I knew Tony Murphy well, our friendship, however, being work-related and not social. He was a busy detective and I a barrister with notions of establishing a practice in the criminal courts. I’ve explained previously how our association began and it might be useful to repeat it here.
Murphy was by way of being the best-known policeman in the Queensland police force. During his career and afterwards he was to be much investigated, but nothing ever came of it. My first meeting with him occurred shortly after I returned from Papua New Guinea to practice in Brisbane. He was a particularly active detective and prominent in many cases including some I appeared in as defence counsel. The relationship between the defence and the prosecution is not always as hostile as may appear to a spectator at the trial. Often, after a verdict, we would meet to have a drink together. That certainly happened in Murphy’s matters. He and I were about the same age, he obviously enjoyed a beer and was good company. He had a fund of stories, mostly relating to police service which appeared to be his main interest in life. I formed a good opinion of his work; outside the courtroom I understood him to be the scourge of criminals, some of whom had decided to leave Queensland because of his attentions, but inside it, to the best of my recollection, he was one of the few policemen whose evidence in relation to confessional material I never had cause to challenge.
At the time I write of the falsification of incriminatory evidence, usually of a confessional nature, was a terrible blot on the criminal justice system. During the period of Police Commissioner Whitrod’s service it reached epidemic proportions. It even made its appearance in the Traffic Courts. I once described criminal trials as being ‘a game with the prize going to the best liar.’ That was, I admit, a terrible thing to say, but, looking back, I have no wish to retract it. It was true, shockingly true. An honest and fair criminal justice system is one of the cardinal features of a civilized society. What aggravated the situation during the Whitrod era was the introduction of what came to be called ‘kill sheets’ which listed the prosecutions a police officer had been responsible for, and were then used to judge his efficiency and hence his suitability for promotion.
I’ll tell a story now which, as it were, puts flesh on the bare bones of the above statements...
 For many years Des Sturgess regularly appeared for the defence in the Criminal Courts in Queensland. In 1984, he became a Q.C. and the state’s first Director of Prosecutions.
...I tell this story to illustrate two things. First, the use of the verbal and the lengths we once had to go in an effort to defeat it; second, Murphy’s tenacity. That man hated criminals with a passion. He was the hunter of them. Once he’d set his sights on one he never gave up. I suspect this explains why he would not use the verbal. He did not have to. He went out and found the evidence.
Towards the end of 1963, Murphy was to become involved in the National Hotel Royal Commission and allegations coming out of it would dog him for years. To understand them and judge their worth it is necessary to set down a brief history of events leading to it, some of which I have related elsewhere and parts of them I will use here.
Sectarianism was very rife then, particularly in political and police affairs. In 1957, after 39 years of office, the Labor government, which had been predominantly Catholic, fell to be replaced by a wholly Protestant, conservative government. One of the early things it did was to appoint a new Police Commissioner, Frank Bischof, a Mason and a practised thief-taker , which introduced dissension into the largely Catholic police force. To some of us barristers, Bischof was known as ‘Father Bischof’ because of the confessions, many later disputed, issuing from his office in an old church building housing the CIB. Much of what followed would lead from Bischof’s controversial appointment.
During Labor’s long years’ of office, brothels had been tolerated although the keeping of them was contrary to The Criminal Code. Here in Brisbane there’d been five that were well known and, so far as I’m aware, well patronized. They were now closed down. This, however, did nothing towards eradicating prostitution and some of the women who might otherwise have worked in them resorted to a number of city hotels in search of customers where they committed no offence if they refrained from soliciting them. There was not much the police could do about the situation except patrol the places, which the Consorting Squad, which Murphy was a member of, regularly did, and the publicans raised few objections to their presence.
I knew two of the men prominently concerned in what followed. One was a policeman and no admirer of Bischof, the other Bennett, a barrister and a Labor member of parliament. While both were impetuous and had connections with the Catholic cabal arrayed against Bischof they never intended, I am sure, the matter to go as far as it did. As for Bennett, he had the reputation of making rash statements with little or no evidence to support them. I will mention now one occasion in which this happened and affected me.
A highly respected, senior barrister, Mr. Dan Casey, and I were appearing for two policemen. Their names were Hewitt and Von Blankensee who were charged with robbery...
... Murphy was arrested by Becker at the office of his solicitor, John Elliott. Gulbransen, along with two other police officers, was present. Everything was tape-recorded. Murphy made this statement:
"I find myself charged because of the untrue, malicious statements of Shirley Brifman, a drug addict, a self-confessed perjurer and police informer, who so obviously has fabricated certain statements about me somehow to evade the consequences of the law in New South Wales with respect to her introducing her 13 year old daughter to the sordid life of a prostitute.
She has retailed these stories to Mr. Colin Bennett, barrister, who has carried a grudge against me and other police officers since the Royal Commission proved to be unfounded his allegations about the police force and the National Hotel.
These have been taken up by the Police Commissioner and the Police Minister because of my involvement as an executive member of the Police Union in the interests of my fellow unionists and the public of Queensland as opposed to the policy of the Commissioner and the Minister.
I am not guilty of this charge".
Murphy, as I have said, was arrested under a warrant. That warrant was issued by a Justice of the Peace and took the form of an order, the failure to obey which is an offence under The Criminal Code. So the decision had been made to proceed against Murphy and do so by way of arrest before he had been interviewed and given a chance to state his side of the story. In addition, the use of the procedure of arrest was, in my opinion, unnecessary. It smacked of wanting to humiliate him. If ever there existed a case where the allegations made should have been laid before the person they were aimed against, and he be given the opportunity to provide any explanation he wished to make, and then carefully considered before taking them further, that case was this. After all, they related to events more than eight years old so there could be no suggestion the unlawful conduct was continuing and therefore an immediate arrest was required in order to put a stop to it.
Further, the surrounding facts screamed out there could be more to this than met the eye. To start with there was the background of Brifman suggesting she might be, to say the least, unreliable, as well as a person given to making extraordinary accusations like those made against Sir Frank Packer and the New South Wales Police Commissioner. Then there was the matter of her being committed for trial in New South Wales on the procuration charge and, just one week later, making the claim to the media she had committed perjury at the National Hotel Inquiry, and, only two weeks after that, seeing Bennett and Duncan in Brisbane. It seems to me only a mind closed by bias would have failed to perceive there may be some common explanation for such conterminous events.
There is also the question whether Murphy should have been proceeded against by way of arrest to consider...
... Another example of Condon’s selectivity is the story in a chapter entitled Shot In Their Bed. In it he details how in May 1981 the bodies of William Paul Clark and his wife, Grayvyda, were found dead in a house (which was then burnt down) at Julatten in far north Queensland. They’d been murdered. Condon writes:
The murder was investigated by Detective Ross Beer of the Mareeba CIB, under the direction of regional superintendent, Tony Murphy. The case would limp along for years. Again, there were rumours that the police had been involved in the double murder. Beer flatly refuted it.
When Beer was transferred back to Brisbane, he took the bulk of the Clark murder file with him. He explained he did so because nobody was as familiar with the case as he was, and it made sense to have it at hand.
The inference, without which the story would have no point, is the murders were never properly investigated, perhaps because police, including Murphy and Beer, were involved in them. It is a dastardly imputation, particularly when to reveal the full facts would demonstrate its falsity. One must wonder then what reason there could be for Condon omitting them other than to enhance a tale of Murphy’s venality.
Let me now make good this omission.
First there’s the matter of the length of the investigation. It was long and it had to be. It also was very thorough. It is necessary to understand Beer’s position. Here he was with the charred embers of a house and the shriveled up remains of two persons who, he later learnt, had been shot. Julatten is a small scatter of dwellings, none of them being close together. For instance, the Clark’s nearest neighbour was about two kilometres away. Beer, himself, was in charge of the CIB at Mareeba. He had three Plain Clothes Constables to assist him much of whose working days, however, were taken up with Juvenile Aid and other matters. Although outside detectives were available to help at times, a full-time investigation of the murders was not possible. But that was only the start of Beer’s difficulties.
Clark had been involved in the nether world of drug cultivation and distribution. Such associates he had were part of it. These persons kept out of sight, lived in out-of-the-way hideaways, often rough structures built in the rain forest, had a strong aversion to the police, some with their wits scattered from a too frequent use of drugs., All this was in a place which is amongst the loneliest and roughest of the State, and where few roads exist, some only usable by four-wheel vehicles when the weather is favourable. It could never be an easy, or a short, investigation.
Where to start? Beer judged he would have to find out more about the Clarks, who they were, where they came from and who their associates were. He would therefore have to mix with drug users, pick up their rumours and follow up those of any credibility.
In late 1981 Beer was promoted and transferred as Detective 1/C to the Consorting Squad in Brisbane. At this stage a suspect was starting to emerge. He was living at East Egypt, via Gatton which meant the investigation could now be more conveniently carried on from Brisbane. Beer was therefore instructed to take the Clark file with him. Nevertheless, as the matter took further shape he had to make several trips back to North Queensland to speak to possible witnesses, all of whom were difficult to locate as they were part of the drug community and lived peripatetic lives. Also, to further complicate his task, another person emerged as a suspect. Trips to Orange and Sydney became necessary. The Sydney enquiries were centred on Kings Cross, Rushcutters Bay and Darlinghurst and, the people involved being less than cooperative, back up enquiries were needed.
Despite these difficulties evidence was finally put together sufficient to make an arrest. The wanted man was hiding out in a hippie camp at Gold Hill, which is in extraordinarily rough country some distance from Cooktown. On 10 September 1985, Beer and other police descended on the place and arrested a man named Sichter. So bad was the country that the raiding party had to winch their vehicles out when leaving the camp.
Then followed the slow processes of the law. Committal proceedings were held in late November 1985. Then next year came the trial. The defence relied on the testimony of two alibi witnesses and Sichter was acquitted. To complete the story Sichter didn’t live much longer. After his release, he was playing Russian roulette, doubtless when drug affected, and shot himself dead. As for the alibi witnesses, they were later convicted for drug cultivation and distribution and sentenced to imprisonment.
In my opinion Beer deserves commendation for his fine, unremitting efforts, not deprecation...
"Tony Murphy was the man I admired ahead of all others. I was close enough to him to see into most of the corners of his life and I can vouch for the fact there were no skeletons. He was a fine detective who hated criminals and everything connected to them. To say, now he’s dead and unable to defend himself, that he became a criminal and engaged in all sorts of illegal activities, including being involved in murder or protecting those responsible, is ludicrous. His wife, Maureen, poor woman, has been devastated by this. To her, and to her children, I have extended my heartfelt sympathy and I do so again. And I hope these dreadful calumnies will soon be seen for what they are...
I am sure if anyone had tried to promote such a story in Murphy’s lifetime he would have promptly found himself in Court as a defendant in a defamation suit. But now he’s dead his detractors think they’re free to write what they like. All that can be done in response is point to matters that are unassailably true and quite at odds with what is portrayed.
One is that Murphy never enjoyed an affluent lifestyle. He worked hard, received a not particularly generous salary, and lived frugally. There never were any trappings of wealth about him.
Another is that no one I know of has been more rigorously investigated than he has, but nothing ever came of it. For instance, although mentioned at the Fitzgerald Inquiry, he was not even required to give evidence. Nor did the efforts of the Special Prosecutors who followed discover any case against him. So much, then, for Condon’s tortuous tale of corrupt activities extending throughout the State. I say again, it is a myth.
A third is that everyone I have spoken to who worked with Murphy rejects emphatically what Condon alleges against him. Almost without exception each of them volunteered, he was the finest detective he ever had anything to do with. Could Murphy have deceived over years these trained, street-wise investigators? It is preposterous, I believe, to assert that he could.
I feel so sorry for the members of Murphy’s family. They are decent folk who have been deeply hurt by Condon’s imputations. Unfortunately, no legal remedy exists for them to vindicate his reputation. Condon, however, in a recent article reveals the depths he is prepared to go to sustain his attack on Murphy."
"...Mr Sturgess has written about Murphy being charged with criminal acts and the background to those charges. He also writes about his acquittal on all charges. We should be mindful that Murphy was never convicted in a court of law. But efforts are ongoing to convict him in the court of public opinion.
Tony Murphy is now dead and those who write words for profit and momentary fame sit like crows around road kill, pecking at the remains. The victim cannot respond, so it is a safe feast.
Some 30, 40 50, even 60 years on, some persons have taken up their pens to portray Murphy in the darkest of dyes. Drama has its place in literature, but not to the obliteration of truth. They say that Tony Murphy was a complete blackguard, corrupt, a perjurer, a facilitator of crime; that he possessed not one redeeming feature.
When he was alive, Tony Murphy would have known what was being said about him. However, he could look after himself and was shielded by a thick skin. In his grave he is shielded by death. But sadly he cannot now shield his family from the ugly, careless, collateral damage that flows down on them from the poisonous suggestions of these writers..."
"Out of this, one solid matter remains and won’t go away: why did the Fitzgerald Commission, perfectly resourced, not call Tony Murphy before it for examination? Why was Murphy not charged by the Commission with even one act arising out of all the rumour, innuendo, conjecture, whispers and guesswork his traducers have put about? Where is the evidence, and not just an assertion, that he is guilty of any such act? In the absence of that evidence, the allegations made against Murphy become so much balderdash..."