Evidence given by a former Queensland Homicide Detective at this week’s Whiskey Au Go Go bombing inquest that verballing allegations against police were “what criminal lawyers did in those days” is a tired old almost 50 year refrain by senior former Queensland Police trying to rewrite history.


Former Detective Slatter who in 1973 was with the Brisbane Homicide Squad said that police would go to court with a signed confession by a suspect witnessed by a Priest and would still be accused of verballing.


In April 1977 an Inquiry into the Enforcement of Criminal Law in Queensland headed by Supreme Court Judge George Lucas listed as its most important recommendation “the mechanical recording of interrogations by police…this will eliminate or greatly reduce the protracted enquiries which take place in so many trials (on this topic)”.[1]


A large part of the Inquiry was devoted to the topic “Are changes in the law desirable to inhibit the fabrication of evidence by police officers or other persons”.[2]


The Inquiry found “…the allegations relating to the fabrication of evidence by police officers were many.  We have come to the conclusion that fabrication of evidence by police officers – particularly of confessional evidence – does occur.  The sad truth is that “verballing”, as it has become known, is a device that is not uncommonly employed by certain members of the police force…”[3]


Despite the mandatory tape recording of police interviews being the major recommendation of the 1977 Inquiry it did not happen for another 12 years.


Why? Because the powerful Queensland Police Union of the day opposed it.


And so the verbal flourished until part way through the Fitzgerald Inquiry after the Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen-appointed Police Commission Terry Lewis was stood down on charges of corruption.


In 1989 my brother Frank who later retired at the rank of Assistant Commissioner quietly introduced the well overdue reform.


It is also to be noted that the Australian Law Reform Commission in a landmark report in 1975 recommended Australia wide mandatory tape recording of police interviews.


While the State Coroner has to decide whether Stuart and Finch who were later convicted of the murder of 15 people in the 1973 Whiskey bombing were verballed by police let history record that it was senior police who encouraged the ongoing practice of police verballing from 1977 onwards until 1989 by urging the then Premier Bjelke-Petersen not to introduce tape recording.


Bjelke-Petersen then said “if the Police Union don’t want it it’s not going to happen”.


The Aboriginal Legal Service where I worked between January 1976 and December 1980 introduced covert tape recording of police officers in police stations on an afterhours basis.  We were successful in convincing hitherto sceptical Judges that police verballing occurred by ALS lawyers producing tape recordings of police blatantly lying about the whereabouts of Aboriginal clients who were being denied access to their lawyers prior to ‘verballed’ confessions being typed up by police.  Many “verballed” confessions were excluded by Judges when confronted with the irrefutable tape recorded evidence produced by lawyers of police lying under oath about suspects confessing.


Therefore the ex-Detective Slatter’s comments that, effectively, verballing was the figment of the imagination of criminal lawyers ‘back in those days’ has to be seen for the historical absurdity it is having regard to the Queensland Police Service and the Queensland Police Union vehemently opposing Supreme Court Judge Lucas’ major recommendations during the period 1977 to 1989 that all police interrogations be tape recorded.



[1] See page iv of the Report of Committee of Inquiry into the Enforcement of Criminal Law in Queensland published 29 April 1977.

[2] Ibid Table of Contents page 1.

[3] See Report of Committee of Inquiry into the Enforcement of Criminal Law in Queensland page 14/paragraph 26.