– First a little secret. Confidential research conducted for this journal shows the “Naked City” column draws a loyal, if eclectic, band of followers.
Sure, focus groups indicate the readership falls into three distinct categories: those with criminal records, police who should have criminal records and members of the public who tend to wear hoods to social gatherings.
The editor-in-chief – a once naive police rounds cadet fashioned into a media mover and shaker by this columnist – is constantly urging urging us to engage with the reader, which we find bizarre as we are already married.
In a bid to comply ( a failed attempt to qualify for an end-of-year bonus) we met the researchers, who sadly appeared to be suffering from early summer hay fever. Which would explain why they wore sunglasses indoors, sniffed constantly and went to the bathroom frequently.
Regardless of their methodology we are supremely confident the usual weekly readership (est 55) will drop markedly today as a by-product of Christmas office parties.
Sadly, many readers will only look at the paper, or online through the World Wide Web (see, Mr Editor-in-Chief, we are keeping up with the times) to check the date and to ensure the previous evening’s behaviour has not made the headlines.
Just the other day, for example, a major financial institution’s Christmas party turned into an end-of-year bash – literally. Four staff were taken to hospital after making too many withdrawals from the open bar and others were involved in a punch-on near the punch bowl.
It is also the time of year when columnists tend to reflect on the events of the previous 12 months before adjourning for a scrumptious festive luncheon of hot Christmas turkey accompanied by iced Wild Turkey.
First, it is our melancholy duty to announce the longest-running underworld show in town is finally shutting down.
It has taken more than 11 years, three trials, three chief commissioners, a guilty plea and a truckload of frequent-flyer points to finally turn Tony Mokbel from a five-star fugitive to a one-star prisoner.
At most of his many court appearances Mokbel chose to wear a smile, his trademark white shirt and a striking red tie.
In July when he arrived to be sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts of drug trafficking Purana Taskforce members turned up dressed the same.
Although he arrived in his customary good humour, he left feeling slightly aggrieved when Justice Simon Whelan gave him 30 with a minimum of 22 years. So much so he appealed, saying the sentence was manifestly excessive and crushing for a man with heart problems.
Mokbel is not the only crook happy to roll the dice by heading to the appeal courts for a second opinion. Increasingly, police and prosecutors feel the Court of Appeal is as out of step as a drunken accountant trying to dance Gangnam-style with a lampshade on his head.
We therefore welcome with some relief the appointment of Justice Paul Coghlan to the role, beginning in the new year. A former director of public prosecutions, he has helped deal with the backlog of murder cases listed for trial with his no-nonsense approach.
Even though Mokbel won’t leave jail until he is a pensioner (and having lost a fortune won’t be troubled by the means test), he remains as optimist.
Which is why he recently renewed his driver’s licence until 2022, although the former Ferrari driver will have to be content for now with the occasional spin on the prison ride-on mower.
One man of the colourful variety who still knows the joys of owning a luxury motor car is Mick Gatto, who can be seen cruising around Melbourne in his splendidly shining Rolls-Royce.
Certainly such displays of wealth rarely go unnoticed and Gatto recently copped a $10 million tax bill – a matter he intends to dispute in court.
“They are trying to put me out of business. Now, I’m not crying because I’m a big boy and I’ll get by because I have plenty of friends, but how is the average person supposed to fight something like this when they freeze all your money? It is simply not right,” he told your columnist, who wrote it down immediately.
Other charismatic characters to end up in the Supreme Court are Tony Mokbel’s two former partners, the delightful Danni McGuire (domestic) and jovial Jacobus Smit (business).
They were in dispute with the mysterious Jennifer Shaw, a former member of the Victoria Legal Aid Board.
They were fighting over a company that was attempting to redevelop The Nursery Cafe in Mount Alexander Road, Essendon, into an apartment complex.
And complex it was, with stories of faked documents, broken promises and unexplained cash payments.
Even before the matter went to court, Ms McGuire was attacked and bashed outside the family-friendly cafe, leaving her both shaken and stirred.
Then, during the hearing, police raided the property and took truckloads of allegedly hot white goods on sale at remarkable discounts.
In the end Danni was vindicated when Associate Justice Rodney Randall agreed she controlled the company but as the whole deal threatens to go guts up, with receivers hovering, the victory may turn out to be as impressive as finishing second in an egg-and-spoon race.
Sadly, even her Mercedes four-wheel-drive was repossessed and sold for $66,000 – pocket money in the good old days.
Another well-known character returned to the headlines for a few days during a May siege in East Keilor. Christopher Dean Binse, known as “Badness”, kept police at bay for 40 hours before the stun grenades and tear gas persuaded him he had outworn his welcome.
Badness headed into the street carrying a gun and wearing a bulletproof vest. Instead of gunning him down Butch Cassidy-style, the Special Operations Group hit him with bean bag shots (eight of them) until he lost interest in proceedings.
Momentarily dazed but unhurt he was checked at the scene where his heart rate registered just 80, indicating stress was not a major issue.
Now inside, Badness has taken to writing his memoirs on what has indeed been a colourful life. We have read some of his musings before and he is not without talent and now has time to refine his caustic style even further. After all, a writer’s garret is usually small with a tiny window – just like a cell really.
After years of controversy and ugly infighting, Chief Commissioner Ken Lay’s 2012 pledge was to provide no-frills, traditional policing without any political spin.
This did not mean ducking the hard issues and police took a commendably tough line over allegations senior members of the Catholic Church had failed in child molestation cases.
One thing is certain: there will be sweat stains on some prominent dog collars when the royal commission kicks off some time in the new year.
After ignoring the problem for years, police are now actively investigating outlaw motorcycle gangs through a specialist taskforce code named Echo. On all available evidence it can expect a busy 2013.
The crime that shocked, horrified and seemingly galvanised Melbourne was the tragic case of Jill Meagher, who was killed while walking a short distance from a Brunswick bar after drinks with work colleagues.
The Homicide Squad’s Suspicious Missing Person’s Unit (Crew Four) was assigned the case and within days released CCTV footage taken from a Sydney Road shop of Ms Meagher apparently being approached by a man in a blue hoodie.
Five days after she disappeared police arrested Adrian Ernest Bailey, 41, who lived nearby in Coburg.
It is a matter of public record that Bayley took police to Gisborne where the victim’s body was recovered.
As the matter is yet to be dealt with in court, the details of the case and the background of the accused cannot be discussed.
Suffice to say there will be many questions asked as to whether more could have been done to avoid this tragedy.
Within days of the arrest, up to 30,000 people, connected through social media, marched in Sydney Road not only to express a collective grief for Jill Meagher but to show the overwhelming majority of Melbourne’s citizens know violence is never acceptable.
Police are concerned that the Meagher case has left some women so frightened they won’t venture out at night – even though by any definition Melbourne remains a safe city.
This week Chief Commissioner Lay launched a social media campaign inspired by the people who marched in Brunswick. GO4ZERO is a project designed to prevent violence and support those who feel threatened with violence or intimidation. Which shows that even in times of great grief there is always hope – John Silvester