By Bill Mason
BRISBANE — The process of bringing corrupt Queensland police, politicians and racketeers to book in the aftermath of the Fitzgerald Inquiry reached its biggest milestone so far with the conviction of former police commissioner Terry Lewis on August 5.
After hearing evidence over five months and deliberating for five days, a District Court jury found Lewis guilty on 15 counts of corruption, spanning almost a decade during which the former commissioner was alleged to have presided over a widespread and deeply entrenched system of corruption.
Following the verdict, Judge Healy sentenced Lewis to the maximum term of 14 years.
The jury found that Lewis had accepted bribes totalling more than $600,000 from the key witness in the case, self-confessed bagman Jack Herbert, to protect brothels, SP bookmakers, illegal casinos and in-line machine operators.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the trial was that the jury came down with a guilty verdict at all, in the face of a virtual instruction by the judge to reject the uncorroborated evidence of an "unmitigated liar", Jack Herbert, and his wife Peggy.
Judge Healy had also ruled out large amounts of evidence which the prosecution had viewed as a strong part of its case against Lewis.
Despite this, the jury made its own decision, and convicted the leader of the corrupt network known as "the joke" on all charges.
This landmark verdict was followed next day by the conviction of two of the key racketeers featured in the Fitzgerald Inquiry, Geraldo Bellino and Vittorio Conte. They were each sentenced to seven years' jail on four counts of bribing police, as part of what the prosecution described as a foolproof system of protection for their "huge conglomerate empire of illegitimate activities" built up from 1980 to 1987.
That leaves only the trial of the big one — Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen — to go to complete the formal stage of the Fitzgerald process.
Getting rid of corruption in the Queensland police force and public life is another matter entirely.