‘The entire ethics of this was wrong’: Lawyer X admits to royal commission
As a police agent, barrister Nicola Gobbo was essential to a number of high-profile arrests by Victoria Police on account of her information. She said she felt intimidated and scared, and felt she needed to inform – but the way in which she did is up for debate.
On her third day of evidence, Ms Gobbo told the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants (RCMPI) that she “couldn’t walk away” and she was “scared of what might happen” if her informing for police stopped. Her evidence suggests she was being pulled from both sides – from Victoria Police and her high-profile criminal clients.
But the issue at the centre of this royal commission is her obligation to confidentiality, to legal professional privilege and her clients as a registered barrister. Ms Gobbo maintains it is the fault of her handlers for lulling her into a false sense of security. She said that the “entire ethics of the [informing role and relationship with police] was wrong”.
Moreover, however, Ms Gobbo said she felt comfortable enough to provide privileged and confidential information to police as her handlers gave the impression they would sort the information and ensure what was used was not subject to legal issue.
“It depends on which handler because they all have said different things and they all have different understandings or knowledge of what had gone on, but at one stage I was told ‘just tell us, don’t filter anything, it’s for us to decide’,” Ms Gobbo said.
“There were things I didn’t tell them, but the relationship became more relaxed.”
Lawyer X planned birthday parties to set up client’s vulnerabilities
In October 2005, Ms Gobo’s informing would come to one of its more major heads. He is referred to as “Mr Osbourne” to protect his identity.
Victoria Police began to request she seek information on the criminal dealings of the client and to report back. In the beginning, she felt she could not as they did not have that kind of relationship. Over time, and with encouragement from police, this changed.
“It got to the stage where you were quite happy to hear about what he was dong, criminal activities and the like, and other people, and pass that information back to the drug unit, do you agree with that proposition?” counsel assisting Chris Winneke asked Ms Gobbo.
She said she did. Over time, Ms Gobbo bonded with Mr Osbourne. At some point, it had extended to his family members – and then she was planning his birthday party.
Her information began to change. Not only was she providing information to police about Mr Osbourne’s criminal dealings, it had also moved to his personal information.
“You told them what you considered to be helpful about his vulnerabilities?” Mr Winneke asked, and Ms Gobbo agreed.
Ms Gobbo would go on to orchestrate the information to set up his arrest. She would then also go on to represent him in this same arrest.
“You were aware he was entitled to have a legal practitioner who was independent from the police?” Mr Winneke asked.
Ms Gobbo said she did.
“And you were aware that by turning and providing advice to him you were, in effect, doing things which would have a tendency to pervert the course of justice?”
Ms Gobbo answered: “Potentially.”
Gobbo encouraged to exaggerate in rewards process
To secure a reward, Ms Gobbo was asked to write a letter to Steve Fontana, an assistant commissioner and chief information officer. She was told to justify why she felt entitled to a monetary reward and the letter was to be examined by a rewards committee.
However, the letter included “mild exaggerations”. Ms Gobbo said she was told to identify 10 people she had assisted police in prosecuting – but by doing so, she needed to detail incidents that were not confirmed by police at the time, and so leaned towards mistruths.
“What I’d like you to explain to this commission is why it is you say you were led to produce a letter which contained exaggerations?” Mr Winneke asked her.
Ms Gobbo said it was because police would not let her know what came of certain bits of information. What she might have believed to be one small part of the “jigsaw puzzle” could have solved the entire investigation.
“Because in terms of my view about my thoughts about Witness One,” Ms Gobbo noted, referring to a pseudonym criminal who would go on to roll on Mr Mokbel. “I might think that I’ve done A, B or C about him. But internally from Victoria Police’s point of view it may be completely different because they may have had information.”
“So, I might have thought I was the amazing solution to a particular crime – but in actual fact I may have had nothing to do with it or very little impact upon it and that was what I understood the whole point was. To try and beef up the most important things.”
Earlier in her informing, police did reward her – with a silver pen and a dinner. Ms Gobbo said she wanted to feel appreciated for her part in major arrests.
“What an awful night that was,” Ms Gobbo told the commission. “I can remember, as was their practice, not telling me where we were going in advance and going to wherever we drove to, and then being in so much pain and so medicated I barely drank,” she said.
“I watched them all get pissed and thought this was insane.”
Why she joined the drug unit and why she couldn’t walk away
On 30 June 2015, in the same letter to Mr Fontana, Ms Gobbo explained she became an informer because she had become aware of high drug trafficking, money laundering and witness tampering “by virtue of contact with certain clients, their crew and supporters”.
Ms Gobbo said she formally joined the Source Development Unit because while she was on the way to court one morning, “I can vividly remember thinking I just can’t keep going. I can’t do this anymore. Feeling [like] I had wanted some way out.”
However, she now reflects on this being the wrong decision.
“Looking back now, it was an insane and idiotic thing to [go to police]. It was wrong on so many levels and what transpired was just craziness,” Ms Gobbo told the commission.
Mr Winneke asked if she might have taken the opportunity to walk away from the SDU if they gave her the option or had requested she seek a second opinion.
“Coming from Sandy White, yes I would,” Ms Gobbo said, referring to her controller.
However, she did say it came up in a discussion one time, but that she was at a loss as to who she could approach and what support system she had in place. She also felt unable to walk away from Mr Mokbel and the Victorian underworld system.
Mr Winneke questioned why she would not use her stroke as a ruse to leave.
“Conceptually yes [Mr Mokbel] would [understand] but I think the fault is on me for not being strong enough or not having any insight to be able to sit down and have contemplated saying that to him or anyone else,” Ms Gobbo said.