Ben Hills reports
Kym William Royall is your criminal from central casting. Lurid tattoos cover the beefy arms swinging at his sides. A lank ponytail dangles almost to his waist. His speech is fast and dangerous, bristling with underworld slang and ugly profanities. He’s the heavy from Pulp Fiction, the baddie from Natural Born Killers.
His record goes back 20 years and includes convictions for assault, theft, resisting arrest and the “malicious wounding” of a taxi-driver and his taxi, for which he served his first stretch in jail. This time he’s in for murder.
Royall barges through the visiting hall at Parklea prison, outside Sydney, dressed in the regulation white coveralls with no zips or pockets in which to conceal contraband money, tobacco or drugs. At 41, he is older than the other prisoners, mostly “young offenders” chatting and canoodling with their wives and girlfriends while children play among the plastic kindergarten-style furniture this sunny Saturday afternoon.
One other thing sets him apart. Kym Royall says he is innocent, the victim of a monstrous police frame-up that landed him a life sentence, and would once have got him hanged. “I’ve done some bad things in my time but I didn’t do this,” he barks, deleting the expletives. “The police are the real criminals. They should be in here, not me.”
There are, of course, no guilty men in jail – if you believe their tales. But Royall appears more innocent than most. The detectives he says framed him have since been broken on the rack of the Wood royal commission into police corruption and have confessed to giving perjured evidence and taking bribes in other cases spanning nearly a decade. They have resigned and may be charged – but Kym Royall remains behind bars.
No-one has the faintest idea how many of the 7,300 people languishing in the NSW prison system are in the same boat. The Attorney-General, Jeff Shaw, says he has been contacted by six other prisoners who claim their convictions were down to perjured evidence by police discredited in testimony to the commission. The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, has dropped proceedings against another six, including some on serious drug charges, for the same reason.
But Sarah Hopkins, a solicitor who is the co-ordinator of Justice Action, a prisoners’ rights and law reform group, says this is a gross underestimate. She has been overwhelmed by more than 100 submissions from prisoners who say they were framed – including Royall – and is receiving 10 more complaints every week.
“This is an ugly can of worms that the Government is trying to keep the lid on,” she says. “These people are the real victims of police corruption and the Government is doing nothing to help them get justice. A special body should be set up immediately to review their cases so that they can be released from prison.”
What is becoming clearer, thanks to the steel-jawed inquisition of Justice James Wood, is that this is more than the random lawlessness of a few rogue cops – the perjury is systemic, widespread and has been going on for decades. It represents, potentially, the greatest miscarriage of justice Australia has ever experienced.
So far, and the inquiry has a second year to run, some 339 NSW, Victorian and Federal police have admitted, or been accused of, corruption. Some vehemently deny the allegations. They range in seniority right through the ranks and up to assistant commissioner level. Between them, they would have been responsible for thousands of prosecutions, many of them based on forged evidence and false witness.
“The reality is that, for very many years, verbals (see glossary) went to juries, and juries were equally as naive as judges,” the commissioner remarked during the devastating interrogation of one crooked copper who turned Queen’s evidence. “Had everyone been much tougher and more selective and perhaps a little wiser about these things, maybe it would have been nipped in the bud years ago. I suspect the time for that was possibly 20, 30 years ago.”
Police perjury was endemic, particularly in the inner-city, high-crime precincts of Kings Cross, where Royall lived, in Darlinghurst and in the operations of the 1979-88 NSW/Commonwealth Joint Task Force against drugs. This task force, which was supposed to be “an elite force … the jewel in the crown of the Federal and State police”, was, according to an overwhelming body of evidence, rotten to the core. One officer, identified only as JTF16, estimated that in one-quarter of the 30 to 40 prosecutions for serious drug crimes in which he was involved, he gave false evidence.
In the culture of the Great Lie, no ruse was too crude or improbable. Suspects were imprisoned in metal lockers which were then beaten with batons until, dazed and disorientated, the suspects gave police the “admissions” they wanted. People were bashed, in one case so sevrely that the policeman responsible had a bone broken in his hand, recalls a Sydney barrister.
Manufacturing evidence became routine. The inquiry has heard case after case in which heroin had been planted on suspected drug dealers who were inconsiderate enough not to be “carrying” when they were busted. A carpet and a hammer were “salted” with heroin to help make a false case of drug manufacturing.
In the notorious Operation Camellia, when task force officers arrested a man for possession of heroin, they expressed disappointment that he had served “only” three years for a previous drug conviction. So, according to his colleagues (he denies it) one of the detectives, who had cut his arm on an iron fence chasing the suspect, planted a knife at the scene and charged him with the extremely serious crime of “malicious wounding to prevent lawful apprehension”. He served seven years that time.
On another occasion, a detective inspector visited several addresses of people suspected of dealing in drugs and (according to another officer) planted bank notes earmarked for a drug “sting” operation. Returning to the police station, he chortled: “I have had a good day. I was like Tinkerbell sprinkling goodness around.”
Royall’s case fits this pattern. He was living with his girlfriend, Kelly Louise Healey, 23, on the top floor of a seven-storey block of flats at the back of the Cross – a stormy relationship with frequent arguments and both using copious amounts of alcohol and amphetamines.
Early one morning in November 1988, one of these arguments turned into a fight and Royall hit his girlfriend twice. She locked herself in the bathroom and began taking a shower. Some time later, alarmed that she did not reply to his calls, he broke down the door, fearing she had collapsed in the bath – Kelly was an epileptic.
Royall’s story is that, as he burst into the room, she jumped out of the bathroom window and fell to her death in the street below. The police had a different story. They say that as he sat cradling her head in his lap, Royall told them: “Just f— off. What do you want me to f—ing say? Yeah, I tossed her out, you c—-. I f—ing killed her. So f— off.” The classic verbal, says Royall.
Liberally larding the evidence with false confessions, sometimes known as “doing a notebook” on someone, was common among NSW police. The Oscar goes to the officer codenamed JTF7 who was involved in an operation in which two tonnes of Thai marijuana was seized from a boat in Broken Bay. The chef was a Frenchman who spoke only “bits and pieces” of English but JTF7 rose to the challenge: “I sat down and made up a 20-page statement.”
The police justified what Justice Wood has described as “utterly inexcusable and infamous conduct” by protesting that the dirty deals cooked up over rounds of schooners in the Duck and Bucket bar of the Boulevard Hotel were for the “greater good” – that their fabrications made society safer. Such was their sense of omnipotence that one officer said that criminals had to be framed “because sometimes God forgets”.
Said another drug task force officer testifying to the commission: “I considered it war. It was us against them … and it was my belief the legal system was slated in favour of the criminal. We had to play by the rules. They didn’t have to play by the rules … Those people were criminals; they were wrongdoers. You can’t put a quantity of lives on the amount of heroin that was seized. All right, we might have done the wrong thing, but we saw it for the greater good.”
But even this is nonsense. The evidence is that many of these same police were taking huge bribes to protect criminals from prosecution for the most wicked crimes imaginable, up to and including murder. At street level, crime – and particularly heroin trafficking – in fact increased, and many of Sydney’s worst criminals walked free because juries occasionally did see through police lies.
How the courts could swallow such lies is incomprehensible, until you consider the background of the judges. John Nicholson, a public defender who is an outspoken critic of the judiciary’s pro-police bias, points out that of the 60 District Court judges, 13 (almost a quarter) went straight from being prosecutors to the bench. Only 20 had been recognised criminal lawyers, although three-quarters of the court’s workload is crime.
As a result, although the jurors are supposed to decide on the facts, in practice you get judges giving directions like this, in a case where a woman on a serious drugs charge said she had been “verballed”: “… many in our community have had extremely fortunate contacts with the police. A police officer has laid down his life to save a relative or friend … he has been wounded, injured, in saving a child that you know … You are well aware of some policemen who will not work again because of the stress to which he was subjected in investigating crimes involving attacks on people, or having to move mutilated people off the road …”
Royall first believed the police were after him because they suspected amphetamines were being sold at the Kings Cross tattoo parlour where he worked. But then, while he was on bail, the real motivation became apparent. He was approached in the street by a uniformed policeman who brazenly demanded $20,000 to “fix” his trial. Royall looked across the road and saw the two officers in charge of his case watching proceedings. He said something rude and walked away.
The story is complicated by the fact that – on the advice of his solicitor and barrister – he did not challenge the police evidence at his trial. Nor was certain evidence he believes important – such as Kelly’s amphetamine addiction, her history of epilepsy and a previous threat to commit suicide – brought out. The jury convicted him and the judge gave him life.
Using a fresh legal team, Royall did appeal – to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal and to the High Court, where the judges ruled five-two against him. In 1991, when he had been in prison three years, Royall made his last attempt to obtain justice when he contacted the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The ICAC sent two investigators to interview him in prison and he told them the whole story, including the attempt to extort $20,000. The investigators said they knew the two officers concerned were corrupt but could not get evidence against them unless Royall or one of his friends would take part in a taped “sting” operation. “I might be a lot of things, but I’m not a dog,” he told them.
Having exhausted his legal options and his money, and despairing of anyone ever believing his story, he resigned himself to serving at least 12 years in jail. That is where he was in May last year when he picked up a newspaper and saw the names of the two police in charge of his case who had been named as corrupt.
Neville Scullion and Dennis Kimble (Kim) Thompson, two of the seven officers who resigned or were sacked last month, have admitted being as bent as they come. Both were detective sergeants, both were stationed at Kings Cross and Darlinghurst, nicknamed Goldenhurst because of the river of bribe money flowing through the police station, according to other witnesses.
Witness after witness has told the commission of rampant corruption and lack of supervision, particularly at Kings Cross where police carved up weekly payments of hundreds of dollars from vice bosses. Thompson even used a jungle analogy: “You were absolutely told to go out and catch and kill your own.”
Under interrogation by commission barristers, both “rolled over” and admitted having taken regular bribes to protect drug dealers, illegal clubs, gambling and pornography – Thompson from 1987 until that fateful day in October 1994 when he made the mistake of taking $500 from the “supermole” Trevor Haken, who was wired at the time.
Of even more interest to Royall, as further revelations of their corruption filled the newspapers, were the allegations that both had taken large amounts of money to pervert the course of justice, doctoring evidence in cases involving drugs, assault – and murder. Thompson was alleged to have taken $5,000 from the crime figure Louis Bayeh to “protect” one of his henchmen from prosecution for killing a man named Kato Mo. Scullion allegedly took $2,000 to “look after the interests” of a Kings Cross doorman who had actually been charged with murder – arranging for the case to be dropped.
Says a bitter Kym Royall: “I was trying to tell them years before this came out at the royal commission that these two cops were corrupt. But no-one would listen. I’m just some crim they thought they could lock up and no-one would care. Well, I haven’t finished fighting yet.” Just where Kym Royall and all the other prisoners who claim they were convicted by perjured testimony go now is unclear. Jeff Shaw says they can write to him asking for a special judicial inquiry under section 474 of the Crimes Act – the procedure that was used as a last resort by Andrew Kalajzich, the Manly hotelier convicted of murdering his wife. The catch, for prisoners like Royall, is that their cases will first have to pass the scrutiny of the people who put them in jail in the first place, the Crown solicitors and the Public Prosecutor.
John Marsden, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, says: “It is quite clear from the (royal commission) transcripts that there are a number of people who have been convicted on the basis of tainted evidence.” He agrees with Justice Action that a new, independent authority should be established to review the cases – and that prisoners should be freed and offered legal aid.
In the meantime, Royall and more than 100 other prisoners wait behind bars for justice, as well as revenge, for the terrible lies they say destroyed their lives.
The Perjurer’s Tools of Trade
LOADING UP: is when police plant incriminating evidence on a “clean” suspect. The Wood Royal Commission has been told of a number of cases, in which innocent people have been jailed for possession of planted heroin, a knife and a pistol.
VERBALLING: also known as “doing a notebook” on a suspect, involves police inventing verbal confessions, or “improving” statements in order to get a conviction. It has been widespread for more than 30 years and in a typical case a detective has admitted telling lies in about a quarter of the cases with which he was involved.
SCRUMMING DOWN: is where police involved in a case get together to rehearse their stories and make sure their verbals and load-ups do not contradict each other.
THE TRIFECTA: was the most common way used by police to lock up people they didn’t like. They would claim (sometimes falsely) that bad language had been used and move in to make an arrest. A struggle often ensued and the victim would find himself behind bars, charged with using offensive language, resisting arrest and assaulting police.
Pub date: Saturday 3 February 1996
Word count: 2328
Classification: Crime/Murder/Individual Murder Cases/Law/Police/Malpractice Law/Police/Malpractice/Wood Royal Commission
Geographic area: NSW
Montage by Harry Afentoglou
Caption: Fighting for justice … Kym Royall, who claims “police verbals” put him behind bars for murdering his
Comments: “The perjurer’s tools of trade” joined to story.