Police-coroner collaboration on Hilton revealed


By Dick Nichols and John Tognolini

SYDNEY — In evidence before the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption, it has emerged that state coroner Kevin Waller advised Detective-Inspector Aarne Tees, investigator of the Hilton bombing, on whether the testimony of police informer Raymond John Denning provided a strong enough basis for a prosecution of Tim Anderson.

Anderson was convicted in November 1990. His appeal was unanimously upheld by the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in May 1991, Chief Justice Gleeson ruling that "a jury, acting reasonably, would give Denning's evidence little or no weight".

The involvement of Waller in the Hilton case again highlights the links between the police and the judiciary in this state. In evidence, Tees stated that he didn't trust crown law officers (who would normally make judgments on the reliability of testimony) and instead sought the opinion of Waller because he was "technically the head of homicide".

Waller's view that Denning's evidence was trustworthy contrasts with his ruling in a previous case involving Denning, once known for his championing of prisoners' rights.

In 1981-82 Waller heard a case brought by prisoners' rights activist Brett Collins against certain warders at Grafton Jail. One of the witnesses called by Collins was Denning. In his adjudication, Waller said:

"In cross-examination he demonstrated a bizarre attitude to life ... Mr Denning has been in institutions, in gaols, committing crimes or on the run for the last 15 of his 30 years and his attitude must have been affected by his life style. At other times he refused to answer questions in cross examination despite warnings that such refusals could reflect adversely on his credit. He was an unreliable witness."

The revelation that Tees consulted Waller on using Denning also went against Tees' own evidence to the committal hearing against Anderson, held in September 1989. There Tees denied having been advised by anyone before launching the prosecution.

In other evidence before the ICAC, it has emerged that the prosecution decided not to call five other prisoner witnesses against Anderson, even though all claimed that Anderson had confessed to the Hilton bombing when in jail. A coded message between two of these witnesses, which was intercepted by prison officers, read: "It's nice to know we can get someone convicted even when he is innocent like Anderson is. They're all gronks [dags]."

Someone on the prosecution side decided that such people wouldn't make very reliable-looking witnesses for the prosecution.

Also of interest is the revelation that Anderson's supposed confession to the five uncalled witnesses revolved around an alleged conflict between Anderson and fellow prisoner Alex Burmistriw, the brother of Constable Paul Burmistriw, killed in the Hilton bombing.

In her notes of an interview with Alex Burmistriw, Anderson's solicitor wrote: "He said that the police had come to see him and they dared to say that he didn't care for his brother. He [Burmistriw] asked about whether he is supposed to have got in a fight with Tim — I said in fact yes, that was one of the allegations. He said something like, if he had, Tim would have known about it."

Little of this has appeared in the Sydney media. They have led with Denning's challenge to Anderson to undergo a lie-detector test and Tees' claim that Anderson and the Prisoners Action Group were involved in spiriting prison escapee Ian Steele out of the country in 1986.

Commissioner Ian Temby halted Tees' evidence on this matter, saying he did not want the hearing to be "used as a vehicle for the bringing forth of material which is of no possible use to me and all it does is to titillate various imaginations".

In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, Brett Collins and Ian Fraser replied on behalf of the Prisoners Action Group: "Denning's accusations elsewhere have been dismissed or totally contradicted by proven facts as in the Hilton bombing case. We regard his actions as sadly exhibiting the destructive influence of heroin, prison hopelessness and corrupt authorities."

In his opening remarks, Tim Anderson said that his questioning of Denning would reveal a "a pattern of constructing evidence to make it incriminate people with the help of Aarne Tees".

Will the ICAC hearings get to the bottom of the police informer system? Will anyone important be charged? The signs are not very promising. Already Commissioner Temby has refused requests for chief Hilton prosecutor Mark Tedeschi and Kevin Waller to appear before the hearing.l