I have been arguing since 1996 that it is unlikely that David Eastman is responsible for the murder of Colin Stanley Winchester APM (18 October 1933 – 10 January 1989). Winchester was an Assistant Commissioner in the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and commanded ACT Police, the community policing component of the AFP responsible for the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). On 10 January 1989, at about 9:15 pm he was shot twice in the head and killed as he parked his police vehicle in the driveway of his house in Deakin, ACT. Eastman was charged with, and later found guilty of, Winchester’s murder. Winchester is Australia’s most senior police officer to have been killed as a direct result of his policing duties. Readers should not forget that Audrey Fagan who was also an Assistant Commissioner in the AFP and who allegedly committed suicide while on holidays in Queensland in 2007 was the ACT Chief Police Officer when she died. Note this is the same position Winchester held when he was murdered. I sense the beginning of a pattern emerging!
AFP involvement in drug trafficking
As background to Winchester’s murder the following extract from the New South Wales Legislative Assembly Hansard for Thursday 17 May 1990 is illuminating.
Mr. HATTON (South Coast): I move:
(1) That this House calls upon the State Government to request the Federal Government to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the activities of the Mafia with terms of reference which would focus upon-
(a) the involvement of the Australian Federal police and the New South Wales police with the Mafia in the illegal growing of marijuana crops on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and in the Brindabella ranges in the Australian Capital Territory;
(b) corruption involving the cultivation and distribution of marijuana in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and in particular the Griffith area; and
(c) the relationship of all the above with the death of Mr Winchester and related allegations of police corruption and any commonality of personal interests involved therein.
(2) That the New South Wales Government offer full co-operation and support for the conduct of such a Royal Commission; and
(3) That senior experienced officers from Scotland Yard be called in and that the Victorian Police Force be requested to provide personnel to form an independent investigative body to assist the Royal Commissioner appointed to report on such matters.
This is the gravest matter that I have ever raised. The second most senior police officer in our country has been assassinated. More than 10 crops of marijuana, worth tens of millions of dollars, were grown on the South Coast and Southern Tablelands of New South Wales and in the Australian Capital Territory, some of them with police knowledge and or involvement. There was mafia and other criminal involvement with police in illegal marijuana-growing operations.
For seven years senior State and Federal police have been and are involved in a massive cover-up and conspiracy of silence to avoid responsibility for illegal acts. Judge Foord has links with organised crime and the marijuana industry. There are serious questions about the efficiency of the National Crime Authority. There is an absence of effective structures which, together with incompetence and lack of political commitment, has allowed organised crime to flourish, especially in the marijuana industry. There is a danger to my life. An attempt was made to bug a committee room of the Australian Parliament to listen in on secret discussions involving the National Crime Authority.
There is a lack of political and administrative will to pursue the illegalities of police action in a multimillion dollar marijuana-growing operation. Bungling and corruption have been involved and people have profited from it. Attention is focused on whistleblowers rather than the illegality of police activity. All this has happened despite important legislative advances-they are not inconsiderable-such as the confiscation of the proceeds of crime and the Independent Commission Against Corruption that were put in place by this Government.
After what I reveal today, if this Government does not give unstinting and unqualified support to the establishment of a Federal royal commission as outlined and, because of sensitivities within the police force or the police ministry concerning outside investigations, this Government slides away from its responsibilities in this awesome matter, it will commit political suicide and stand condemned for its lack of courage. I do not believe it will but I have not taken the risks and carried the burdens this far to be denied. This is just the beginning (my emphasis).
The story of ‘Operation Seville’ has no rivalry in the history of Australian Policing. Over several years the Australian Federal and NSW State Police Forces worked with the Mafia in growing and distributing marijuana. Out of it a murder was solved, several arrests were made and fourteen million dollars worth of drugs hit the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester was gunned down for his part in it. So goes the synopsis to the ABC’s 1990 production Police Crop – The Winchester Conspiracy. What is the reality behind the conspiracy?
Following Winchester’s murder there was immediate speculation, as noted in Hatton’s speech to the NSW Legislative Assembly cited above, that he was killed in retaliation for his role in deceiving members of the Calabrian Mafia, or ‘Ndrangheta, over the development of a cannabis crop at Bungendore (Operation Seville). Winchester had been at the centre of a police intelligence operation as part of which he convinced the subjects on the investigation that he had been bribed. There is no evidence that Winchester was anything other than an honest cop – a rarity I know. Winchester’s murder occurred only a month out from the trial of those arrested and charged during Operation Seville.
While there was a solid body of evidence pointing towards a ‘Ndrangheta hit, a theory supported by at least one AFP unit involved in intelligence gathering on organised crime, the formal AFP investigation into Winchester’s murder focused on Eastman, who it was believed had a grudge against Winchester for his refusal to intervene in an assault case for which Eastman had been charged, but also for preventing his return to the public service.
From the time I started teaching Commercial Law at the University of Canberra in 1995, documents supporting the ‘Ndrangheta theory were in circulation in legal circles and had been for a number of years prior. However, open discussion about this evidence, which could potentially prove Eastman’s innocence has long been circumscribed by an array of court suppression orders, centred on claims that open discussion of this evidence could identify and endanger police informants, which is incidentally the same argument used by the United States in its attempts to shutdown Wikileaks.
Over the years, Australian courts have proven to be most pliable when approached by police to assist in suppressing evidence which could help to expose police corruption. The ACT Courts excel at this; just ask the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue who had a lot to say about the AFP and the ACT Court system facilitating ongoing corruption in ACT Treasury.
Mr O’Donnell, one of Eastman’s former solicitors, recently told The Canberra Times that he believes that Eastman was wrongly convicted and that the solution to the case lies both in reopening investigations into the involvement of organised crime and in a complete review of the prosecution case against Eastman, who has already served 16 years for a murder he has always denied. O’Donnell went on to say that Robert Barnes, the technician witness who gave the crucial expert evidence on gunshot residues and who, between the inquest and the trial, became convinced that the assassin had used a silencer, had been criticised by the Victorian Court of Appeal and had his evidence rejected as unsafe – because his opinions were found to be contradicted by direct evidence.
Before Mr Barnes gave evidence against Eastman, his employment at the Victoria Police state forensic laboratory had been terminated for failing to “operate within the required parameters and quality control system”. At Eastman’s trial, a witness whose direct evidence contradicted crucial prosecution expert evidence about the use of a silencer was not called, although he had given evidence at the inquest. The witness, a 26-year army veteran with extensive weapons training including in the use of silencers, was adamant that he had heard rifle shots. He was certain that the shots were not silenced.
Re-emergence of evidence favourable to Eastman’s defence
The evidence given by Barnes at Winchester’s trial and which substantially contributed to Eastman’s conviction was to do with his forensic findings about gunshot residue found in the boot of Eastman’s car. The importance of Barnes to Winchester’s conviction cannot be overestimated. Eastman’s conviction was based on a seemingly strong chain of circumstantial evidence, supporting a controversial, but at the time uncontested set of linkages and deductions made from Barnes’ forensic findings.
The evidence that has re-emerged is that a retired school teacher had informed O’Donnell, who was then an ACT Public Defender, that he had borrowed Eastman’s car in the late 1980’s to go rabbit shooting and that the gun and ammunition he used was similar to the type of gun and ammunition that was supposed to have been used in the Winchester murder. This evidence was not put to the jury in Eastman’s trial because Eastman, in the view of both his lawyers and the Crown, has a mental disability that drove him to continually change lawyers during the course of his trial resulting in the loss of what could be crucial evidence in his defence.
On the issue of Eastman’s mental disability it is worth noting that a part of the police investigation strategy after taking advice from a psychiatrist, involved subjecting Eastman to “harassive surveillance” in the hope that he would ”crack” and do or say something tending to point towards his guilt. While this did not happen, the continuous needling of him played a role in Eastman’s erratic and self-destructive courtroom behaviour. Senior police were reported as saying they were “driving Eastman nuts”.
What is interesting about the comment “driving Eastman nuts” is that the police force we are talking about is the ACT Policing command of the AFP, the same unit that investigated, harassed and threatened the family of the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue. How can attempting to drive someone “nuts” be called professional and unbiased policing? As I have reported on Blak and Black before, the AFP threatened to murder a then three year old relative of the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue, a threat witnessed by Mr Hart. This occurred around the same time as the Commissioner’s former wife’s house in Canberra was broken into and her pets murdered, an incident which was reported at the time to Ms Deb Foskey, a then Green’s member in the ACT Legislative Assembly. Is there a linkage between these occurrences and the decision by the AFP to attempt to drive “Eastman nuts”?
When Eastman lent his car to the teacher in the late 1980s, he had not known that the teacher was going shooting and that, in doing so, he had put the gun in the car boot. This explains one of the linkages that Eastman was unable to explain at his trial – how did gunshot residue find its way into the boot of his car.
An application by Eastman for a review of the case comes before the ACT Supreme Court next week, which application was made before Eastman became aware of this new evidence.
What if the courts determine that Eastman did not murder Winchester? Will the AFP go back to their original hypothesis, that Winchester’s murder was a hit carried out by the ‘Ndrangheta? If so, questions such as why did the AFP go after Eastman in the first place and how far has organised crime infiltrated into the AFP will need to be asked and addressed.
This in turn should re-open the investigations into what really happened to Audrey Fagan and what really went on in ACT Treasury and the ALP prior to the alleged fit-up of the former Commissioner for ACT Revenue. Such an outcome should also ensure that all of Australia’s Pacific neighbours ask Australia to recall all AFP officers from their boarders, as no good can come from a corrupt organisation that has been infiltrated by organised crime.
As any good lawyer or indeed police officer will tell you, most crimes have a motive. The motive for everything I have discussed in this article is money. In the eternal words of Pink Floyd:
It’s a crime
Share it fairly
But don’t take a slice of my pie
So they say
Is the root of all evil today
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