WHEN the existence of the listening device warrant 266, containing 114 names, landed on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald on April 13, 2002, there was an immediate outcry from serving and former police.

Many were experienced detectives. They knew it was extremely unusual, if not unheard of, for so many names to be on the one warrant. A warrant lasts for only 21 days before it has to be renewed. How on earth, the critics asked, could an undercover officer, M5, possibly bug the conversations of so many people in such a short time?

The outgoing police commissioner, Peter Ryan, sought to defuse a potentially explosive situation. The next day he appeared on 60 Minutes and essentially told viewers it was all above board. He said the undercover officer, M5, “was going to a function at which a lot of people would be present and therefore he may be talking to a hundred people, all of whom had to be named in the warrant”.

He was asked: “So it wasn’t an investigation of 110 odd individuals?”

Ryan: “Oh no. If I was at that function, my name would probably have been on the warrant too.”

In other words, just because you were on the warrant didn’t mean you had done anything wrong.

There was one problem. The warrant was granted on September 14, 2000 – the day before the opening of the Sydney Olympics. There was no chance a major police function would have been held in the following 21 days. Indeed, Strike Force Emblems – the report of which The Sun-Herald reveals today – found there was no such function during the span of the warrant. Emblems investigators tried to find out who had advised Mr Ryan. On the face of it, he had been seriously misled. It is not clear who advised him.

On June 30, 2003, Cath Burn – who is now a Deputy Police Commissioner but had been a key officer within Special Crime and Internal Affairs – had a formal record of interview with Emblems investigators. They asked Ms Burn if she knew how Mr Ryan had arrived at his explanation of a function.

“I have no idea why he said it,” she replied. ”I’d say he wasn’t briefed.”

Question: Well, is that statement [about there being a function] true? Answer: No.

Q: Why would he make a statement such as that? A: I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. Q: Do you know who briefed him? A: I have no idea.

Ms Burn told Emblems that Mr Ryan’s explanation had been openly discussed with Operation Mascot – a long-running inquiry into police corruption – and that he had been given incorrect information.

At the time of this interview, Emblems investigators were not aware of a two-page briefing note about listening device 266 written by Ms Burn on April 13, 2002, the day the Herald story appeared and the day before Mr Ryan’s 60 Minutes interview. The Sun-Herald has seen a copy of that briefing note. Marked “Highly protected”, it appears at odds with Ms Burn’s answers in her formal record of interview almost 14 months later.

In it, she says: “It was the procedure to include on the warrant names of people who were likely to be spoken to by the informer [M5] whether they were targets, suspects or persons of interest. This did not extend to every person the informer would come into contact with, just those where it was likely the conversation would be recorded (eg. At a function).”

In a 12-page annexure to her briefing, she goes on to describe a function. She lists the 114 people on the warrant and, one by one, gives reasons they were on it. Next to 30 names, Ms Burn had written “King send off list”, indicating they were expected to attend a farewell for detective Jim King, which M5 had in fact helped organise.

The Sun-Herald has established that King’s small farewell drinks in fact took place in June 2000 – three months before listening device 266 was approved by Justice Virginia Bell in the NSW Supreme Court. In addition, it has established that at least 20 of the 30 named on the list did not attend the function because they barely knew King or didn’t know the farewell was on.

“Never went, never invited, never would have gone,” said one officer who was supposedly going.

Ms Burn said yesterday she had no comment but wanted to clarify that she was a sergeant in SCIA and never its commander. However, in 2002, she signed her briefing note as ”acting commander” of the Special Crime Unit within SCIA.

Mr Ryan, meanwhile, wasn’t at Jim King’s send-off, either. But it turns out that even he and his then wife did not escape SCIA’s scrutiny. They were placed under physical surveillance at the Marriott Hotel, where he often drank with colleagues.

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