In a special report tabled to Parliament today, Victoria’s independent police oversight body, IBAC, reveals that improper evidentiary and disclosure practices were used by some Victoria Police officers connected to the investigation of the murders of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller in 1998. A number of statements made by important witnesses were never included in the prosecution brief or disclosed at trial.
IBAC is concerned that the improper practices identified in Operation Gloucester continue to be used by some Victoria Police officers today, and this has the potential to adversely impact the administration of justice in Victoria.
IBAC Commissioner, The Honourable Robert Redlich AM, QC said: “The shocking murders of police officers Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller twenty-two years ago not only devastated the Silk and Miller families and their colleagues, but also deeply impacted Victoria Police and the Victorian community.”
“As with any police investigation, this significant murder investigation demanded that police discharge their obligations and perform their duties fairly, impartially and always according to the law.
“Any failure to do so imperils the sound administration of justice, as well as impacting community confidence in police and the criminal justice system.”
IBAC’s Operation Gloucester investigated allegations of improper evidentiary and disclosure practices during Victoria Police’s Lorimer Taskforce investigation of the Silk-Miller murders.
IBAC did not re‑investigate the murders or seek to examine whether the improper practices made the trial of the two people convicted of the murders unfair.
Operation Gloucester, which included public hearings in 2019, found that improper witness statement taking practices were evident not only in the Lorimer Taskforce, but also were used by some officers in the Armed Robbery and Homicide Squads in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The administration of justice requires that a statement made by a witness to police investigators is an accurate and full record of the witness’s account and that the statement, if relevant, is disclosed in a criminal prosecution.
These requirements apply equally to statements made by police officers as witnesses. Any failure to comply with these requirements can jeopardise the legal process.
“Unfortunately, unless someone comes forward to say that these requirements have not been followed, non-compliance or related improper practices are likely to go undetected,” Commissioner Redlich said.
“Any failure to fully and accurately set out a witness’s account and the circumstances in which it was recorded can never be justified.
“Whether the witness be a civilian or police officer, there must always be full disclosure of relevant statements and the sequence in which evidence is obtained from a witness.
“Every police officer has an obligation to ensure the highest standards of probity are applied to the gathering and disclosure of evidence, including taking and disclosing witness statements.
“It is deeply concerning that IBAC found a variety of improper evidentiary and disclosure practices were employed and it is surprising that, historically, some officers were even taught these practices at the Victoria Police Academy. Victoria Police advises that this is no longer the case.
“Because Victoria Police has never clearly called out and stopped such improper practices, IBAC has found there is a real risk that these practices continue to be used by some police today.
“We’ve seen recent cases, for example, involving the contamination of statements, fabrication of contemporaneous notes, and non-disclosure of relevant evidence.”
As a result of Operation Gloucester, IBAC has made recommendations to Victoria Police to strengthen its evidentiary and disclosure practices, and advise IBAC how it will effectively embed the required standards into its policies, procedures, training, and importantly, practice. IBAC has also recommended that the Victorian Government introduce a statutory obligation of disclosure, to reinforce the common law duty.
Commissioner Redlich acknowledged the difficulties Operation Gloucester raised for the families of Sergeant Silk and Senior Constable Miller and the officers who responded to the murders, and thanked them for their ongoing cooperation and understanding.
He also acknowledged the role the media played in helping to expose evidence relevant to this investigation.