Monday, 2 June 2008

Coroner blasts NSW police: inquest

A Sydney man found dead in a stormwater drain was murdered, as evidence was due to be given in his trial for arson, a coronial inquest has found.

Organised crime boss Tony Vincent, his son Tony jnr and controversial businessman Jim Byrnes had "sufficient reason" to want Max Gibson dead, Jacqueline Milledge, formerly Deputy State Coroner, said.

The NSW Police were criticised by Ms Milledge, who said their lack of commitment in investigating Gibson's death was alarming and that their inaction "seriously impeded the progress of the inquest".

She said that the police involved in the initial investigation into Gibson's death were quick to categorise it as a "self- administered drug overdose", despite the lack of drug paraphenalia at the scene, the absence of insect infestation in the body and Gibson's criminal background.

One officer alone, Detective Sergeant Chris Bailey, who has since left the force, persevered despite the lack of support from senior officers at Marrickville Local Area Command.

Handing down her findings today, Ms Milledge said that there was no doubt that Gibson had been murdered in March 2001 and that there was a "motive for his demise".

She said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone but she has referred the matter to the NSW Police "cold case" squad for further investigation.

Gibson, 30, was given a fatal dose of heroin just at the commencement of his and Tony Vincent jnr's trial for the arson of a house, which Mr Byrnes was in the process of buying.

Both men were injured when the Woollahra house was blown up in February 1997 and were arrested the same day.

The jury could not come to a verdict at Vincent jnr's subsequent trial.

Ms Milledge said, "There is ample evidence to proceed against known persons for the arson of the Tara Street, Woollahra, property."

In describing Mr Byrnes as not only an unreliable witness "but an untruthful and manipulative one", she said there was evidence to prosecute Mr Byrnes for perjury in relation to contradictory and false evidence given in other prosecutions.

"I find that Max William Gibson died from a heroin overdose between March 21 and March 24, 2001 at a unknown location," Ms Milledge said.

"Mr Gibson was administered a hot shot by a person or persons unknown with the intention of taking his life."

Ms Milledge said Gibson was left-handed but the injection site was in his left elbow, and it was also known that he injected his ankles when taking illicit drugs.

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