Victoria’s top policeman knew gangland lawyer Nicola Gobbo was a police informer before he joined the force, but says he didn’t know the extent of her duplicity until years later.
Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton is giving evidence at a royal commission into Victoria Police’s use of the supergrass against her criminal clients.
“I first became aware she was an informer in 2007,” he told the inquiry on Monday.
Ms Gobbo’s longest registration as a police informer was from 2005 until 2009, when she turned on some of her most high-profile clients, including drug kingpin Tony Mokbel and underworld murderer Carl Williams.
But she was also registered in 1996 and again in 1999 by Jeff Pope, who later went on to become an assistant commissioner.
Mr Ashton told the inquiry he was shocked to learn the extent of Ms Gobbo’s third informant round in 2011.
He claimed he knew nothing of the earlier registrations until the royal commission started.
Counsel assisting, Chris Winneke QC, said it was well known within Victoria Police before then, including by Assistant Commissioner Neil Paterson who told the inquiry he learned of it in mid-2018.
He said it was extraordinary Mr Ashton wasn’t told, particularly given a High Court case involving Ms Gobbo and the force.
Mr Ashton said he became concerned about the extent of Ms Gobbo’s informing in 2011 because of several ongoing court cases, including one involving Mokbel.
But the then-deputy commissioner didn’t notify prosecutors or defence lawyers in those cases, claiming he discharged his obligation by reporting it to his bosses.
Mr Ashton rejected Mr Winneke’s suggestion there were attempts at “keeping a lid” on Ms Gobbo’s ratting.
A secret report released earlier this year revealed Mr Ashton once described the opportunity of having Ms Gobbo “potentially solve a bunch of … murders or prevent others” as “this glittering prize” which could sometimes divert from the sensible steps that should have been taken.
He also defended officers linked to the scandal as doing their duty during the tough period of Melbourne’s gangland wars.
“Do you think that may not be the case now,” Mr Winneke asked.
“I think what is said in the public discourse about trying to explain to the community what would have been on the officers’ minds at the time, is not to excuse any behaviour,” Mr Ashton said.
“You’re not seeking to excuse any behaviour …?” Mr Wineke asked.
“No,” Mr Ashton replied.