Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
There was no red carpet for this award ceremony, and it was highly unlikely there was cocaine in the bathroom.
It was a morning tea rather than champagne function and the entertaining opening monologue was delivered by Acting Deputy Commissioner Bob “Hollywood” Hill, wearing his police uniform rather than a tuxedo.
In the room were hundreds of serving and former cops with their families, representing thousands of years of law enforcement. It was the Crime Command Awards in the Mick Miller Room of the Victoria Police Centre, an invitation-only event where police are acknowledged for service and outstanding investigations.
Late in proceedings, a handful of people were quietly ushered in through a side door. Detectives stood, offering up their seats in the packed room.
They were Paul Virgona’s family. Virgona was murdered in a crime seemingly without motive on November 9, 2019, and they were there to see two police they had not met to offer their thanks.
They were not the homicide detectives who hunted down the killers, Mongols bikies Aaron Ong and Josh Rider, who staked out Virgona’s Croydon home for hours before he left for work at 2am.
They followed him onto EastLink in a Mercedes stolen for the job, drew level and fired 11 shots, hitting him seven times. They torched the Mercedes, escaping in a Volkswagen Amarok that no doubt would also have been set on fire.
Their plan was that forensic clues would have disappeared in the two cars, a plan that may well have been successful except for Detective Leading Constable Justin Hunter and Senior Constable Emily Chell, who were on patrol that morning.
Using their local knowledge, they sat off an intersection they believed would be crossed by the hit team. When they spotted the Amarok, it sparked a high-speed chase, until the offenders crashed in Bayswater.
Suspecting these were armed killers, they were brave enough to give chase on foot, and when one of the gunmen dropped a bag of clothes, they were smart enough to know it could be key evidence in the murder case.
Supporters of Mongols bikies Aaron Ong and Josh Rider outside court on Tuesday.Credit: Chris Hopkins
Even though they knew gunmen were somewhere close, they refused to retreat, protecting the bag and the getaway car until help arrived.
The head of the homicide squad, Detective Inspector Dean Thomas, said: “Without these members acting quickly to secure evidence that led to the identification of the offenders, a successful prosecution would have been much more difficult.”
Their citation read: “Your pursuit led to the offenders abandoning vital evidence which you secured at great personal risk to yourself which ultimately led to their identification, prosecution, and subsequent conviction for murder.”
The killers refused to talk and detectives are convinced Virgona was the innocent victim of a mistaken identity hit.
Peter Gibb’s arrest.Credit: Jason Childs
It was a reminder that these awards are about real people and real crimes, not just framed certificates and a photo opportunity.
One of the awards was an act to right a 30-year wrong and acknowledge a group of detectives who chased prison escapees Peter Gibb and Archie Butterly, along with Gibb’s lover, prison officer Heather Parker, around Victoria, culminating in a shootout at the Goulburn River.
On March, 7, 1993, armed robbers Gibb and Butterly used explosives smuggled into the Melbourne Assessment Prison by Parker to blow out a window, and then (just like the movies) use knotted prison sheets to climb to the ground.
In the getaway Butterly twice shot Senior Constable Warren Treloar, leaving the three fugitives convinced they had crossed the line and would be shot and killed if found.
Police threw together a taskforce called Santiago made up of detectives from the prison and special response squads to hunt the three, who were finally discovered holed up on the banks of the river near Jamison.
One of the taskforce, Graeme Sayce, recalls the breakthrough was made by an observant fly-fisherman who saw the getaway car hidden under bracken at Picnic Point.
“He went back to his wife and said they should move. She said she was sick of trying to find a better fishing spot and if they were to move it was to go home.
“They packed up and he was smart enough to reset his trip meter, and when he saw police he was able to give the exact distance to the dirt track where the car was hidden,” says Sayce.
Left to right: Graeme Arthur, Michael Engel, Graeme Sayce , Greg Bowd, Peter Signorotto and Cameron Duncan from the Santiago team.Credit: Jason South
Three Santiago detectives, Graeme Arthur, Cameron Duncan, and Gary Silk, went to the scene and were caught in the crossfire as Butterly opened up on police. He was armed with a Colt automatic rifle (a version of the M16), boxes of ammunition, a pump-action shotgun and a .38 Smith and Wesson stolen from Treloar.
The Special Operations Group fired 55 shots at Butterly. During the battle Gibb and Parker tried to sneak off through the river and were grabbed by Arthur and Duncan.
Butterly had been shot dead, not by police but one of his team, who didn’t like his fight-to-the-death plan. Their policy was flight after his death and one shot him behind the right ear.
Five police, including members of the SOG and the police dog Shamus, were presented with bravery awards, but the Santiago detectives were ignored – until now.
Some time ago, we wrote about this injustice, and to their credit senior police agreed to revisit the case. It found: “After a historical review from additional information provided, Crime Command would now like to acknowledge the Bravery and Courage of the members actions with a Command Commendation.”
Arthur, Duncan and Silk were recognised: “For Outstanding Performance, Courage, Initiative, Planning and Perseverance during Operation SANTANA, which led to the arrest of an armed and dangerous escapee and his accomplice near Jamison on March 13, knowing that another member of the Force had been shot and seriously wounded during their escape from the Melbourne remand Centre on the March 7, 1993.”
Arthur and Duncan were there to receive their awards. Gary wasn’t; he was murdered in October 1998 with Senior Constable Rodney Miller in Cochranes Road, Moorabbin.
Gary’s brothers Peter and Ian accepted the award and Duncan wore a special tie designed to commemorate his mate Silky. A further 12 Santiago members received Crime Command Certificates for their roles in catching Gibb and Parker.
Another team was acknowledged, a group of cops who took on the seemingly hopeless task of re-investigating a series of armed robberies that stretched back decades.
The Gym Gang, a group of lifelong Melbourne mates connected to the fight and fitness business, formed an armed robbery gang that pulled jobs over 24 years that netted nearly $5 million.
Police linked the gang to seven armed robberies, each meticulously planned and each using a security insider often placed there for years until the time was right.
Because the gang was so tight, no one would talk to police, and because the members were so smart they rarely left any clues.
Police examine the Armaguard van after it was abandoned in the Richmond armed robbery in 1994.Credit: John Woudstra
Their biggest job was the Richmond armoured van in June 1994 ($2.3 million), when they posed as a road gang to stop and steal the van. It was reviewed in 2007 as part of Operation Octopus and re-activated in 2007 as Operation Tideland.
Its detectives used new-age forensics and old-fashioned persistence, eventually turning five witnesses to give evidence.
Eventually, a key member of the gang, Percy “No Mercy” Lanciana, was charged with the Richmond heist, not because of a smoking gun but on the money trail Tideland was able to follow.
Key evidence was that Percy was identified outside a bank when a woman deposited money from the Richmond job into an account.
Pasquale Lanciana, convicted of the Richmond armed robbery.Credit: Jason South
Another link was a lawyer, John Anile, who was bugged talking of laundering money for Lanciana (and others) through property developments.
He spoke freely of collecting $400,000 cash and taking it with Lanciana as part payment for land used to build 31 one and two-bedroom townhouses. The money was collected on August 9, 1994 – six weeks after the Richmond heist.
The bugged evidence included Anile saying: “All I can tell you is that the $400,000 cash was a small proportion of it.
“They had a bunch of cash, and they did not work. So unless they’ve got a money tree, it came from somewhere. I know where it came from, but I’m not going to talk about it.”
“If I went to the cops and told them where it came from, he [Lanciana] would go to jail for 25 years.”
In fact, Lanciana was sentenced to 14 years, with a minimum of 10.
A police summary of the investigation said Tideland “investigators identified, cultivated and then managed a number of crucial witnesses, and prepared a complex and detailed brief of evidence against Lanciana for armed robbery and money laundering offences”.
The Crime Command citation for nine Tideland investigators read: “For outstanding performance and service throughout Operations TIDELAND and Armed Crime Squad ROADGANG, displaying sound leadership and supervision, tenacity, and commitment, leading to the successful prosecution for the $2.3 million armed robbery of an Armaguard van at Richmond in June 1994.”
Turning the Tideland: Luke Bainbridge, Matt Wick, Graeme Simpfendorfer and Mark Burnett.Credit: Jason South
Usually such an event would be followed by detectives rolling out to a favoured watering hole for several bottles of Merlot and a pepper steak. This time it was in-house salad wraps and bottled water. Times have changed.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article