September 7 2013
– Newsflash: Crooks tell lies. Hold the front page.
Breaking news: Corrupt coppers say they are innocent victims of giant conspiracies. Roll the presses.
But not everyone accused of a crime is guilty and sometimes the innocent can be swept away in a tsunami of circumstantial evidence.
Former drug squad detective sergeant Paul Dale is no dummy, although he has been known to spit one. He knows many inside and outside of the job he once loved believe he should be serving about 30-years in a maximum-security prison.
His supporters (a loyal, if smaller group) claim Dale’s reputation, rights and, for a period of time, mental health was sacrificed by senior police obsessed with proving he was as rotten as a chop.
Now he has written a book called Disgraced? to put his side of the story. It is thoughtful, reasoned and persuasive, but is it right?
The facts beyond dispute are that his former underworld informer Terrence Hodson and his drug squad partner David Miechel were arrested trying to burgle an Oakleigh drug house in 2003.
Even though Dale was at home at the time, he was eventually charged after Hodson implicated him in the crime.
In May 2004 Hodson and his wife Christine were shot dead in their Kew home.
Without Hodson’s testimony, the case against Dale collapsed and the charges were dropped.
So the team investigating the murders (rightly) treated Dale as a suspect – after all, he appeared to have a pretty handy motive.
The double murder was a cold-blooded attack on the criminal justice system. A star witness killed and his wife murdered simply because she was home to witness it.
Very early on police were told the drug dealer and underworld killer Carl Williams had helped organise the murder – that he pulled the strings but not the trigger.
In April 2007, just weeks before he was to be sentenced over a series of underworld murders, Williams made his first clumsy attempt to provide a police statement in exchange for a lighter sentence. It was, he would admit later, a long way short of the truth – but it was just the start of a long journey filled with promises, inducements, false leads, breakthroughs and bitter disappointments.
In that statement Williams said what he thought police wanted to hear – that he had a corrupt relationship with Dale: he claimed that at a meeting Dale said he wanted $10,000 for providing a Williams associate (“The Jockey”) with a fake alibi for a murder charge.
The Jockey used a self-defence argument, which was slightly thin as the victim was unarmed.
Dale claimed that while drinking in his old stamping ground of Brunswick an unidentified man told him The Jockey was a “dead man walking”. Why a near stranger would pass on such a tip to an off-duty detective on the turps was not explored. And why Dale would not diary such mail or pass it on through police intelligence channels was also perplexing.
In his book, Dale says he initially dismissed the threat and only reported it a year later when approached by the homicide squad.
“In the end I wasn’t called as a witness,” he wrote. But why? On the surface it would appear to help the self-defence argument and yet both the prosecution and defence ignored Dale’s statement. The prosecutor said in court he didn’t “consider the evidence of the witness reliable”.
In sentencing The Jockey, the judge made it clear what he thought of the alibi: “You sought to perpetrate before the jury the falsity that you were in fear, for extraneous reasons, of the deceased. The genesis of this (fabricated) proposition was your relationship with a police officer.”
The drugs squad had been smashed by a series of corruption cases and its replacement, the major drug investigation division, had been rebuilding a reputation until the Hodson/Miechel arrests.
When the news broke, devastated squad detectives were seen crying in their office when they realised the size of the betrayal.
And yet in his book, Dale remains remarkably sympathetic to his former colleague. “Senior Constable Dave Miechel, a quiet loner, must have been taken in by the warmth and hospitality of the Hodson family. It’s not the first time something like this has happened.”
Miechel was sentenced to 15 years – a stint Dale considers too harsh. “Other detectives convicted in the first shakedown at the drug squad had made a lot of money and lived the high life and they didn’t get as long a sentence as Dave Miechel.”
Miechel’s actions destroyed Dale’s career, trashed his reputation and resulted in 10 years of traumatic legal action. And yet Dale’s attitude to the events makes Gandhi look like a nit-picker.
But attitudes are not evidence. Half the country declared Lindy Chamberlain a baby-killer because she didn’t cry on cue.
Certain elements of the media are portrayed in the book as having been played by the police media machine, determined to destroy Dale’s chances of a fair trial.
He is particularly critical of one Naked City column in which he was identified as having fallen asleep in the back of a police car, allowing a suspect to escape.
Dale is 100% right. It was a stuff-up pure and simple – the incident happened but Dale was in no way involved. No wonder he’s not a fan.
Back to Carl Williams. Against his own legal advice he gave evidence at his 2007 plea proving he was a natural-born liar. So much so, Justice Betty King said: “I find that the evidence that you gave, in the main, was unbelievable, even incredible at times. It was, in my view, designed to ensure that it would provide no evidence against any person other than those who are already dead, convicted or have pleaded guilty to various offences.”
The former supermarket shelf-stacker wanted everyone to know he wasn’t going to shop anyone. At least not then.
He spent years bragging that he had won the underworld war, until he finally lapsed into depression, knowing he would spend decades in the worst part of the worst prison.
And when he was at his lowest, police quietly turned up for a chat – maybe if Williams finally told the truth they could do a deal that would make life just a little easier for him. But there was only one case they really cared about – the unsolved Hodson murders.
As you would expect with someone of Williams’ pedigree, he told his story by degrees, trying to minimise his involvement while maximising the benefits he would receive.
In the ongoing battle to placate the star witness, Williams was removed from protective solitary confinement and allowed to socialise with two inmates of his choosing.
He selected his old mate The Jockey and Matthew Johnson, arguably the toughest man in the system.
Perhaps he felt being close to Johnson would give him added protection. This proved to be an unwise strategy.
In January 2009 Williams told another story inside Barwon Prison. And this time he was the middleman in the Hodson killings.
He said Dale offered to pay $150,000 for Hodson’s murder, with the money to be dropped in a wheelie bin, and claimed the former policeman gave him an envelope containing the target’s photo and address.
Williams told police he contacted veteran hitman Rodney Charles “The Duke” Collins to see if he was interested in the job. He accepted immediately.
Williams said that after learning the contract had been completed he received a call from Dale on a “safe” mobile phone telling him the money had been dropped in Williams’ mother’s wheelie bin (luckily it wasn’t collection day).
He claimed to have counted the money, which “was made up of different denominations. It was bundled into $10,000 amounts and each $10,000 amount had a rubber band around it. Then the $10,000 amounts were stacked into three $50,000 bundles, which were tied together with rubber bands.”
Four weeks after Williams signed his last police statement, Dale was charged with the murder of Hodson. The following month Collins was also charged with the murders of Terence and Christine Hodson.
The charges against Dale and Collins were optimistic in the extreme. Williams was the main witness, who had given several versions of events, had been found by the Supreme Court to be a liar and had been offered massive incentives to dob in the former copper.
It was likely Dale would have been acquitted if it had progressed to court. But it didn’t.
On April 19th, 2010, Williams was bashed to death in Barwon Prison by his once trusted ally Matthew Johnson. The Hodson murder case against Dale and Collins collapsed.
In May 2011 police announced Dale was not involved in the Williams death.
Dale has always maintained his innocence. His phones have been bugged, his financial records checked, his police history scrutinised and his friends and enemies interviewed. And he has never been convicted of anything.
In his book, Dale details his relationship with The Jockey and declares he registered the crook as an informer. He also says The Jockey introduced him to Williams.
The Police Regulation Act is an imposing document. Section 127 (A) (2) relates to the unlawful disclosure of information by serving or former police. There is a maximum penalty of two years’ jail.
Dale wrote his story and now hopes to get on with his life.
However, there will be an inquest into the Hodson murders and Dale will be invited to attend.
The book may be finished but perhaps the final chapter is yet to be written.
– John Silvester