UK PHONE HACKING SCANDAL SHOULD RING BELLS IN SYDNEY

Maybe it's my warped sense of humour but the screaming headlines and the hair-tearing that accompanied the London media phone hacking scandal left me with a wry smile and the thought of "what might have been."
       No one was murdered, were they, or even physically hurt? There was no blood on the walls except, in the metaphorical sense, in the comedy that took place during that laughable debate in the House of Commons. OK, a couple of journalists ended up in the slammer, a couple of senior coppers fell on their swords and a few other people have been embarrassed.

      A few porkies have been told, truth has been stretched to its limits, but aside from those directly involved, the perpetrators and their victims, it was all a bit of a giggle for most of us, the general public.

      Predictably, the self-serving politicians delighted in castigating the Press and the ludicrous Lord Windbag even called for the most stringent punishment, Press control: hence my wry smile.

       Because the media response throughout could not have been more all-encompassing, more democratically reassuring. From the moment the story broke the major newspapers squeezed every column inch out of the story to the point of self-flagellation, proving once again that a free Press is the staunchest bastion against corruption at the highest levels.

        My "what might have been" moment centres upon a personal journalistic experience that was the antithesis of this, one where compliant colleagues virtually endorsed the actions of crooked police and corrupt politicians, where murder was covered-up and justice and truth became equally bloodstained victims.

        And this was not an isolated instance. My experience dates to 1975 but it is a continuing factor in the life of the community concerned and, recent history shows, is likely to remain so. An explanation is called for: stand by to become agog.

        The setting is Sydney, Australia, where I lived and worked for 17 years as a journalist on various metropolitan newspapers before a protracted city-wide strike led me into freelance editorship of trade and sports publications. This brought me into contact with a fellow editor named Juanita Nielsen, a campaigning activist whose small but influential newspaper was the rallying point for the community it served in Kings Cross, Sydney's Soho.

       Her acerbic pen defended the local environment and community traditions, railing against outsiders who threatened established standards for short term gain; the fly-by-night operators of blue movie clubs, clip joints, massage parlours and brothels, all felt the sting of her journalistic lash.

        And so when a voracious developer drew a bead on the locality with plans to build two monstrous tower blocks, one with an illegal casino, she launched a protest campaign and began by investigating him. It took minimal effort to establish that he had some most influential partners, the politicians and organised criminals to whom the city was a personal fiefdom to run as they wished. They were known in VIP circles as the Board.

            Courageously, she put them under the microscope, too, with devastating discoveries and consequences. She was about to publish her findings when a leak, or a betrayal, alerted the mobsters and sealed her fate. Within days she was dead.

          My contact with Juanita was journalistic and fleeting but when she disappeared on 4 July 1975 I couldn't ignore the story and immediately began investigating with a chum, another freelance writer. Little could we suspect that almost four decades later to all intents and purposes the case would be unresolved.....

           Via the friendly media, the investigating police had released a statement that said Juanita disappeared after keeping a morning appointment at a night club owned by (the late) Abe Saffron, a man known to be one of the major players in organised crime.

          Juanita was last seen climbing into a yellow sports car containing two unidentified men. The anonymous witness to this gave police a description of her clothing which was so out of keeping with her sense of style that her friends didn't believe it.

           Eddie Trigg, the club manager with whom she'd had the morning appointment, was reported as saying that Juanita had mentioned a lunch appointment she wasn't keen on keeping but police had been unable to trace this man or the restaurant involved, or the occupants of the yellow sports car.

          This whole scenario had all the substance of a stripper's veil and Juanita's friends didn't believe a word of it. Nor did my chum and I and within three months we had the evidence to rip it to shreds as a preamble to more than three years of digging into the case, of following Juanita’s trail.

             Eventually there was little we didn’t know about the plot and the people behind it. It was virtually an open secret: as they say around KIng's Cross: "Even the dogs were barking it."

 The murder scene: the Lido Motel, Roslyn Street, a short walk from her home. The time: just after 1pm on Friday 4 July 1975. The killer: a notorious former detective sergeant of the NSW Police, assisted by two night club bouncers. I named all three in a cover story in a national news magazine, but the investigating officers ignored my claims to the point where they never bothered to interview me, at the time a well-known sports writer.

  We traced witnesses who disproved the police version of events; others who knew what had really happened to Juanita and why. We heard of other murder victims, of kidnappings and disappearances, of beatings and bloodshed. The Nielsen scenario was akin to a war zone and we were bang in the centre of it.   

The  allegations we broadcast should have brought national headlines but, even though we had the support of the NSW Attorney General, the Premier refused to authorise the judicial enquiry our allegations demanded. The political implications, we deduced, were simply too dangerous, too far-reaching. The media, their crime and court reporters orchestrated by the PR department of the NSW Police, also refused our demands for exposure.

Incredible, I hear you say? Consider this.

Three months into our investigation my colleague and I traced Eddie Trigg, the last person said by police to have spoken to Juanita, a criminal we suspected of being a central figure in the plot and its cover-up. We attempted an interview at his place of employment, a night club with similar provenance to many other odious establishments owned by the Sydney crime boss known to one and all as Mr Sin.

Within minutes of introducing ourselves we had been beaten up and thrown into the back of a limousine. We both thought our time had come, that we were about to follow Juanita to her unknown grave. Instead, though, we were driven at breakneck speed to the nearest police station. Once there, the driver slipped inside and reappeared moments later with a police sergeant.

Get out,” he barked. “You’re under arrest.”

And with that we were charged with drunkenness and thrown into the cells, where we stayed the night.

Not a bad yarn,” we agreed when the adrenalin had stopped pumping, knowing that the night’s events had also proved our thesis on the cover-up, that the cops were in it up to their ear lobes. But it didn’t end there.

Naturally, when our court case came around we pleaded not guilty to the charges and, with the help of two pro bono barristers, challenged the platoon of police who paraded to endorse their story that we had been drunk and aggressive in a public place, to wit, outside their police station.

Such a charge would normally occupy the court for five minutes and result in a minimal fine after a plea of guilty. Our case lasted eight days during which we took the prosecution case to pieces and exposed their evidence as a farrago comparable to the cover-up that had started it all.

It was on the fifth day that Murray Farqhuar, the senior magistrate, realised that he had a judicial tiger by the tail. He by now recognised we had been “fitted” with the charge, as police parlance has it, but he couldn’t find us not guilty because that would entail charges of perjury against the dozen or so cops who had given evidence. This would have been a major embarrassment, a political scandal that, had it been reported, would also have thrown an unwanted spotlight on the Nielsen murder.

Cleverly, his worship dismissed the case on the grounds of aeo invito, that we shouldn’t have been charged as shown because we had been taken to the police station against our will. In other words, he agreed we had been abducted. The verdict set a legal precedent that, our abduction and frequent mention of Juanita’s name aside, should have made headlines.

Fat chance: the case transcript ran to 570 pages and almost 180,000 words but not one of those words appeared in the city’s newspapers. They totally ignored the case, just as they later ignored my 6,000 word cover story in Newsweek Bulletin, the national news magazine, in which I outlined the plot and identified the killers. Nor was there a flicker of response from the killers and the others I had named.

The Mob, true to form, scattered death threats, just as expected: the first arrived shortly after our court case when we began ruffling feathers and treading on some important toes. It came from (the late) Jim Anderson, then the deputy of Saffron and a man whose name had not even been mentioned in the case, although he was highly suspect.

"Tell 'em they're playing with fire," was his warning. "Tell 'em that anybody poking his head into the Nielsen thing will get it blown off."

Our response to his messenger was succinct and colourful, much to the confusion of the Mob and their police chums. They couldn’t understand us at all, couldn’t predict what we would do next. So the cops put a daily tail on us, recording our hourly movements as well as tapping our ‘phones.

The print media continued to ignore our campaign but thanks to a campaigning radio commentator we became highly public about our activities and let it be known that our evidence had been recorded in statutory declarations and lodged with various friends and legal associates. It was gilt edged insurance as we followed Juanita’s trail of investigation into the darker corners of humanity.

It helped, too, that we had a back-up of a more physical nature in the form of an old friend, a Commonwealth Police officer. He acted as our armed body guard and security advisor.   

As a federal officer, he had no official brief for local crime but for long periods he quite literally was riding shot-gun when we ventured into dangerous areas. Each day we gave him a list of our appointments and a resume of our clothing, just in case…. He was also au fait with our findings and in no doubt about the implications.

You guys are onto the big one,“ was his verdict. “At the Compols we knew this had to come one day. The State force is rotten to the core. They almost certainly knew about this murder before it happened and there’s no doubt they’re covering it up for their old mate and the people who contracted him for the killing.”

We took the investigation as far as we could, even to the extent of threatening to emulate Bertrand Russell and stage a people’s court, to get the case into the public domain and affect some form of justice. But it was all to no avail. We lacked the support of the city media and without publicity we were banging our heads against a wall.

Frustration reigned. That’s when an underworld rumour reached us that the death threats were about to be activated. So, chiefly for the safety of our loved ones and in desperation born of impotence, we both left Sydney. My chum moved elsewhere in Australia “to get the stench of corruption out of my nostrils;” I returned to London and resumed my career in sports writing.

That was in 1979. Since then I’ve spent much of my spare time writing the book on the Nielsen murder and campaigning via the internet (Google “Juanita Nielsen + Sydney” for details) to keep the case in the public eye, hoping beyond hope, with persistence beyond obsession….

The case still resonates in Sydney whenever a major crime figure or one of the minor players passes away. The headline writers have their fun and the official version of events, the police cover-up, is trotted out once more.

On the 25th anniversary of the murder I attempted to place an In Memoriam notice in the Sydney Morning Herald but it was rejected as "too political." Believe me, that's true....I've e-mailed all the city media frequently with news of developments, marking an anniversary of the murder or about my book and the claims it makes. I've had not a single response.

Some years ago a journalist unknown to us produced a book purporting to be the true story of the Nielsen murder but it proved to be merely an extension of the police cover-up, a piece of fiction. But it made one claim that, were it true, should have resulted in police charges and possibly an arrest. There was not a flicker of official response.

So I contacted a friendly member of the NSW Parliament, a staunch supporter, and at my suggestion she directed a question on the matter in the House to the Minister responsible.

"Have the police become aware of this allegation," she asked, "and if so what was their response?"

The reply was entirely predictable.

"I'm advised that police enquiries into this case are continuing and to comment could jeopardise their investigation......"

In other words, the police didn't want to know, because to take positive action would have implicated the original members of the Serious Crimes Squad in the conspiracy. In other words, they knew the truth.....No, my friend aside the other politicians didn't want to know either....

There was a coroner’s inquest some years ago, mainly for purposes of Juanita’s estate, when she was officially declared dead.

Shortly afterwards a white wooden cross was erected near her family crypt in a Sydney graveyard. It bears the name Juanita Joan Nielsen, nee Smith, and an inscription which reads:

A courageous journalist who fought for the rights of others and the preservation of heritage. She mysteriously disappeared on 4 July 1975, aged 38 years.”

It’s a simple memorial: there’s no coffin beneath the cross, no urn of ashes. Her remains were never found, nor will they be. I know what happened to her but it is too awful to recount. It would impoverish outrage and I’d rather not subscribe to that…...

Such is life and death in the land they call The Lucky Country, where corruption reigns with the connivance of the media....

 Barry's book is entitled The Girl Who Knew Too Much. It may be ordered, and sample chapters downloaded, at  

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/65301

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