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BOOK REVIEW: The Most Dangerous Detective: The Outrageous Glen Patrick Hallahan

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Dr John Jiggens reviews a book that explores the dark underbelly of Queensland police corruption by former investigative reporter Steve Bishop.

EVAN WHITTON began his book about corruption in New South Wales, Can of Worms, with the comment:

It has been said, and not entirely in jest, that Sydney is the most corrupt city in the western world, except of course for Newark, New Jersey, and Brisbane, Queensland.

‘Can of Worms’ came out in 1986, when Queensland, astonishingly, had managed to eclipse NSW, that Sodom and Gomorrah of the South, in both police and political corruption.

The alliance between Premier Bjelke-Petersen and the corrupt police, known as the “Rat Pack” – Glen Hallahan, Tony Murphy and Terry Lewis – had engendered an all-pervasive state of lawlessness where the police were given free rein to organise crime, so long as they surveilled and harassed the political opponents of the Premier. As the song declared, Brisbane became Pig City, a world of corruption which was thankfully terminated by the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

In the 30 years since Fitzgerald’s landmark report, a plethora of books have grappled with explaining how, under the cloak of the “God-fearing” Bjelke-Petersen, Queensland became Australia's police state — a jurisdiction where injustice and corruption were intertwined.

Despite its celebrated cleansing of Queensland public life, the Fitzgerald Report had particular weaknesses — it focussed on corruption inside the police force, ignoring the role of the media and the judiciary in facilitating police corruption and it chose not to examine the major source of black market corruption, the drug trade.

Consequently, one of the more illuminating of these post-Fitzgerald works is Steve Bishop’s The Most Dangerous Detective: The Outrageous Glen Patrick Hallahan, which examines the Rat Pack’s role in the drug trade as it tells the story of corruption in Queensland through the career of the forgotten rat, Glen Patrick Hallahan, who became the Rat Pack’s drug kingpin.

Although he was a Queensland detective, Hallahan was a protégé and partner in crime of Detective Sergeant Fred Krahe, New South Wales’s killer cop. In her taped interview about police corruption, brothel madam Shirley Brifman told how Krahe and Hallahan organised bank robberies and other crimes in the two states, Krahe sending NSW crooks north to Queensland to rob its banks while Hallahan returned the favour, sending Queensland criminals down to Krahe in Sydney for robberies there.

Independent robbers were given over to the mercy of the toe-cutter gang, who also worked for Krahe; Krahe informed the toe-cutters who the suspects were and the toe-cutters would kidnap the robbers and torture them by cutting their toes off, one by one, until they revealed where the proceeds were.

Hallahan came through the Fitzgerald Inquiry unscathed, largely because he had left the police force under a cloud many years before the matters Fitzgerald investigated. Bishop concentrates instead on two earlier inquiries: the National Hotel inquiry led by Justice Harry Gibb and he examines with microscopic thoroughness the Australian Royal Commission into Drugs, led by Justice Edward Williams.

As well as Justice Williams, he casts his gaze on two journalists, Ron Richards and Brian Bolton from the Sunday Sun, who used its pages to undermine the honest police commissioner Ray Whitrod and to puff Hallahan, Lewis and Murphy through fake stories designed to celebrate them as brilliant detectives — Ron Richards invariably labelled Hallahan, ‘ace detective Glen Hallahan’.

Bishop joined the Sunday Sun from England in 1982 and had many occasions to observe his editor Ron Richards’s closeness to Police Commissioner Lewis as well as Murphy and Hallahan, coming gradually to the realisation that his editor was the Rat Pack’s “man in the press”. In Pig City, the corrupt police were supported by corrupt journalists, too.

Krahe and Hallahan became major players in the booming drug trade after they left the police and were instrumental in establishing the “Drug Joke” — the corrupt system whereby the drug trade was green-lighted by corrupt detectives. John Edward Milligan, a former Judge’s associate, became Hallahan’s partner in heroin importation. Aided by Hallahan's network of police and political protection, Milligan’s network prospered — Justice Woodward’s Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking listed Milligan’s group as one of NSW’s six major heroin importers.

Milligan was arrested by an investigator for the Narcotics Bureau called John Shobbrook and, terrified of the repercussions he faced from the dangerous Hallahan, Milligan confessed to Shobbrook that there were people of greater importance involved: the triumvirate of Commissioner Terry Lewis, CIB chief Tony Murphy and Glen Hallahan, the trio who ran both crime and the police force in Queensland.

Milligan told Shobbrook how the Drug Joke worked:

Glen is the civil arm and Tony is in charge of security. That’s how the outfit operates up there. Tony does the dirty work. Terry is ‘Our Friend’. That is in inverted commas, a nickname, ‘Our Friend’ in telephone conversations. There are others, most certainly there are others. They got rid of Whitrod, they compromised Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and by ‘they’ I mean the triumvirate, this particular three.

Shobbrook’s investigation uncovered many links tying Milligan and Hallahan together, including phone calls – some made during drug importations – as well as large transfers of money. Milligan’s phone book contained a number that was a direct line to Superintendent Tony Murphy, officer in charge of Queensland's Criminal Investigation Bureau, who would have been able to tip off Hallahan and Milligan about police knowledge of their smuggling operations.

If Hallahan went down, Murphy and Lewis would become the next targets for the Narcotics Bureau and Queensland’s crooked house of cards could tumble down, as it did a decade later when confronted with the Fitzgerald Inquiry. 

When allegations about the Narcotics Bureau’s investigation into Hallahan surfaced in Queensland’s Parliament, they caused a sensation and Premier Bjelke-Petersen appointed Justice Edward Williams to adjudicate on the question: was Queensland Police Commissioner Terry Lewis Mr Big’s “friend”?

Williams, a favourite of Lewis and Bjelke-Petersen who would later be knighted (like Bjelke-Petersen and Lewis) by the regime, proved a safe choice. Before Williams's commission, Hallahan lied about his relationship to Lewis and Milligan, while Lewis, likewise, lied about his relationship to Hallahan — Williams accepted these transparent lies with little investigation.

Avoiding the evidence of Hallahan’s guilt that Shobbrook and the Narcotics Bureau offered, Williams instead had officers of Lewis’s Queensland police re-interrogate Milligan. It was crucial for the Rat Pack to stop the Narcotics Bureau investigation before Hallahan was arrested and through the voice of Terry Lewis, the plotters had the ear of Justice Williams.

Williams's verdict on Hallahan was:

“The Commission merely records that evidence presently available to it falls far short of establishing as even a reasonable possibility that Hallahan has ever been involved in wrongdoing in connection with illegal drugs.”

Stupidity, complacency or complicity? Understandably, Steve Bishop finds Williams’s clearly inaccurate conclusion verges on scandalous; his prose glows white-hot with rage. I sympathise with his outrage at Williams’s incompetence. Having examined Williams's report on drug laws in my PhD, Marijuana Australiana, I favour the Peter Principle explanation: the notion that people in a bureaucracy get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.

My impression was that Sir Edward Stratton Williams KCMG, KBE, author of Queensland’s draconian drug laws, useful fool for Hallahan, Murphy and Lewis, knighted for these effort by Australia’s most corrupt regime, elevated well beyond his level of competence to Chairman of the National Crimes Commission and member of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board, Australian of the Year (1982), Queenslander of the Year (1983), was a textbook example of the Peter Principle.

For lovers of Brisbane noir and those who want to understand Queensland’s dark past, its history of police and political corruption and how the media protected the corrupt, Steve Bishop’s ‘The Most Dangerous Detective: The Outrageous Glen Patrick Hallahan’ recounts in meticulous detail Hallahan’s fabulous career in crime, from the Sundown Murders, to the National Hotel, to Shirley Brifman’s murder, to Milligan’s Mountain and the Drug Joke, to Suncorp Insurance Chief Investigator (recommended by his friend, Terry Lewis) escaping three royal commissions.

Dr John Jiggens is a writer and journalist currently working in the community newsroom at Bay-FM in Byron Bay.

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