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How I helped bring down the NSW Police Commissioner *cough*

I was going through a box of old love letters, high school photos and other assorted memorabilia the other day and I found a pile of newspaper clippings from my (very brief) career as a journalist for Rupert Murdoch. The papers are starting to go yellow and curly around the edges so I thought I should preserve some of them digitally for posterity.

This article was front-page news in Sydney in 2001. One of Blacktown’s top cops, Chief Inspector John Thommeney, was furious a Police Integrity Commission investigation into a corrupt officer who had helped officers cheat on their promotions exams hadn’t extended to a full review of the promotions system. Another top Blacktown cop was already on stress leave after whistleblowing the corruption and the Chief Inspector of one of the country’s most violent local area commands decided to open up to me about it.

He knew he was putting his distinguished, 34-year career on the line by talking to me but I could tell he felt so frustrated and disillusioned with the situation that he didn’t care. He went as far as accusing then Police Commissioner Peter Ryan, a star recruit brought in from the UK to fight corruption in the wake of the Wood Royal commission, and other top brass of “not giving a shit” about Blacktown Police and putting the community in danger by not raising staff levels because it was a safe Labor seat. After the article was published in the Blacktown Advocate I received a formal written complaint from the Police Commissioner’s office and he accused me of being ‘worse than any Fleet Street hack he’d ever dealt with’. I took at as the greatest compliment of my brief journalistic career.

Blacktown and I had the last laugh though, Commissioner Ryan was unceremoniously dumped from office and fled back to England less than six months later after he negotiated an early exit from his contract. He was upset about the scrutiny of his job from the NSW Government and the media. There were “far too many journalists reporting policing,” he would later say. Shock-jock Alan Jones took most of the credit for the Commissioner’s exit, but I’d like to think I helped a little bit.

I wrote articles which won more awards than this one, but this particular piece stands out the most because of the role it played, albeit a very small one, in bringing down the NSW Police Commissioner. It was also a lot more interesting than the fluff-pieces I usually wrote about 50th wedding anniversaries and Council election issues. I can still remember chatting to Inspector Thommeney in his office at Blacktown Police station as a starry-eyed 21 year old and thinking to myself ‘someone is going to get into a lot of trouble for this, I hope it’s not me’.

Here it is, straight from Wednesday October 17, 2001…

Disillusioned: Fury at ‘lack of action’

Two of Blacktown’s top police officers are so disillusioned with the force, one is on indefinite sick leave and the other has lost faith in the system.

Chief Inspector John Thommeney said last week he and police whistleblower Sergeant Mark Fenlon were outraged the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) had not followed-up investigations into the police promotions system after former Police Association vice-president Inspector Robert Menzies told a PIC inquiry he had helped some officers cheat on exams in return for their voting for Menzies at the police union elections.

Chief Insp Thommeney said Insp Menzies had been an Association representative on on about 150 hearings of the Government Related Employees Tribunal hearing complaints into the promotion of officers.

He said it was outrageous the PIC had not investigated any of the 150 promotion cases Insp Menzies had helped decide.

The PIC is currently conducting public hearings on corruption in the Manly and Davidson areas.

Sgt Fenlon was reported earlier this month to have mis-givings about the focus of this current PIC inquiry.

He was concerned drugs and other police misbehaviour might overshadow what he considered was the root of the problem – a corrupt promotions system.

The real power is in the hands of the person who can influence an officer’s promotion, Sgt Fenlon was reported to have said.

It was Sgt Fenlon who told Police Commissioner Peter Ryan there were extensive problems with people cheating on promotional exams and called for a full PIC investigation into the promotions system.

Insp Thommeney agreed with Sgt Fenlon.

“Robert Menzies had the power to influence and the PIC hasn’t investigated any of the 150 cases he sat on,” he said.

Insp Thommeney said the promotions system was a Pandora’s box of corruption and cheating.

“The Wood Royal Commission could still have been sitting but it was stopped because it was too hard,” he said.

“Police will corrupt anything.”

A spokesman for Commissioner Ryan said the Commissioner had been “happy to receive the information” and would investigate.

Insp Thommeney sais after 34 years of service he was completely disenchanted with the lack of truth and transparency in the police force.

“I’m full of distrust, disillusionment and moral frustration,” he said.

“Dedication and loyalty are just meaningless in this day and age.”

Insp Thommeney said Sgt Fenlon was now so stressed he was on indefinite sick leave and was very much upset about the lack of action on the service’s behalf.

“Mark Fenlon is one of the best sergeants God ever gave breath to,” he said.

“It’s a crime (Blacktown) people don’t get his service because of what they have done.”

He said Sgt Fenlon had no chance of bringing change because management didn’t care.

“Mark is referred to as a Christian zealot by the heirarchy,” he said.

“The organisation really and truly doesn’t give a shit about him. We are supposed to be truthful and transparent, but we are less truthful than we’ve ever been in or lives”

A Police Integrity spokeswoman declined to comment.

Insp Thommeney said Blacktown had been ignored by the top brass and doubted the situation would change.

He also said the police bureaucracy were afraid to tell the community how bad staffing levels were and poor staffing levels were putting the community in danger because it was a “safe Labor seat and they don’t give a shit about staffing numbers”.

“Commissioner Ryan never visits Blacktown,” he said.

“He’s been here once and he walked in the front door … out the back and got in his car and drove off – he didn’t talk to the troops.”

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