We are well served by a fine body of highly educated and well-trained men and women, members of our police forces, people prepared to go out at all hours and in all circumstances to keep us safe in our lives at day and our beds at night. Sadly, there are odd exceptions. Earlier in the year, I reviewed Three Crooked Kings, the first volume in a trilogy based on decades-old Queensland Police corruption, then refrained from writing a joint review of the two following books because I thought, “Enough!”
Here I am, just a few months later, writing again about corrupt police. Over the past two nights, I’ve had the opportunity to read the book Roger Rogerson by Duncan McNab. It tells the story of perhaps the most notorious Australian policeman in recent history, perhaps ever. The story is written by an ‘insider’; Duncan McNab, an investigative journalist and author of an earlier book I read about Rogerson, The Dodger, was a serving police officer with direct experience of his subject. His background and consummate knowledge provide an air of legitimacy to the book, and this is essential. It could not have been written by someone without his direct understanding of who and how.
The son of an English immigrant steel worker-shipbuilder and a good musician who toyed with thoughts of entering the music industry, Rogerson joined the NSW Police in 1958 aged seventeen. It was a time when the incentive to work hard was often a size nine boot in the bottom. He has been quoted as saying, “I really don’t know why I joined. My father hated the police.”
Bright and keen, Rogerson advanced quickly in a setting where, if a local publican failed to come good with booze, or a restaurant food, response to any problem they might phone in would be ‘leisurely’. Kickbacks came from sources as diverse as tow truck operators and funeral homes – if they ‘got the job’. It was a game in which you either became a player or didn’t, but kept quiet and non-judgmental. Whistleblowing wasn’t a realistic option. A sad consequence was that, by keeping quiet, serious corruption went unreported.
Fast forward to 1 February 2016. It is a hot Summer day, the atmosphere in King Street court 3 not helped by dicky airconditioning. It is the first trial day of Roger Rogerson and Glen McNamara, charged with the murder of young student and drug dealer, Jamie Gao. The two, as we recall from news items subsequent to the trial, were found guilty and sent to jail for lengthy periods. But how did two policemen – McNamara was a serving officer, as well – end up so far on the wrong side of the law? If they were people accustomed to police surveillance and investigative techniques, how were they caught? How could they allow themselve be so damned by evidence all but the most amateur crook would avoid?
Therein lies the story. Although the background to it is generally well known – where, on 20 May 2014, three men entered Rent a Space storage unit 803 and only two came out alive – I am going to treat it like a novel and not provide ‘spoilers.’ The way in which the two men – on the face of it, poles apart in their attitude to law and order and truth in policing – became involved in the most heinous crime is the stuff of an imaginative narrative author, and yet it all came about in real life.
The lead up to and the events that took place in the storage container, as well as details of the men it portrays, will come again to the screens of our theatres or our loungerooms. (There was a compelling ABC program, Blue Murder, 20-odd years ago that told what was predominantly the Roger Rogerson story up to that time.) I can see Duncan McNab’s book snapped up as the basis of a feature movie, telemovie or further television series but implore you, don’t wait for that. Head off now to Dymocks for your copy of the book.