Inside Story

Reasonable doubts

The AFP made a mess of investigating the murder of Colin Winchester and other crimes, so why is it the only Australian police force to have avoided an external inquiry?

Jack Waterford 30 November 2018 5860 words

David Eastman, handcuffed, is escorted to an awaiting police car by AFP commander Ric Ninness in December 1992. Graham Tidy/Canberra Times

Thirty years ago this January, Colin Winchester, operational head of the Australian Federal Police division responsible for ordinary police services in Canberra, arrived home one evening and, as he usually did, parked in the driveway of the house next door. His neighbour was an elderly woman, worried about intruders, who appreciated having a car outside her house. It was a bit after 9pm, but not yet very dark; the assistant commissioner had knocked off work hours earlier, then driven in his unmarked police car to Queanbeyan to visit his brother Ken. The pair had discussed plans for a pig-shooting expedition in western New South Wales, and mucked about with guns and ammunition. Winchester had put several packets of ammunition beside him on the passenger seat of the car.

Having pulled up, he opened the door to get out. At that moment, someone walked around from the back of the car and shot him in the head through the open door. A second or two later, the assailant shot him again. Many detectives regarded this second shot — the “double tap” — as a clear sign of a professional hit (though some of the same detectives later insisted that it was the sign of an amateur). No one saw the murderer, or could provide any evidence of how he arrived, where he hid, or how he departed.

Thus began a six-year investigation of the death of the most senior police officer ever to be murdered in Australia — an investigation that the government promised would be unsparing of resources and determination. It would be six years before a suspect was put before an ACT Supreme Court jury. After a six-month trial rendered farcical by the defendant’s refusal to cooperate, persistent sacking of counsel and failure to participate or cross-examine, that man was convicted of the crime. The judge, and the prosecution counsel, plainly believed that the defendant’s shenanigans were a put-on, designed to cause the trial to abort, rather than evidence of mental illness. Still insisting on his innocence, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in late 1994.

It was not until 2014, after a sequence of virtually nonstop litigation up and down the judicial system, that the accused — a public servant named David Eastman, who was said to bear a grudge against Winchester over his refusal to intervene in an assault prosecution — was released after an independent inquiry found the trial to have significantly miscarried. In particular, the inquiry found, the defence had not been shown important evidence that tended to undercut significant prosecution evidence, and especially the findings of international forensic experts. A second trial, which ended last week, acquitted Eastman of the charge nearly three decades after the murder.

Much of the key scientific evidence at the first trial — not least the evidence linking gunshot residue found at the death scene with residue found in David Eastman’s car — was comprehensively discredited, as was the witness presenting it. That witness had massively overstated his qualifications, had displayed a marked tendency to play the advocate rather than the detached expert, had failed to follow scientific protocols, and simply could not have done some of the tests he had claimed. Nor had the jury been told that he had been dismissed from the Victoria Police Forensic Science Unit for misconduct.

I remember the night of the murder well. I already knew virtually all of those who were to become players in the case (apart from the civilian witnesses), including the lawyers. I was then deputy editor of the Canberra Times, but sitting in the chair because the editor, Crispin Hull, was on leave. I had presided over the paper’s daily news conference and then returned for dinner with my family. At about 9.15pm, Peter Mayoh, a journalist given to casual monitoring of the police radio, rang to alert me to an incredible hubbub on the air and the likelihood that something big had happened in Deakin, a prosperous suburb in Canberra’s inner south. A few minutes later, he rang again to say that a cop had been shot, and it looked as if it was Col Winchester.

I decided immediately to go back to work and, by whim, drove in via Deakin, where I saw police beginning to erect barricades. By 9.45pm I was at the paper, where we hurriedly decided to undo four pages, the first of which, under the new production schedule, would contain an obituary of the murdered man. Since I had known Winchester for more than twenty years — and indeed had interviewed him only a few weeks before while sitting in for Pru Goward on the local ABC Radio morning program — that was a task I took on myself. As I began ringing senior police I knew, in those days before mobile phones and texting systems, I discovered I was well ahead of the Australian Federal Police communications network: for a number of high-ranking AFP officers, the first news of the event came from me.

Winchester, born in Captains Flat in the NSW Southern Tablelands, had started out in the Australian Capital Territory Police, where he had become a detective and later the organiser of detective training. The ACT Police, and particularly its criminal investigation division, was a tightknit group without a lot of serious crime to investigate or prevent. By 1989, it had expanded with Canberra itself, which had grown from a large country town to a city of about 250,000. Ten years earlier, the federal government had amalgamated the ACT Police with the Commonwealth Police — the force that dealt with national crimes against Commonwealth laws, such as welfare and tax fraud, and guarded Commonwealth buildings — and the criminal investigation units of the Customs Service.

The creation of the new AFP had not been popular with the local police, many of whom thought Commonwealth Police were not real cops — primarily because they had not started off on the beat or enforced the ordinary law of the land, from murder to traffic control. They called the Commonwealth Police “plastics,” and for years the tribal division and mutual resentments of the two forces poisoned effective police operations as well as personal relations at all levels within the new force. Journalists who associated with one tribe or another received generous tips about the incompetence, mismanagement and blunders of the other. I myself benefited from a good many tips about the Greek social security conspiracy case in the early 1980s.

Tribal loyalties are one thing — and Winchester never lost those — but for a smart and ambitious officer the new force provided professional opportunities, not least because the AFP aspired (as it still does) to become an elite national crime-fighting force along the lines of America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation. Winchester was only one of a number of ACT officers who grasped the opportunity, and within a few years he was directing the AFP’s national crime operations, particularly those targeting drug offences. It was not without its challenges. The AFP had undoubted jurisdiction over illegal drug importations, but its role and powers in domestic drug matters — say the growing of large-scale cannabis crops in New South Wales or Victoria — were more ambiguous. So the force tended to mount combined operations with other forces, often with a very suspicious eye, given the evidence that many state police had been corrupted by the drug lords and were sometimes tipping off about impending raids, checking the credentials of people who were in fact undercover officers, or otherwise not doing their duty.

Winchester oversaw most of these operations, and in one case became directly involved himself after being approached by a Calabrian man of dubious reputation who offered him $20,000 for turning a blind eye to a planned cannabis crop near Bungendore, not far from Canberra. Winchester pretended interest, took the money, and recorded the conversations. But he was being the clever cop, not the bent one, and the money and the recordings went into a police safe. For a while, Winchester was the liaison point between his contact and ten relatively senior players in the ’Ndrangheta organised crime outfit, in an operation disclosed to, and to an extent shared with, the NSW Police.

But he soon passed on the monitoring of what was going on to other AFP officers (all former ACT officers now in national operations). Alas, the operation never quite lived up to its promise, partly because strangers (to the ’Ndrangheta at least) stripped some of the crops, and partly because Victoria Police carried out some premature arrests once product was sent to (and intercepted in) Victoria. Eventually, the AFP and NSW Police moved in and arrested the eleven principals, including the person who believed he had successfully bribed Winchester.

That man and the other ten accused, all of whom believed that the cops had been squared at the highest levels, were pretty angry. Their case was due to start in Queanbeyan Court about a month after Winchester was shot, but it never did proceed, if only because the intermediary, who appeared to have been playing both sides against the middle, welshed on his promise to give evidence, believing that Winchester had been executed for doublecrossing the venturers. As it happened, the prosecution had not been planning to put Winchester forward as a witness in that case, but Winchester had been subpoenaed by some adventurous defence counsel in the hope that they could suggest that his leading the men on amounted to some sort of illegal entrapment.

In due course Winchester, now at assistant commissioner level, was announced as the new head of the AFP’s ordinary policing in the ACT. It was the equivalent of being commissioner of the force from which he had come, and was perhaps the more exciting because the ACT, which had been governed by federal ministers, was soon to get self-government. It would be a part of Winchester’s functions to settle the terms on which the AFP would “subcontract” AFP functions to the new territory government, how it would be paid for, and how powers and responsibilities would be split.

It was like old times week: a good many former ACT Police, including many detectives, had never shifted out of ACT functions, though most new recruits were getting their initial training in ACT matters before being transferred out to national operations. Not many established AFP officers without an ACT Police background were transferring in: the ACT part of the force was becoming more inbred and, because it was losing its best and most ambitious officers, was to a considerable degree dumbing down. But many top managers were reluctant to intervene because they feared the impact on morale among ACT officers, who were regarded as poor cousins. This tension would have a major effect on the Winchester murder investigation, and inhibit intervention against its management even when it seemed clear that things were going awry.

Within an hour of the assassination, most of the old ACT detectives had arrived on the scene. All were deeply upset by the loss of their boss, a man who had long been their mate. No one was doing much detecting or taking charge, and scene-of-crime officers, trying to clear the area so as to preserve any evidence, were told rudely to piss off. Outside lighting was ordered, but from the water police rather than the scientific squad. Some of those present were drunk. A number opened the car door and leaned over the dead body; the Victorian scientific expert plonked his fingerprints on the roof beside the door. The two most senior officers at the scene, commander Lloyd Worthy and superintendent Ric Ninness, both Winchester protégés from the early 1970s, presided over the grief and the emotion and drama from beside the car door and near the body. Someone who was there told me that when, much later, he saw the wake scene in the American TV series The Wire, it all came back to mind.

Strictly, the murder was an offence against ACT, not Commonwealth, law and therefore sat within the jurisdiction of the ACT branch of the AFP. For comity, as much as anything else, they were left in charge, even if the senior commissioner decided that there would be two separate taskforces: one to investigate any evidence suggesting that the murder was the work of organised crime, and the other, under ACT detectives with ultimate authority over the national investigation, to look at local motives and suspects.

As it happened, detectives decided within an hour of the murder to look at the movements of a former detective who had left the ACT force in an orgy of recrimination against his old friends and colleagues, and violence against his wife. This man, now an alcoholic and sometime taxi driver, was soon located, and had an excellent alibi. He was subsequently to be a very good source on some of the dirty secrets of ACT policing.

In the immediate aftermath of the death, it was widely assumed to be a hit by an organised crime organisation, and probably the ’Ndrangheta. But other theories were being discussed, including the possibility that it could have been the work of a cop, whether of the AFP or elsewhere. On the day of the funeral, I saw most of the AFP’s ACT detectives peel off and stand in a circle outside the side door of St Christopher’s Cathedral. I walked down there myself, as did the former detective with a grudge against his mates. Most were lost in thought, but one grunted at me and asked what I thought. If I were investigating, I said, I wouldn’t neglect to consider the possibility that it was one of the people in the ring in front of me. A couple of the detectives nodded, and they knew I was not referring to the black sheep. (I no longer believe the rogue cop theory.)

Soon after, one of the most senior officers present was to become the subject of allegations on Four Corners. Though he was cleared, he was removed from the investigation. For me, the extraordinary thing about the program was not what was said about his personal behaviour — the nub of the report — but the disclosure that the detective had unwisely and unprofessionally removed Winchester’s keys from his suit in the immediate aftermath of the murder and travelled alone to police HQ to search Winchester’s office looking for possible clues.

That was to be only one of many irregularities in the case. Few arose from malice or from any intention to frame an innocent suspect; a good many arose from ignorance and arrogance, and some from a bullying mentality and a pronounced aversion to any form of accountability. And others arose from tunnel vision or confirmation bias: the tendency to seize on any evidence which tends to support one’s theory, while ignoring or discounting anything that didn’t.

It’s important to remember that investigating murders has never been the AFP’s long suit. As a general rule, it only gets a chance at these investigations in the ACT, because murder elsewhere falls within the province of state or territorial forces. The ACT division of the AFP has many unsolved murders on its books. The national division’s remit — whether against terrorism or drug importations, internet paedophilia or fraud on the taxpayer or the tax office — means it has little experience of common or garden crimes of violence, up to and including the taking of human life. That the ACT is generally a fairly sleepy jurisdiction, without a big underclass and with fairly low violence rates, might help explain why AFP investigations into murder so often come a cropper. It might also explain the quality of the detecting.

There would be at least five more people alive today if the AFP had been up to the task in the 1980s, the decade that culminated in Winchester’s death, the investigation of which was cocked up by some of his closest friends. In late December 1981, for example, a car ran off the Monaro Highway and into a tree, just inside the ACT. As the driver, only slightly burnt and injured, told it later, he had been blinded by the headlights of an oncoming car and had hit the tree at about seventy kilometres per hour. He was flung from the vehicle, but, worse, the car almost immediately caught on fire. He described the screaming of the two passengers, one his girlfriend, aged seventeen, and the other her sister, fourteen, who were incinerated to the point that initially their bodies could not be removed from the car.

There was a desultory attendance by a police doctor and detectives, but they readily accepted that it was an accident. It was the Christmas break, after all. Traffic police bought the story told by the “survivor” holus bolus, and prepared a report for the coroner. The ACT’s coroners have a habit of playing things passively, and the one who had a look at these reports had no obvious reason to go beyond the material gathered by police.

It was not until Allen Thompson, the man who had escaped with minor burns, shot dead the third of the Milosevic sisters, three years later, together with her husband and their two children, that the sharp eye of the cops, and a bit of a prod from the local media, recalled the two bodies in the car. An exhumation took place. X-rays revealed bullet holes in each of the skulls, as well as evidence of severe head injuries — so bad, in fact, that the pathologist could not be sure whether the girls had died of broken skulls, or rifle shots, or both. Some further follow-up discovered how cursory the initial investigation had been. Despite the movies, cars don’t much catch fire on impact, and this one hadn’t either. The girls had been burnt to char by the intense heat of a can of two-stroke oil and petrol, ignited after a low-speed collision with the three.

Allen Thompson is still serving six life sentences for murder, but it might have been only two had police, and doctors, done their job with the first murders. The incompetence and mismanagement of the affair was much noted — and even complained about by some detectives. But if there was any sort of internal AFP investigation into what went wrong, or punishment for the slackness and neglect of duty by those responsible, or search for lessons that might be avoided on future occasions, then the public was not let in on the secret.

A year or two after the deaths of the two girls, the naked body of a young woman was found in the table drain of a dirt road heading away from Canberra into the Brindabella Valley. For months, a determined police effort — extending to the preparation of anthropological likenesses of her head exhibited at the Canberra show — failed to identify her. To a number of people, she seemed to resemble a Canberra mother of three, Debra Bush, who had been reported missing some time before. But police were dismissive. First, pathologists’ examinations, in both Canberra and Sydney, had declared that the murder victim had never had children: Debra Bush was a mother of three. Second, Debra Bush was about eighteen centimetres taller than the unidentified body on the slab.

Finally, though, a witness was insistent enough that police checked. After it emerged that they had mismeasured her, more evidence revealed that the deceased was in fact Debra. A cop who was to be central to the second round of Thompson murder investigations, and later to the Winchester inquest, went to visit Ian Bush, Debra’s husband, who fairly quickly admitted having strangled her in a fit of rage after she had taunted him, he said, about an affair with another man. (There was no evidence of such an affair.) The detective tended to believe the man, who was convicted only of manslaughter and, partly because of the sympathy he seems to have inspired, was sentenced to only five years in jail. Ten months later, Ian Bush was free on licence.

While in jail, Bush had become friends with a woman he married shortly afterwards. Although a child was born, the relationship did not last long, and the woman went back to a relationship with a previous boyfriend. Then Ian Bush killed the boyfriend, and very nearly strangled his estranged wife to death.

I had begun my journalistic career in Canberra and — perhaps as a result of my editor’s sense of humour (he was well aware that I had frequently been arrested by ACT Police as a Vietnam-era protester) — I was assigned police rounds as my first job as a cadet. Later, I was a court reporter and saw many of the local officers in action in the courts. By the time of the Winchester case, I had known for many years most of the detectives who played key roles in the case. Most of my dealings with them were during the golden age in which journalists had fairly free access to police and to crime scenes, and were trusted, on their individual merits and senses of discretion, with insights into police thinking, or with information or material still being withheld from the public.

These days, police public relations apparatuses try to prevent contact between journalists and line officers, insisting that all information passes through their hands. Access and information is used for reward and punishment; and a major purpose of the system is to glorify and add to the political influence and public reputation of senior officers — or only the most senior officer, under some commissioners — and to market police generally as wonderful folk. This process creates distance between police and the community — a distance not helped by police access to new, impersonal tools of detection such as the bug, the phone tap, passive and active surveillance, and DNA testing.

Thirty years ago, scientific evidence was in its infancy, and catching criminals depended much more on finding witnesses and manually checking information, along with patience and shoe leather. And, of course, some intuition and luck.

The enormity of the Winchester murder and the resources made available to it suddenly saw a big jump in the amount of forensic evidence available. But most of the AFP detectives were hardly prepared for it. They had a scientific squad, of considerable competence if not size, but, as events were to show, little capacity to control a crime scene, to maintain continuity of possession of exhibits, or even to prevent cross-contamination of evidence. While it was the work of the Victorian “expert” that was eventually discredited, some of the assumptions of the AFP experts were also open to controversy.

Some neat work, for example, was able to show that two empty shells found trodden into the lawn (after the detectives’ orgy) had been fired by a particular gun. The gun, never located, had been test-fired at a quarry near Canberra, and shells found there matched those at the Winchester house. But no one made any effort to establish that this was the gun containing the bullets that killed Winchester. Indeed, many who have looked at the evidence suspect that another gun, probably a pistol, was used. It, too, has never been found.

The national inquiry soon gathered a good deal of intelligence showing unusual activity within the ’Ndrangheta before, during and immediately after the murder. There were reports of hitmen departing Italy, advice from Italian police and magistrates that it was almost certainly a ’Ndrangheta job, and an array of intercepts capturing a difficult-to-interpret Calabrian dialect referring to a traitor getting the bullet. Some of the evidence came from secret informants with extraordinary access to top crime figures, which was one of the reasons that the prosecution was able to secure a finding of Crown privilege over their reports.

During in-camera hearings over several days of the second Eastman trial, jurors were told some, but not all, of the national “case” and the sources of it. This was put by the defence in support of “an alternative hypothesis.” It was not, of course, Eastman’s job to prove that someone else in particular had done the murder. But showing evidence of an alternative possibility — something that had not happened at the first trial — undermined the argument that all of the evidence pointed in one direction only. If an alternative hypothesis was tenable, it could create a reasonable doubt.

Within a week of the murder, however, the lead local investigator had developed a strong hunch that Eastman was the murderer. The ACT investigation focused on this possibility, bugging his flat and instituting twenty-four-hour surveillance. Eastman was just one of a number of local “nutters” who had been marked as having clashed with Winchester, but he had attracted attention from the start when he was vague about his movements in an interview with detectives the day after the murder. It later emerged that a reason he might have been vague was that he had visited a prostitute that night. He had visited her perhaps an hour after the murder, but she thought his demeanour quite normal.

Eastman had come to police attention as a person with a fairly obvious mental disorder, given to becoming angry and threatening whenever those with whom he was dealing refused to go along with him. He was a brilliant man — on paper, far better educated and cleverer than any of the detectives — but, if he could be articulate and polite on a wide array of ordinary subjects, he was almost incapable of any sense of proportion or judgement where his own interests were concerned. He would become angry and emotional, would often make violent, abusive and extravagant threats (although he never carried them out, however much he might frighten the objects of his ire) and was astonishingly persistent. There were nights when he was ringing and abusing fifty different people, generally journalists and bureaucrats. His notoriety, and the fear and loathing this had excited, were to work against him. I remember writing at the conclusion of the trial in 1994 that the case against him had not been established, and that it was possible that a serious miscarriage of justice had occurred. “You could be right,” the secretary of a Commonwealth department rang me to say. “But surely you must agree with me that even if you were, it wouldn’t be the greatest miscarriage of justice that has ever occurred?”

In the years before he became a suspect, Eastman was thought by psychiatrists to have been both schizophrenic and paranoid. When he became a suspect, detectives consulted a Sydney psychiatrist, who, on the basis of statements by others and some observations from afar, thought Eastman dangerous to others but not, as such, mentally ill. He gave police tips on how to deal with him. We still do not know how much the police tactics followed that advice, and how much was of their own invention, but the detective squad then embarked on a program of making Eastman’s life miserable in every imaginable way. The theory was that if he was harassed enough he might snap, and do or say something pointing unequivocally to his guilt.

Thus, he was openly followed, usually very closely. Those following him made constant speculations about his sexuality, suggesting homosexuality with a focus on boys. He would frequently receive harassing phone calls from detectives, often when they were drunk. One of those shown to have been involved later became commissioner of another police force. Although Eastman said he was not prepared to submit to a police interview, he was often confronted and invited to come to the station. At the 2014 inquiry, Eastman’s lawyers told of drunken abuse by Ric Ninness. Other people who had befriended Eastman — in part because police harassment had been obvious — would receive police visits warning them that they were at physical risk from him.

Eastman complained, loudly and in every quarter he could. The Canberra Times frequently reported on instances of the harassment, often with photos. But judges and magistrates gave every indication of indifference, and tended to regard Eastman’s complaints as efforts to distract from the main issues at hand. As they refused to deal with his allegations, he would become more irate, and often abusive. His lawyers would counsel him to ignore the slight, and often failed to follow his formal instructions to raise it because, in their professional judgement, that would work against him. That, in turn, would create conflict between Eastman and his counsel, leading to sackings, the need to brief more obedient lawyers and, later, further conflict. These clashes, moreover, alienated jurors, judges and observers, and, I am convinced, helped cause his conviction first time around.

In jail, he was unpopular with guards and prisoners alike, and often in isolation for his own protection. The prisons commissioner in New South Wales proclaimed his detestation of Eastman, and his public relations officer frequently put out stories about Eastman ahvong refused to undertake “dirty jobs.” Later, ACT prison authorities were sometimes more kind, even if they constantly adhered to the view that Eastman was manipulative and that taking up his cause was a sign of falling under his influence. By the time Eastman was released, aged sixty-nine and after nearly twenty years of very-hard-served porridge, he was calm, in control of himself, and slow to hate his persecutors, even as he retained a very sharp feel for the facts and the arguments. The latest trial was entirely without any outbursts; he comported himself with complete dignity.

I had long agitated for a new trial. While I was doubtful that Eastman “did it,” I always allowed for the possibility that he might have. What disturbed me was that neither the inquest nor the first trial ever got to first base in proving his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Police intuition of guilt is not a substitute for compelling evidence. Nor does it ever justify misconduct, including harassment.

An inquest had committed Eastman for trial, having earlier concluded that there was no prima facie case against him. The new evidence, and the committal, came after the Victorian scientific expert claimed — falsely, we now know — that he could link gunshot residue from the death scene to residue in Eastman’s car. That was, we now know, simply not true. The police case also involved a degree of perverse argument. A Queanbeyan gun dealer who had sold what police claimed was the murder weapon insisted that the buyer had not been Eastman. He was interviewed again and again, but did not change his evidence. Later police decided that this man did not like police or the idea of dobbing anyone in. Ergo, he was lying, and therefore it had been Eastman who had bought the gun. This theory had been arrived at before the gun dealer died, and before police “discovered” a witness who had previously sworn that he had not seen Eastman when he had visited the dealer. During a police fishing club trip, though, this man, a friend of Col Winchester’s brother, volunteered to a detective that he had seen Eastman but had been afraid to say so, for fear that Eastman might harm him or his children.

It is sometimes suggested in murder cases that detectives have some piece of evidence, unfortunately inadmissible in court, that makes guilt plain. It has been hinted by some people since Eastman’s ultimate acquittal that both prosecution and police “know” he is really guilty. But there is no such evidence, and the most that can be advanced are some extravagant Eastman statements that prove nothing. He was not on trial for being unpleasant or difficult to deal with, and if rhetorical threats to kill are evidence of having done so, or having the intention to do so, it is very surprising there are so few dead bodies around.

It is always easy enough to adopt the cause of a middle-class citizen without an enemy. The true test of a justice system is how it treats the unpopular, the mentally ill, the inarticulate, the Aboriginal, and the person who is prickly and angry, particularly in relation to the police, but perhaps also at the court itself. It is a sorry commentary, that police and justice processes entirely failed Eastman and put many of its ordinary shortcomings in clear relief.

But there’s another worry. The murder of Winchester was an outrage. The investigation was the most extensive and intensive and expensive in history. But the prosecution failed, mostly because of failures by investigators and prosecutors. If this is what happens in a show trial, where no expense has been spared, what is the citizen to think might happen in an ordinary trial?

There are several fears beyond that. Winchester’s murder took place in another time. Almost all of the police involved have long retired, and some are dead. The AFP has new targets, not least terrorism and, at least for public relations purposes, its crusade against internet grooming. Scientific aids to detection— surveillance, access to records, and the testing of materials, DNA and fingerprints — have become far more sophisticated. The creation of a mass surveillance national security state has given police new powers for the collection of evidence, and fewer protections for the citizen; given to save us from jihadists, the new tools have promptly been deployed by police in even minor criminal investigations.

But it is wrong to think that the deficiencies of the Winchester investigation could not happen now. Its DNA still runs through the AFP — amounting almost, to mix the metaphor, to the AFP original sin. If anyone wants an example, look at the incompetent and unprofessional investigation, from the top of the AFP down, when Muhamed Haneef was accused of terrorism. Until the public, the AFP, the prosecutors and the judicial system closely review what went wrong in matters like the Eastman case, we are doomed to umpteen repeats, and quite possibly a complete collapse of confidence in the supposed guardians of law and order.

But don’t hang about waiting for such an inquiry. The AFP is the only Australian police force to have avoided external inquiry over the past forty years. Its masters know how to play politics and how to avoid accountability. For nearly three decades, they have seen no need to look again at how they managed the Winchester investigation, and have no desire to do it now. It was for this reason that the second, failed, prosecution of Eastman involved no fresh evidence and no re-examination of materials based on the latest techniques rather than those of 1994. It failed, as it deserved to do, both because of its inadequacy and because of mismanagement, incompetence and misconduct.

The AFP doesn’t do retrospection. Looking back and reviewing things is often confronting, and may involve admitting errors or facing up to an injustice. The AFP has trouble enough having an open mind at any time, but once a matter is concluded, eyes are certainly shut. Its reluctance to look back invites questions about how it faces the future. •