced that this hearsay may be fact.   FWIW, there is one prison warder named in Shand’s article, and David Prideaux indeed knew him.  Whether Shand intended this possible imputation (or is it just my imagination?), I don’t know.  However, I am guessing that Shand’s words here, like some of my earlier ones above, were meticulously chosen.

Further update 22 March 2013

As per the comments thread, I stand corrected:  Robbie Dale had no access to a vehicle on the day in question (he had evidently shared a ride to the site with David Prideaux, and of course, the keys to this vehicle went missing with David Prideaux).  From the comments thread, it appears that Robbie Dale waited at least until dark (i.e. after 5:30 pm) before setting off on foot to find somewhere with mobile phone coverage.

Update 15 June 2018

I’ve received two comments to this post through the back-door, via another post.  For legal reasons, I’ve deleted them, but now paraphrase them, shorn of some details, below.

David Prideaux’s brother-in-law Robbie Dale is the cousin of former Victorian detective Paul Dale.  If this assertion of fact is correct, I am mentioning it for genealogical completeness only, and no other inferences are intended.   

A person of interest to this tangled tale, whose name I have redacted, has been and still remains a silent partner in a large scale concrete-pipe business.  Another owner of this business, whose name I have also redacted, is a colourful and well-known Melbourne identity whose name has been associated with the murder of Carl Williams.

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