National

Cops wanted excuse to close covert unit

By AAP Newswire

Victoria Police was looking for excuses to shut down a covert unit even before a highly-secretive review found its members were taking risks based on ego and not considered risk.

The force's top brass sought advice from human resources experts on how it could shut the Source Development Unit which handled high-risk informers, including criminal barrister Nicola Gobbo.

Barrister Geoff Chettle, who is representing Source Development Unit handlers at an inquiry into police use of informers, believes his clients have been thrown under the bus, bearing the brunt of the Lawyer X scandal.

But during a hearing on Friday the metaphor shifted to another form of public transport when he questioned retired officer Tony Biggin, who once headed the unit.

"(The) upper-level command in 2012 saw a train coming that was going to run into Victoria Police and steps were taken to distance themselves from what had occurred and blame it all on the SDU," Mr Chettle put to him.

But Mr Biggin said it was too late.

"We were hit in 2009 in my view," he said.

Mr Chettle suggested the problem was the question of who was killed by the train.

Ultimately it was the Source Development Unit, which was shut down by a steering committee, based on two reports - an internal covert services division report and an external report by retired chief commissioner Neil Comrie.

It's been suggested the force was so keen to shut down the unit, and to have a legitimate reason for doing so, that the scope of the internal report may have been altered so the closure could be recommended.

Mr Chettle read a note by former assistant commissioner Doug Fryer who had recorded "in my view, attempting to use the cover services division review manipulates the intent and outcome of the review because in itself it doesn't require the closure of the unit".

"Something changed by the time the document got written obviously," Mr Chettle said.

"It appears there has been a change in the scope at least," Mr Biggin replied.

Mr Chettle said the Comrie report found a culture of risk taking had emerged within the unit based on ego, rather thank risk-versus-reward.

But Mr Biggin said he hadn't seen that during his time heading the unit.