Life and times of an Aussie copper

By Greg Ansley

Roger Rogerson was jailed for corruption and now faces a murder charge, writes Greg Ansley

Roger Rogerson went to jail for four years for corruption but traded on his reputation later in drama and comedy shows. Photo / News Ltd
Roger Rogerson went to jail for four years for corruption but traded on his reputation later in drama and comedy shows. Photo / News Ltd

Wearing cardigans and struggling with a weak hip, Roger Caleb Rogerson this week shot back to public prominence in a bizarre twist to an already labyrinthine life.

The 73-year-old bent former copper was hauled from a round of appearances in Brisbane to face charges in Sydney of murdering a 20-year-old student during an alleged A$3 million ($3.3 million) drug deal.

Charged with him is Glen McNamara, another former detective who claims he was hounded from the Police Force after exposing entrenched corruption within its ranks.

How Rogerson became embroiled with McNamara and Jamie Gao in the alleged amphetamines deal has yet to emerge. Nor are there any clear answers yet to why former senior detectives with decades of experience would choose to allegedly kill Gao for the drugs in a storage unit monitored by CCTV.

Rogerson has long been the stuff of legend. At the peak of his infamy he was probably Australia's most notoriously corrupt cop in a nation that had thrown up its fair share of bent police.

He was a charismatic, charming old school copper who for years epitomised the public image of tough and unrelenting justice on the streets. The truth was far darker.

Rogerson was implicated in - but never convicted of - two killings, bribery, assault and drug dealing. He was convicted and jailed for perverting the course of justice and lying to the New South Wales Police Integrity Commission.

Before the fall Rogerson was a police hero: a tough, uncompromising, two-fisted copper with a string of high profile cases that included the infamous Toecutter gang. He was the forces' most decorated officer.

Rogerson soared in an era when corruption and abuse of power thrived behind a facade of effective policing by strong men who did what they needed to keep the streets safe. Then, as now, Sydneysiders worried about crime rates and believed the courts were too soft on villains.

This was the age when a copper's word was final. Alleged thugs were sent to jail on the evidence of Rogerson's word alone, courts convinced by his "verbals" of unsigned interviews.

Others had similarly thrived, among them Ray "Gunner" Kelly, a Sydney detective famous during the 1950s and 1960s and a shining star of the NSW police. In fact he was bent, an associate of some of the city's biggest crime czars.

Successive commissions and inquiries have since exposed corruption in the West Australian, NSW, Victorian and Queensland police forces, leading to tough new rules that would never have allowed Rogerson to operate as he did.

In Rogerson's heyday that was still far distant: Several years ago he told the ABC: "My record proves that how we did things back in my day kept the streets clean. Now that's all we were interested in." But Rogerson was a first-name associate of high-profile thugs such as drug dealer and armed robber Arthur "Neddy" Smith, heroin traffickers John Henry and Warren Lanfranchi, and contract killer Christopher Flannery.

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, which declared Rogerson bent, described these relationships as "scandalous".

Rogerson's nickname of "Dodger" was well earned. He was variously accused of doctoring evidence, drug dealing and beatings, but never charged or convicted. He was also cleared of any crime after he shot Lanfranchi dead, claiming self defence, and was acquitted of conspiring to murder an undercover detective, Michael Drury.

He was finally convicted of perverting the course of justice after depositing A$110,000 in a bank account under a false name, and of giving false evidence to the Integrity Commission. He was separately sentenced to a total of four years' jail.

Undaunted, after his release he rose to new fame as television dramas spawned a genre of anti-heroes from the dark deeds of cops and crims.

He toured with former AFL players Mark "Jacko" Jackson and Warwick Capper in a talk show called The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and in an offensively bad taste comedy show with the late Mark "Chopper" Read and Jackson.

About two years ago Rogerson apparently met and teamed up with McNamara, by his own reckoning the kind of cop who would have hung Rogerson out to dry had their paths crossed on the force.

McNamara appears to have had a hitherto untarnished record. He joined the force at 17, became a detective and later worked for the National Crime Authority, the forerunner of the present Australian Crime Commission.

Based in Kings Cross, McNamara was appalled by entrenched corruption. He claims he was forced to quit after he turned whistleblower, detailing his allegations in a book called Dirty Deeds.

Last year he set up shop as a private investigator, working with Rogerson to collect debts. Somehow, along the way, they came into contact with Sydney University of Technology student Gao.

Gao is himself an enigma. When he first vanished he appeared to be a capable, dedicated and popular student, an only child with no known links to drugs or crime. Again, there was a dark side.

Gao was facing charges of kidnapping and assaulting 19-year-old Jaiweu Yi, apparently over a broken romance. Police now allege Gao was also involved in large-scale drug dealing.

Allegedly Gao, in company with two still-unidentified men, drove to Arab Road in the south Sydney suburb of Padstow with a bag containing about 3kg of the drug ice. CCTV footage shows him leaving his car and crossing to a white Ford Falcon allegedly owned by McNamara.

Other footage shows the Falcon arriving at a nearby storage unit and Gao, allegedly with McNamara and Rogerson, going inside. A short time later the two former detectives emerged, lugging a silver surfboard cover and stuffing it into the boot of the Falcon. A silver Falcon, allegedly owned by Rogerson, was also filmed.

Police allege Gao was shot twice in the chest and zipped into the surfboard cover. Gao's body was later found floating, wrapped in a blue tarpaulin, off Cronulla Beach. Police also allege CCTV cameras caught Rogerson and McNamara returning to the unit the following day to clean up.

Both men will appear in court again on July 22.

- NZ Herald

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