gold bullion weighed 68kg and was then worth $653,000 (valued at
about $1.36million in June 2002).
couriers bearing three false cheques had arrived at the mint, been
admitted, and not long after driven out with the gold.
It had then
been delivered by the unsuspecting couriers to an office a few
kilometres away. The couriers then disappeared.
The crime caused a
sensation around Australia. It had all the ingredients of a
Hollywood heist - it was daring, complex, carried out with almost
military precision - and no one was hurt.
The crooks had also
carried it out with ridiculous ease, taking advantage of the
incredibly lax security procedures at the mint, which was smack
bang in the middle of the city.
And there were few
clues, if any.
So few clues that
the perpetrators might have seemed unlikely to be caught and
convicted by conventional police methods.
investigation was one of the hard men of the Perth CIB, Detective
Sergeant Don Hancock, or "the grey fox" as he was known
at the time.
On July 26, 1982, a
month after the robbery, Peter Mickelberg was driving to his home
in the northern Perth suburbs when a car pulled across in front of
him, forcing him to brake suddenly.
It was the police -
more specifically, detectives involved in investigating the
swindling of the mint.
was bundled into the police car and taken, curiously, to Belmont
circumstantial evidence, the Mickelberg brothers - Peter, Brian
and Ray - had come to the attention of police.
The three dashing
brothers prosperous abalone divers and pilots who drove Porsches,
were basically cleanskins but they obviously had a penchant for
Amongst the trio
was a former Vietnam SAS commando, Ray Mickelberg, who had served
in Vietnam. Police believed him to be the mastermind.
Peter had once been
fined $50 for possessing an unlicensed firearm.
It was Don
Hancock who was waiting at Belmont Police Station when Peter, the
youngest of the brothers, arrived.
Author Avon Lovell
records in his 1985 book, The Mickelberg Stitch, Belmont was a
curious choice of venue given there was a special operational
headquarters set up in the city.
Stranger still was
that by the time Peter Mickelberg arrived, all the officers
stationed there had gone, except the officer in charge, and he
left soon after. That officer, Bob Kucera, became, and remains,
the WA Health Minister. The opposition called for him to stand
down pending an inquiry on June 11, 2002.
With Hancock was
another officer, a more junior detective named Tony Lewandowski.
Mickelberg was left
alone with Hancock and Lewandowski. For the best part of two
decades the WA Police, up to the commissioner himself, have
strenuously denied Mickelberg's version of what happened next. It
is central to the claims by the three brothers that they were
framed for the great mint swindle.
According to Peter
Mickelberg, and as recorded in Lovell's book, detective
Lewandowski grabbed him by the throat and said: "This is
where you die you little fucker."
asked for his solicitor, Lewandowski replied: "You're on
another planet, no one knows you're here. As far as they're
concerned, you could be dead."
"a man of unexplained wealth," then entered the room and
said to his colleague: "Make him strip." Naked, he was
handcuffed and seated.
"It was then
that Hancock punched me in the solar plexus on at least two or
three times . . . I was pretty shocked. He then chopped me . . .
in the throat."
back up Mickelberg's story when in a 2002 affidavit to Western
Australia's Director of Public Prosecutions, he recalled the
incident at Belmont Police Station.
"I said to Don
Hancock that I didn't believe we had enough evidence and he said
to me: 'Don't worry, it will get better.'
day), Don Hancock came into the room and told me to make Peter
strip naked. Don then went up to Peter and gave him two or three
quick punches in the solar plexus. The statements purportedly
taken from Peter Mickelberg . . . on July 26, 1982, were in fact
not taken in Peter's presence that day, but were a fabrication
made by Don Hancock and myself shortly after September 2, 1982.
An insight into
Hancock's character and his modus operandi emerged in late 1982 in
a conversation involving Hancock, Peter and Ray, just before they
went to trial.
at Ray's house, Hancock says at one stage: "Don't ever
challenge me to do something because I'll f---ing well do it, all
right. You can rest assured about that."
not a mean person, but I'll tell you what: I've done things in my
life that you never did, and harder things, worse things, and if
I've got to do them again, well, I'll do them again."
Ray: "In the
line of duty?"
"That's it, yes. What I believe is my line of duty - to get
the job done."
violence if necessary?"
"Well, maybe not - tried everything else!"
was not tendered during the trial, although it later emerged in
another matter. Don Hancock's reputation is encapsulated in that
tape recording - a hard, tough cop who knew how to get things
done, to get results.
Mickelberg brothers were convicted in 1983.
said in the 1980s, and says to this day, he never confessed at
Belmont to any involvement in the swindle. Nor did he implicate
his big brother Ray, who police claimed was the strong man behind
Of course, Hancock
and Lewandowski, had a different version - Mickelberg had
confessed and made statements implicating himself and his
brothers, although they were unsigned.
The jury believed
the police. Peter, Ray and Brian were found guilty of swindling
the mint, although Brian was later acquitted on appeal after
serving nine months. Ray got 20 years, Peter 16.
initially at least, accepted the police version of events without
too many qualms.
Don Hancock went on
to become head of the Perth CIB, partly on the back of his
"solving" of the high-profile case.
the evidence against the Mickelbergs was compelling, the brothers
insisted from the start that the police had framed them.
The brothers fought
to prove their innocence in four Court of Criminal Appeal and two
High Court cases, and their allegations sparked West Australia's
longest-running police internal inquiry.
Raymond and Peter
made seven appeals, essentially on the grounds their confessions
had been fabricated. The appeals - six before the Western
Australian Court of Criminal Appeal and one before the High Court
1989, seven years after the robbery and a great deal of publicity,
the WA Court of Criminal Appeal rejected Peter's appeal against
his conviction and sentence.
commissioner, Brian Bull, said the decision "totally
vindicates the actions of the police in their investigation into
the Perth mint swindle".
Mickelberg was released from jail in 1991 after serving eight
years of a 20-year sentence.
Mickelberg served six years of a 14-year sentence. Brian
Mickelberg had his conviction overturned after nine months behind
bars. He died in a helicopter crash in 1986.
Most of the gold
was anonymously dumped in a Perth suburb in 1989 while the
Mickelbergs were behind bars (not gold ones!).
A gold bar and two
containers of melted gold were sent to Channel Seven studios with
a note saying the Mickelbergs were set up. The Perth Mint claimed
it as the missing gold.
Retiring as head
of the Perth CIB in the late 90's, and having grown up in the
Goldfields, Hancock went to the hamlet of Ora Banda, near
Kalgoorlie, to run the local pub.
But in October,
2000, things started to go terribly wrong. Members of the Gypsy
Jokers outlaw motorcycle gang started abusing the barmaid -
Hancock's daughter - and he threw them out.
Later that night,
one of the bikies, William Grierson, was shot dead as he sat
around a campfire and the Gypsy Jokers immediately blamed the
Hancock was known
as a crack-shot.
The case became
notorious after Hancock fled several hundred kilometres to Perth
after the shooting, consulted a prominent criminal lawyer, and was
unhelpful to detectives.
Even in retirement,
Hancock behaved like a man who thought he was above the law -
perhaps because, while in the force, he had been exactly that.
2001, Don Hancock, then 64, was killed by a car bomb in what
police believed was a payback killing by Gypsy Jokers motorcycle
attended a Perth race meeting and driven home with book-maker
friend Lou Lewis. When they arrived at the Hancock residence, a
massive car bomb was remotely detonated. Both men were killed and
a huge crater was left in the road.
Right to the end,
Hancock refused police protection.
June 10, 2002, a shock confession that police fabricated evidence
to convict the three brothers threatened to expose a new layer of
police corruption in Western Australia.
A former detective had made an affidavit to Western Australia's
Director of Public Prosecutions admitting he used lies, made up
confessions, partook in beatings and fabricated evidence to build
a case against the Mickelberg brothers for the mint swindle.
extraordinary development in one of the state's most notorious
cases was referred for investigation to the royal commission into
police corruption and other agencies. It is the first identifiable
case to be directed to the commission, which starts in Perth in
Attorney-General Jim McGinty said the "startling" new
allegations struck at the heart of the criminal justice system.
McGinty said that Former police officer Anthony Lewandowski, a
member of the team that investigated the swindle, had handed an
affidavit to the Director of Public Prosecutions admitting that he
and Don Hancock lied and fabricated evidence to convict the
Mickelbergs particularly the incriminating fingerprint on the
cheque which was, according to Lewandowski, a 'plant'.
McGinty said Mr Lewandowski's admission would strike at the heart
of public confidence in the justice system.
is one of the most high-profile cases we have had in Western
Australia, (and) one of the most high-profile police
investigations that has taken place," Mr McGinty said.
these allegations are true, then I think it will rock public
confidence in the way in which police conducted their
investigations as well as the subsequent trials ... they represent
a very serious erosion of public confidence in the police
investigation and also in the judicial system."
Lewandowski, who fled Australia fearing for his safety, claimed he
and Hancock lied during the original trial against the Mickelbergs
and at subsequent appeals.
gave evidence at the trial and numerous appeals. All that evidence
in relation to the (brothers') so-called confessions . . . was
Lewandowski claimed he could not speak out while Mr Hancock was
alive but felt compelled to after "his best friend" and
former boss was killed.
have had enough," Mr Lewandowski said in the affidavit.
"Now that Don Hancock is dead I can't harm him and I am now
telling the truth ... a couple of times I wanted to come clean but
there was no way I could go against Don."
a broken man, he added: "I have had 20 years of hell. I lost
my business, I have lost my wife, I have lost my son. I have
gained nothing out of this, I am now telling the truth."
also claimed that Peter Mickelberg was stripped naked and punched
while being questioned by two police officers at a suburban CIB
sought an indemnity from the DPP, which was being considered
before he left the state.
allegations appeared to vindicate the Mickelberg brothers, who
have long complained of police corruption in the investigations
corruption allegations aside, Mr Lewandowski said that he still
believed the brothers committed the gold robbery.
In his affidavit,
Mr Lewandowski said he was convinced the Mickelbergs were guilty.
And lawyer Malcolm
McCusker, QC, who said the brothers would lodge a new appeal, said
the confession did not prove their innocence.
"What it does
prove is that (they) were found guilty on fabricated
evidence." He said they hoped other police prepared to
volunteer information would be offered immunity.
confession) was not something we ever expected," Ray said.
"We've always hoped that there may be amongst the small group
of police officers who have been in the conspiracy to pervert the
course of justice someone who had a conscience."
Mr Lewandowski is
understood to have fled overseas on Friday after his attempts to
get immunity from prosecution were rejected. He was expected to
have been a key witness at next month's WA police royal
and Ray Mickelberg could not be contacted yesterday (June 9).
Perth barrister Malcolm McCusker QC, who has acted for the
Mickelbergs pro bono for 15 years, said he was delighted their
claims had been vindicated.
McCusker, who accompanied Mr Lewandowski to the DPP's office, said
the brothers should now be exonerated.
that Peter Mickelberg said, which was totally denied by the police
officers, is now said to be true," he said. "It proves
that the entire prosecution case was fabricated and therefore that
there was no case against them."
hoped that Mr McGinty would expedite a petition to return the case
to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
June 11, 2002, the two surviving Mickelberg brothers spoke to the
last we've been vindicated and we're very happy about that",
said Ray. "I think that the authorities have been duped by
someone who is a very intelligent man who had considerable
and Peter praised Mr Lewandowski for coming forward, saying they
always hoped someone involved would have a conscience.
Lewandowski saying, "he has done a courageous thing."
under immense pressure for 20 years and he's taken a step that
most men wouldn't take, and we respect that greatly."
The brothers said
the Lewandowski confession would prove critical in vindicating
"It's not just
one policeman, it is the policeman," Peter Mickelberg said.
always known I'm innocent of these crimes and that's why I've
20 years of saying what really happened . . . and
effectively (having) no one other than the people who helped me
out legally and my family believe me, to finally be vindicated is
overwhelming," he said.
strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system that a person
can be convicted on the basis of fabricated evidence."
When Don Hancock
was killed, the Mickelbergs thought any chance of the truth about
the "stitch up" went with him. Ironically the opposite
was true, Mickelberg says - Hancock's death allowed Lewandowski to
tell the truth.
Lewandowski's conscience had pricked him.
think so. He suggests his old foe is spooked by rumours that other
police officers have already "rolled over" for the
forthcoming royal commission in exchange for immunity. Lewandowski
might want to put in his version of events before it is too late.
brothers will now make another appeal to have their convictions
Ray and Peter said
they would petition WA Attorney-General Jim McGinty the next day
for leave to appeal against the convictions after Lewandowski's
They hope Mr
McGinty will offer indemnity from prosecution for officers wanting
to come forward with information about their case.
Mr McGinty said the
government would fund any new appeal, but cautioned that the
veracity of the claims had yet to be tested in a court.
"At this stage
we need to take the sworn affidavit at face value, which really
casts a very long shadow over not only this, but perhaps other
police investigations, also the operation of the justice
system," Mr McGinty told ABC radio.
Australia Police Service would not comment.
family said the former detective had been falsely accused.
Mr Hancock's son,
Stephen, said his family was devastated and he was convinced his
father was not involved in any attempt to frame the brothers.
On June 11,
2002, the Age reported that the West Australian opposition said
the state's health minister - who headed a suburban police station
in 1982 - should stand aside from cabinet while the Lewandowski
claims are investigated.
Health Minister Bob
Kucera was officer in charge of the Belmont CIB when one of the
Mickelberg brothers was brought in for questioning, Opposition
leader Colin Barnett said.
Mr Barnett said
that until the matter had been fully investigated, Mr Kucera
should not be part of any Cabinet decisions or privy to
confidential information that might be discussed about the
upcoming royal commission into the police.
opposition is not suggesting Minister Kucera has done anything
wrong, he clearly has an association with the Mickelberg
case," Mr Barnett said.
Mr Kucera -
assistant WA police commissioner before entering politics last
year - said he was disturbed by the allegations in Mr
He said he was at
the Belmont police station on the day of the Peter Mickelberg
interview but had nothing to do with the investigation, other than
taking food to the interview room.
He said he also
gave a clear statement of evidence at a 1998 appeal, which he
"That was my
sum total of my involvement in this particular case," Mr
Kucera said. "I had nothing to do with the Mickelberg
have protested since 1983 that Hancock and his crew
"stitched" them up with fake confessions and evidence,
notably a fingerprint conveniently found on a fraudulent bank
cheque used to pay the mint for gold.
The case against
their conviction has so far spawned two controversial books by
Perth investigative journalist Avon Lovell, the first of which
(The Mickelberg Stitch) was banned from sale and drew defamation
actions by several police, backed by their union. Hancock and
others scored cash settlements from the book's distributor and
Now the boot is on
the other foot. The Mickelbergs yesterday hoped to stitch up a
deal of their own with a commercial television network - a hefty
fee in exchange for their exclusive story. But Ray, Vietnam
veteran, elder brother and spokesman, couldn't resist the odd
angry shot about the case that has wrecked his family.
sentenced to 20 years, he served a little more than eight before
being released - a concession he reads as a sign the authorities
were uneasy about the conviction.
"I got out of
jail with $40 to my name," he told The Age bitterly.
"I lost everything - my wife, my family, the lot. It's a hick
state and the police here are a cunning, conniving lot of
arseholes. They've killed, raped, handled drugs, anything they
His aged parents
are still alive, but his brother Brian was killed in a light
aircraft crash in 1986 after being released from jail on appeal.
Another brother, Graeme, an army officer not implicated in the
case, has stood by his brothers throughout.
How the west was a state where
police ran wild
By Andrew Rule
June 15, 2002