Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Victoria Police try to censor TV doco on Lawyer X

Victoria Police are trying to censor a television documentary detailing the story of “Lawyer X", demanding early access to the ­series set to air tonight and claiming it could “obstruct" the royal commission into the matter.

The Australian can reveal that the Australian Federal Police also demanded details from Sky News late last week about its two-part documentary series exploring the alleged activities of barrister-turned-police-informant Nicola Gobbo and failures at the highest levels of law enforcement in ­Victoria.

Victoria Police contacted Sky News’s lawyers demanding access to the series after seeing “promotional videos" for Lawyer X: The Untold Story .

Police are also seeking access to a book, Lawyer X: The Scandalous Story of How Melbourne’s Gangland War Was Really Won, written by Herald Sun journalists Anthony Dowsley and Patrick Carlyon.

Sky News declined the Victoria Police request. It was then sent a lawyers’ letter on behalf of Victoria Police on July 18 warning the news network against airing the documentary. “Victoria Police is concerned that the contents of the documentary and book may potentially breach existing suppression orders and reveal information concerning human sources and protected witnesses, thereby increasing the risk of serious harm to individuals and their families," the letter said.

It then claimed that the TV ­series, by journalist Peter Stefanovic, “may hinder or obstruct the proceedings of the royal commission in contravention of s49 of the Inquiries Act."

“The documentary and book may also traverse, and therefore potentially prejudice, ongoing criminal investigations and matter that have been, or will be, the subject of closed hearings at the royal commission."

Sky News chief executive Paul Whittaker confirmed yesterday that Victoria Police had contacted Sky a fortnight ago and requested to view the documentary series tapes in advance of tonight’s broadcast of the first episode in the two-part series.

Sky declined to co-operate.

Mr Whittaker said he believed the two-part documentary would play an important role in explaining the extraordinary series of events behind the complex saga that has “rightfully sparked a royal commission into the handling of police informants".

“Victoria Police spent millions of dollars of state taxpayers’ funds to employ every legal and delaying tactic available all the way to the High Court trying to stop this shameful episode ever becoming public, and as embarrassing as it may be for certain elements of the senior police command, the whole truth must come out if public confidence is to be restored in the system," Mr Whittaker said.

He confirmed that Victoria Police had written a warning letter to lawyers for Sky News and the Herald Sun last Thursday, on the day of an exclusive sneak peek of the documentary and Q&A session at Old Melbourne Gaol hosted by Stefanovic with Herald Sun journalists Dowsley and Carlyon. Mr Whittaker also confirmed that the AFP had contacted Sky News’s lawyers on Friday seeking information about the documentary series.

The letter on behalf of the police said that “given the impending broadcast of the documentary on 22 and 23 July, 2019, and the preview on 18 July, 2019, Victoria Police has contacted Sky News to request an advance copy of the documentary on the basis of these concerns. Sky News has declined this request."

The documentary talks to Ms Gobbo’s former friends and ­associates, about her double life as a lawyer for the Melbourne underworld, including gangland boss Carl Williams, and as a ­registered informe­r for Victoria Police.

The Herald Sun was the first to reveal Ms Gobbo’s double life almost five years ago, and Dowsley and Carlyon­ have fought dozens of suppression orders forbidding publication of her identity as Lawyer­ X.

The steady stream of revel­ations rocked Victoria's justice system, and triggered a royal commission, which is looking into cases that may have been affected by Ms Gobbo’s conduct as a police informant between January 1995 and January 2009.

Ms Gobbo is expected to appea­r before the commission.

The demand comes amid increased focus on media freedom following AFP raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and raids on ABC headquarters in Sydney.

The AFP media raids led to widespread condemnation by media organisations as well as a new parliamentary inquiry into press freedom in Australia.

Lawyer X: the untold story will air on Sky News tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm AEST and on Foxtel Encore on July 29