40 years on from the Sydney Hilton bombing, Dr John Jiggens examines the evidence, frame-ups and conspiracy theories in the final of this two-part series.
Read Part One here.
DETONATING a bomb hidden inside a bin is an unlikely technique for an assassination.
For a start, security always checks bins. As well, bins frequently get full and consequently have to be emptied. If your loaded bin were emptied before your target arrived, you would, unfortunately, kill the wrong people.
This elementary consideration explains why the most important information for planning such an assassination is a timetable of garbage collections.
To recapitulate: there were five garbage collection shifts scheduled for the weekend of 13 February 1978: one about 12:40 am Saturday, the next about 6 am Saturday, another about 2.30pm on Saturday afternoon, another one about 6 am Sunday and one about 12.40 am Monday.
So when did the bomb go in?
In his original confession to the Queensland police, Evan Pederick said he and Tim Anderson planted the bomb in the bin at the Hilton Hotel at 6 pm Friday.
When the NSW Police Detective Aarne Tees subsequently interviewed him, Tees asked Pederick the leading question:
"Is it possible you could have been in Anderson’s company at 1 am on the morning of the 11th?"
Pederick said he would think about this.
When Tees came back, Pederick’s memory had improved, as it so frequently did. This time he "remembered" that Tim Anderson had checked on the garbage collection times because he wanted to be sure that the bomb would not be collected after they put it in the bin and so they had to wait around until after the garbage collection that night.
Tees had been a senior member of Roger Rogerson’s Armed Hold-Up Squad and would later obtain his law degree and become Rogerson’s lawyer. Both Colin John Perrin, the head of Special Branch at the time of the bombing, and Roger Rogerson would be named by John Hatton as “Black Knights” in his May 1994 speech championing an inquiry into corruption in the NSW police force while Tim Anderson had become an anti-corruption campaigner.
Why do I call Pederick’s "memory" of Tim Anderson consulting a garbage collection timetable a lie? Pederick claimed that Moraji Desai, the Indian Prime Minister, was the Margii’s target — and he was arriving around3 pm Sunday. If Tim Anderson had consulted the garbage collection schedule, he would not order Evan Pederick to put a bomb in the bin at 1 am, Saturday, because he would expect that the bin would be emptied at 6 am, Saturday. He would have suggested waiting till after the 6 am Sunday collection. He could not know that three garbage collections would be waved away.
The evidence shows the bomb went in after the 12:40 am collection on Saturday. Miraculously, it didn’t get picked up by the 6 am Saturday garbage truck, or the 2.30 pm collection on Saturday, or even the 6 am Sunday collection. Every time, the police guarding the Hilton intervened to wave the garbage collectors away.
No groups of terrorists could predict that the collection timetable would be so subtly rearranged, but the planters of this bomb knew that the squad in charge of the operation, NSW Special Branch, would protect their bomb. The only scenario plausible is those who planted the bomb were working with those in charge of security. No terrorist would put the bomb in at 1 am Saturday morning, believing it would shortly be emptied. It also underlies how unbelievable such an assassination method is. The frequency and uncertainty of garbage collections make this an implausible assassination strategy.
The campaign against political police
Why would Australia’s political police plan this false flag operation?
The political police in Australia had seen their role during the Cold War as being concerned with the surveillance of communist subversives. As opposition to the Vietnam War grew, the political police were used extensively against the growing anti-Vietnam movement. This mass movement saw the political police as a major threat to their democratic right to protest that needed to be reformed.
The campaign against political police was born out of the contest between the Vietnam Moratorium movement and the political police and reached its climax in February 1978, when a series of extraordinary political upheavals confronted Australia’s political police with an existential crisis.
On 17 January 1978, SA Premier Don Dunstan published Justice White’s report on the abuses of South Australia’s Special Branch, closed the Branch and wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to tell him that South Australian police would no longer act as intermediaries for ASIO.
On 20 January, the West Australian Opposition called for an Inquiry into its Special Branch and the next day, the Melbourne Age echoed this call in its editorial.
The Special Branch controversy widened to include New South Wales when Don Dunstan detailed an episode that revealed that ASIO files had been given to the Leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Peter Coleman, to feed to journalists to discredit radical individuals — in particular, members of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee.
The Privacy Committee of the NSW Parliament began examining the files of NSW’s Special Branch on Jan 23.
On 9 February (four days before the Hilton Bombing), Premier Neville Wran announced that a judicial inquiry would be held into the links between NSW Special Branch and ASIO, and also into the connection between them and the leader of the Opposition in New South Wales, Peter Coleman.
The establishment of this Inquiry was due to be announced on February 14 — the day after the Hilton bombing. February 9 was also the day that the sniffer dog squad was called off.
During this month of existential threat to the Australian Special Branches, it is possible a plan crystalised in the higher reaches of ASIO and NSW Special Branch to rescue the position of the political police with a publicity stunt — the "Hilton Operation".
A bomb was going to be found in a rubbish bin outside the CHOGRM conference at the Hilton Hotel. It was to be planted Saturday morning before the heads of state arrived. It would be discovered after a warning phone call on Monday morning. The press was to be alerted too.
The aim was the blaze of publicity that would follow. The objective was not to assassinate anyone. It would be managed so that no one would be put at risk. The Hilton Operation was a cynical public relations exercise — a black flag operation, designed to earn them headlines when the story of how they prevented a terrorist threat at the Hilton Hotel would be over all the front pages.
All that had to be done was to wave the garbage collectors away from the garbage bin.
Things fall apart
Rachel Landers, author of 'Who Bombed the Hilon?', likes to call the spooks-planted-the-bomb scenario, a "conspiracy theory" and people who argue it "conspiracists". However, if you read her endnotes, you will find a reference to this neglected (by her) alternative theory that reads, ‘There is no better place to locate a précis of this long-held conspiracy than simply going straight to the Hilton Hotel Bombing Wikipedia page. It’s all there.’
It is a lazy excuse: I won’t tell you this evidence because you can read it on Wikipedia! And to hide this in the endnotes, which lay readers rarely read! But I thank Dr Landers for her recommendation because I found several reports in the Wikipedia article that flesh out the Hilton Operation.
If the spooks were behind the bomb, it would be professionally assembled. Because of the need to avoid casualties, I expect the bomb would be like the one mentioned at point eight of the Wikipedia article, which says:
Former Attorney General of New South Wales Frank Walker and Federal Government Senator Gareth Evans had been told by a CSIRO scientist that under pressure from ASIO they had made two fake bombs in the week prior to the bombing. The bombs were designed not to explode but could do so in a garbage truck compactor.
Things fall apart
So how did it go wrong? Getting the bomb out of the bin should have been easy. All it required was a warning call to Special Branch and the recovery operation would have started. The bomb squad were assembled around the corner from the Hilton. Special Branch was in a bar on the seventh floor of the Hilton. The plan was to discover the bomb in the bin around midnight.
About 12.30 am, Monday, a caller with a middle European accent rang the Sydney Morning Herald and was put through to reporter Tim Vaughan and the caller said,
"You’ll be interested in what the police are going to be doing at the Hilton soon."
He then rang the CIB and asked to be put through to Special Branch, but the line rang out while he waited. There was no one in Special Branch! All the Special Branch officers on duty were on the seventh floor of the Hilton — the restaurant and bar level. After the call to Special Branch rang out, the caller was put through to the CIB duty detective, Cec Streatfield.
"Listen carefully. There is a bomb in the bin outside the Hilton Hotel in George Street."
Streatfield contacted the nearest police station to the Hilton, but as they talked, time ran out. The operation had been unexpectedly derailed and before it could recover and save Australia from the threat of terrorism, the garbage truck arrived in George Street. William Favell picked up the bin outside the Hilton and emptied it into the compactor.
It was 12.42 am.
Landers excoriates Special Branch over their crucial absence when the warning call came through. She describes the Special Branch as ‘a place of nepotism, corruption, ineptitude, dirt files and good times’ — which is similar to what the Left was saying in 1978. But her only substantial criticism is over their drinking; their search for the perfect martini during long, lazy Friday afternoon boozing sessions.
Landers suggests their embarrassment over their absence at this crucial time led to the Special Branch framing of Alister, Dunn and Anderson several months later, and they "went rogue", prejudicing the "real" case against the Margii Five. However, it's possible that Special Branch planted the bomb and then bungled its recovery and tried their hardest to frame several different Margiis to deflect the blame.
NSW Special Branch was abolished in 1997, when they were found to have protected a paedophile judge, with the Hilton bombing gaining them an extra two decades of corruption, nepotism, and "dirt" files. They can comfortably be made the scapegoats now. But they could not have done this alone, which explains why this triple-murder at the birth of Australia’s security state remains unsolved.
In their chapter on the Hilton bombing in the third part of their history of ASIO, The Secret Cold War, authors John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley surprisingly inform us that
‘ASIO did not have personnel at or near the hotel during the conference.’
So, according to ASIO, Australia’s foremost security organisation, they were not even at the CHOGRM event (one of the largest meeting of world leaders ever held in Australia!), which shifts the blame for the disaster entirely to NSW Special Branch and gives ASIO convenient "plausible denial" for the outrage.
The short duration between the attempted warning call to Special Branch and the truck’s arrival seems poor planning. According to Phillip Morris, the controller of the Sydney Council Cleaning department, the garbage truck was running 20 minutes early that night. If it had been on time, and if a specially-constructed harmless bomb had not been put into a compactor and if Special Branch were not all drinking at the Hilton, no one might have been killed. However, the deaths added urgency to the call for greater security laws. By the everyday miracle of their own incompetence, the careers of this lazy boozy dirt-file trading squad were saved for two decades.
It can be small consolation for the dead and wounded, but the likelihood is that the bomb was not meant to kill anyone; it was meant to be discovered and the media were meant to be on hand to record a triumph for the security forces; to underline the vital work that is done by the guardians of national security.
This is the final in a two part series.
Trial and other information cited in this article is taken from 'The Incredible Exploding Man', John Jiggens, Samizdat Press, 1991.
Rachel Landers' material is cited from 'Who Bombed the Hilon?', Rachel Landers, NewSouth Publishing, 2016.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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