Dirty Work by Glen McNamara

A book review published in The Whistle (Newsletter of Whistleblowers Australia), No. 63, July 2010, pp. 13-14

Reviewer: Brian Martin

Glen McNamara was not a whistleblower. He was just doing his job. He worked as an undercover cop in Sydney's Kings Cross in the late 1980s. He was good at his work - and because he was effective against criminals, he was treated just like a whistleblower.

McNamara tells his story in his book Dirty Work. He starts with his earlier police work. This is vivid and eye-opening, with many episodes revealing the sordid behaviours encountered by police in a crime-ridden area of Sydney.

Then came McNamara's undercover work. He gives a detailed account of his efforts targeting paedophiles who manufactured and sold drugs to help maintain their sexual activities with young boys. The paedophiles' lifestyle was expensive because they needed to pay corrupt police for protection. Some of the police were involved in the drug trade too.

Several of the names later became well known, in particular paedophiles Colin Fisk and Dolly Dunn and policeman Larry Churchill. McNamara was dealing with them before their public notoriety.

McNamara built up trust among his targets. They thought he was another bent cop able to make big drug deals. To obtain evidence against the criminals - paedophiles and drug dealers and corrupt cops - McNamara needed the support of a special police unit, the Internal Security Unit (ISU). It provided him with covert recording devices and maintained surveillance on key figures.

The trouble was that McNamara's identity was known within the ISU and the ISU's security was slack. Someone there leaked the information to Churchill. After that, McNamara was a marked man - and his life was at risk.

Due to his experiences, McNamara became highly cynical about the police. Most fell into one of two categories: those who were corrupt and those who would do nothing against the corrupt ones.

Most distressing of all was when McNamara trusted someone, and that trust was violated. McNamara looked up to one experienced officer as the epitome of a straight cop - and was betrayed by him.

When McNamara learned that his undercover role had been revealed to corrupt cops, he initially still trusted a few. After receiving death threats over the phone, the ISU arranged a new phone number for him - but it soon was exposed in an ad in the Police News. So McNamara personally arranged for another phone number using a false name, and had no problems after that.

McNamara requested additional weapons from the police to defend himself. Before long, he was asked to turn in the only weapon he had. His enemies obviously had learned about his request and had the connections to thwart him and, worse, put him in a more vulnerable position. So McNamara obtained weapons via his father.

In the midst of this tense period, McNamara arranged for a trip to the US - a holiday with his wife. To obtain leave from his job, he had to provide a detailed itinerary. While in Los Angeles, he received word of a plot to kill him while in the US. His itinerary, supposedly closely guarded, had gotten in the hands of his enemies. This news was incredibly unnerving to McNamara but had a more serious effect on his wife, who miscarried.

For whistleblowers who are part of a deeply corrupt culture, Dirty Work has lessons. One of them, as I've mentioned, is to trust no one, and organise protection through channels outside the workplace. As McNamara puts it:

I was in a process of change. Unlearning the lessons of a lifetime. I now knew that I could not rely on Police to help me in a time of need and I could not trust them with sensitive information. (p. 185).

Information from McNamara's undercover work was used to arrest a few cops, so what did they do? They said McNamara was himself corrupt. He spent days being grilled about false allegations. The lesson for whistleblowers is a familiar one: when you expose corruption, expect to be labelled corrupt yourself. McNamara, luckily, was able to ward off the allegations because his accusers were unable to formulate a solid case.

McNamara wanted justice to be done, but it wasn't easy. Although his undercover work had resulted in the seizure of numerous videotapes made by Dolly Dunn of his sex with young boys, Dunn was not charged with any sexual offences. The story about what happened to Dunn, Colin Fisk and corrupt police is convoluted. Suffice it to say that the network of corrupt cops hindered any serious action against either paedophilia or police corruption.

McNamara is cynical about media coverage of police corruption. He says that those he describes as lazy journalists put out stories, based on their police contacts, that missed the real issues, without checking facts themselves. McNamara had personal experience of this: after the arrest of Churchill, headlines came out saying that a "supergrass" was involved. A supergrass is a member of a criminal syndicate who gives evidence for the police. The media stories were referring to McNamara - not by name, but recognisably to police - as a criminal rather than an undercover cop. Police did nothing to correct the misleading impression.

The media were being force fed the Police line that they were targeting suspect and corrupt officers with covert proactive investigations and the punch line was that the good guys were winning the fight. ... the public was reassured that even though Churchill was a criminal, everything else was perfect because Churchill had been caught and there would be no more Police corruption because of his capture. (p. 206)

The lesson from this is not to trust media stories about police corruption. You may be missing the true story. To get something closer to the true story, you need to read books like Dirty Work. But you may need to wait.

Dirty Work tells about events more than 20 years ago. One advantage of this is that subsequent events - such as the NSW Police Royal Commission in the mid 1990s and prosecutions of some key figures such as Dolly Dunn - enable some of the threads of the story to be completed.

But much still remains unsaid. McNamara learned about paedophilia, drug dealing and police corruption at high levels. But only some names can be named, some because they have died, for example John Marsden, solicitor and member of the Police Board, who died of cancer, and Frank Arkell, lord mayor of Wollongong, who was murdered, each accused of paedophilia. But others are alive and could sue. Dirty Work is a true story, but there is still enough unaddressed corruption to ensure that not all truths can yet be told.

Glen McNamara, Dirty Work (Sydney: New Holland, 2010), $29.95

Brian Martin is editor of The Whistle.

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