Volume 3 Number 4
Honest Cop Who Stood Alone
01 April 1990

A multi-million dollar network of graft, involving top policemen and their political mentors: the allegations had been spilling across Australia's front pages and television screens.

Bent police and battered victims of crime -
Michael Brown talks to a man who did something about both

A multi-million dollar network of graft, involving top policemen and their political mentors: the allegations had been spilling across Australia's front pages and television screens. So anticipation was high in the crowded gallery of the Fitzgerald Public Inquiry into Corruption last year when Ray Whitrod, former police chief of the prosperous `sunshine state' of Queensland, took the witness stand.

Whitrod's testimony confirmed what the Inquiry was uncovering: evidence so damaging that, long before its findings were presented, the once-unrivalled state Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was forced to resign. His National Party was soundly defeated last December after 32 years in power. One police inspector has been jailed for 12 years for taking A$180,000 in bribes, and other prosecutions are being pursued.

Ray Whitrod had spent seven stormy years in the Seventies fighting a long and lonely battle to expose such corruption. He had come to Queensland's top police job with excellent credentials. He had been the first Commissioner of Australia's Commonwealth Police, which is based in Canberra and has specific federal duties. When the Queensland appointment was offered to him he was head of the 3,000 police of pre-independent Papua New Guinea. He had more academic qualifications than any other policeman in Australia. And he was known even then as an honest cop: the sort of person the Queensland state cabinet were looking for, it could be cynically said, to give their police force a clean image.

Two major obstacles presented themselves on Whitrod's first day as Commissioner. The old brigade of the police union executive, who had powerful political backing, publicly poured scorn on Whitrod's plans to change promotion procedures. Whitrod suffered their implacable hostility to every reform he tried to introduce.

The second obstacle became evident when a senior officer took Whitrod aside and warned him of serious corruption in the detective branch of the force. The allegations were repeated next day by another senior constable. The two officers claimed that Whitrod's predecessor had recruited three detectives to act as `bagmen', and that they were collecting bribes of more than half a million dollars a year through an extensive police protection racket. Known as the 'rat-pack', they operated under cover of the Vice Squad, collecting from an illegal gambling and prostitution industry.

Whitrod now says that his main mistake in Queensland was to try to move too fast. But it took him 18 months to find officers trustworthy and courageous enough to form a Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU) to break through the `blue curtain' of police solidarity and uncover the `bent coppers'.

Two more years passed before the CIU could land any solid evidence. A prostitute agreed to speak up, even though she feared she would be killed if she did. Her information led to a charge against one of the rat-pack. Despite tight security, she was found dead only days before the hearing - from what was said to be suicide by drug overdose. Another key witness died in a car accident; others backed out. One policeman ready with evidence cracked under the pressure and had to be invalided out of the force as a neurotic. Though Whitrod's team brought 25 cases of police misconduct to court, not one reached a successful conviction.

Whitrod had the Police Minister's backing, but a series of important decisions he had made were countermanded by State Cabinet. Maintaining that his oath of office had been to the law of the land, not the government of the day, he tried to go direct to Premier Bjelke-Petersen. He was refused an interview.

The issue came to a head when Cabinet pushed through the appointment of Terence Lewis to be Whitrod's deputy. Lewis was an unknown country inspector and was promoted past 112 of his colleagues in spite of an unresolved allegation of corruption against him. It was the final straw, and Whitrod resigned, at great financial cost. Lewis went up one more notch and took Whitrod's place at the top of the force - until he was sacked by the Cabinet during the Fitzgerald Inquiry 12 years later. He is now awaiting trial on 18 charges of corruption and perjury.

Whitrod has sometimes been criticized for resigning on high moral principle rather than sticking it out. But it was political interference not frustration that caused his resignation. He maintains that Lewis, with the Premier's backing, would have been effectively in control, and that he himself would have been an honest frontman at the top of a force riddled with corruption.

A failure? Not in the eyes of Neil Doorley, police reporter on Queensland's main paper, the Brisbane Courier Mail. `Despite an over-riding shadow of corruption and union sniping, Mr Whitrod modernized the force in his seven years,' Doorley concluded. Besides necessary administrative restructuring, Whitrod started a professional police academy, introduced 320 women into the force, dramatically cut response time to emergency calls, and established an independent audit of police reports to stop manipulation of statistics. Of the 41 reforms that Whitrod recommended, only one was not accepted - promotions by merit.

It seems clear that Whitrod's investigations and resignation triggered public consciousness, provoking the media probes which made the Fitzgerald Inquiry a political necessity. The Inquiry itself was a vindication of all he fought for. As he stepped down from the stand after giving his evidence, a voice in the crowded public gallery called, `Aren't we going to clap?'

Plenty of applause, honours and awards have, of course, come Whitrod's way. And he doesn't like it. If he has a fault, it is his tendency to see only his faults. `Someone said, "Be ye perfect..." I know it's unattainable, but that's the sort of ideal I've set up for myself,' he said on national radio.

This ideal goes back to Whitrod's own search as a young police cadet in Adelaide. He introduced himself to Ivan Menzies, a British Gilbert and Sullivan star. Menzies had been a great hit with audiences, but one stage manager had said he had never had to handle a more disagreeable artist. And then his personality seemed to have been transformed. His marriage had been saved from the brink of disaster, he told Whitrod, when he decided to aim at absolute moral standards, as suggested by the Oxford Group, later known as Moral Re-Armament.

Whitrod remembers sitting in silence before starting work, trying to ask God about his life. The idea of absolute honesty niggled at him, and characteristically, he saw that action was necessary. In police uniform he fronted up to the manager of the local bookshop to pay for books he had shoplifted. Other acts of restitution followed, small in themselves but fundamental to Whitrod's career.

Years later, whilst tackling corruption in Queensland, he discovered that his opponents had quietly sent one of their henchmen down to Adelaide to see if they could find any skeleton in Whitrod's cupboard to use as blackmail. `It's a fairly common practice,' says Whitrod. `Luckily, I'd cleared up all my debts.'

At the age of 21, fresh out of training, Whitrod found his principles being tested in a detective unit where he was regarded as a mixed blessing. It was common practice even then to nurture criminal informants while turning a blind eye to their operations. Whitrod started doing detective work his way -`not by cooperating with the criminal system but by breaking with it', and by `sheer hard work'. He got results; and the commendations fuelled his rapid rise.

Honesty for Whitrod is not a personal fetish. He sees it as `a prime virtue' of the police. `If people can't trust a policeman's word, confidence in society collapses.' Whitrod sees the active pursuit of truth as a liberating and progressive force for society. His frankness is blunt but courteous, never vicious or personal. His pursuit of justice has earned him many enemies, but his humanity and compassion have won him a tribe of genuine friends.

Retiring after 42 years of police work, Whitrod was faced with another call to duty that he couldn't refuse. It came from the parents of the victims of the Truro Murders: several teenage girls whose skeletons had been found in a field outside Adelaide. They had been violently raped by two men, both on parole.

Victims' rights
Whitrod and his wife invited the victims' parents to their home, in response to a plea from one of the mothers. As he listened to their trauma, Whitrod's eyes were opened: `Like all policemen, I'd seen plenty of victims, getting details of the crime. But I'd never considered the psychological effects on the victim.' As they shared their suffering, Whitrod noted that they seemed to help each other, that there was an empathy between them which they complained was lacking with professional social workers. That afternoon over tea they decided to start `a little self-help group'.

That little self-help group grew to an organization with a paying membership of 1,700 families. Called Victims of Crime (VOCS), its backbone are volunteers who have suffered from violent crime themselves. There is Judy, who was confronted by the mutilated body of her murdered 18-year-old son; Marion, mother of two, sexually assaulted in her home during daytime; John, stabbed seven times by an intruder. These volunteers provide support and counselling to other victims, and offer themselves as `court companions' during stressful trials.

Whitrod was not satisfied to stop there. VOCS became active in lobbying for legislative reform of the criminal justice system. Whitrod researched international developments and, in 1979 (the same year VOCS was formed), went to Germany where he shared in formation of the World Society of Victimology. During the six years he served on its executive, the Society defined a set of principles safeguarding the rights of victims, and successfully had them placed on the agenda of a UN Congress in Milan, the first time victims had been recognized in a UN forum. Whitrod was part of the Australian delegation to this Congress, in which Chris Sumner, the Attorney General of South Australia, proposed the resolution that was ultimately carried by the UN General Assembly in 1985.

A close friend of Whitrod's, Sumner returned to the SA State Parliament and introduced a set of 17 principles defining the rights and treatment of victims, binding on all government departments. After a trial period, they are to be enacted into legislation. All Australian states now compensate victims, and, claims Whitrod, `there is a whole new move starting in South Australia about the victim's role in the criminal justice system'. The South Australian Police Force may be the first in the world to have a special branch to pursue victims' rights, and to change the way police treat them.

The authors of Australian Policing, published last year after two decades of research, dedicated their study to Whitrod -`a catalyst for many of the major changes which are now occurring in so many areas of policing around the nation'. Whitrod himself would doubtless say he just did his duty. No eulogies, please.

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