Video: This is the secret code that exposed systemic police corruption in 1980s Queensland
The code is written in small, precise handwriting.
Listed next to each number is a name — they are the names of police officers on the take.
The handwriting belongs to Jack Herbert, a former Queensland police officer at the centre of a corrupt web of cops and crooks.
Known as “the Bagman”, Herbert collected more than $3 million in protection money that allowed illegal gambling and prostitution to flourish in Queensland as part of a racket known as “the Joke”.
The Joke would come crashing down after a series of stories in The Courier-Mail newspaper and the broadcast of The Moonlight State on Four Corners in May 1987.
The day after Chris Masters’ report, Queensland’s acting premier Bill Gunn announced an inquiry.
Herbert would become the Fitzgerald Inquiry’s star witness, telling all in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
The Bagman had a steel-trap memory and was disciplined and meticulous, cataloguing all the bribes he dished out as well as who the money was going to.
The Bagman’s secret codes
Four Corners applied to Queensland’s State Archives and to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) for access to some of the Fitzgerald Inquiry files, including documents relating to and written by Herbert.
What was the Joke?
The Joke was a vast system of graft and protection involving illegal gambling, starting price bookmakers, brothels and massage parlours that stretched back decades in Queensland.
The dirty money flowed to the police, particularly to several senior members of the infamous Licensing Branch, who in exchange for regular cash payments turned a blind eye to vice.
In its later and most lucrative form, the Joke was administered by Jack Herbert, who, by the time it all came crashing down, was passing on nearly $60,000 a month in protection money to police.
Herbert was estimated to have received more than $3 million in payments.
In early 1987 The Courier-Mail ran a series of articles about unchallenged vice in Brisbane.
Then in May, The Moonlight State program was broadcast on Four Corners, revealing that police were being bribed to protect vice in Queensland.
The next day the acting premier Bill Gunn called a judicial inquiry.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry would run for two years and hear from more than 300 witnesses.
Evidence from the inquiry would lead to four government ministers and police commissioner Terry Lewis being jailed.
Other police would go to prison, while senior officers — including the assistant commissioner Graeme Parker — would give evidence in exchange for indemnity from prosecution.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry would also lead to the establishment of Queensland’s first anti-corruption body.
Some of the files are sealed until at least 2055.
The program was granted access to a range of documents including statements to Fitzgerald investigators, hard evidence showing money laundering, handwritten notes by corrupt cops, and the Bagman’s codes.
Exhibit 1367 is a photocopy of a slip of paper containing two sets of codes.
The codes — devised by Herbert — assign a number to senior Queensland police, some of whom were later found to have received corrupt payments from Herbert.
Herbert used these codes to communicate with bent police after the broadcast of The Moonlight State, while he was on the run in the United Kingdom.
Listed at number two is Noel Dwyer, who admitted to corruption in exchange for immunity.
Number four is “Dirty” Harry Burgess, the Licensing Branch detective who was the first to “roll over” and tell all.
Burgess confessed to taking bribes and to having sex with prostitutes while on duty.
Another senior officer who testified in exchange for immunity was number six — Graeme Parker.
Then assistant commissioner, Parker told the Fitzgerald Inquiry he took $130,000 in bribes.
Rounding out the list, at number 10, is “Terry”. Asked at the Fitzgerald Inquiry who Terry was, Herbert replied: “Terry Lewis.”
The inquiry would hear evidence that then-police commissioner, Sir Terence Lewis, received more than $600,000 in bribes from the Joke.
He was sentenced to 14 years in jail for corruption and stripped of his knighthood.
Also among Herbert’s documents were handwritten notes using the coded numbers.
One — Exhibit 1290 — was written after the Fitzgerald Inquiry started, while Herbert and his wife Peggy were hiding out in England.
The note was written by police inspector Allen Bulger, number eight on the coded list.
He uses the numbered code to respond to written questions from Herbert.
“There is a lot 4 did not say in evidence,” Bulger wrote, alluding to his bent colleague “Dirty” Harry Burgess.
“No doubt covering for tax purposes. 4 even had me conned right up to when he rolled over.”
Bulger was later sentenced to 12 years in jail for corruption and perjury.
Tony Fitzgerald QC hands over the Fitzgerald Report to then-Queensland premier Mike Ahern. (State Library of Queensland)
Corrupt cops feared Four Corners was trailing them
After he returned to Australia to face the inquiry, Herbert prepared a statement about the events leading up to The Moonlight State and the unravelling of the Joke.
In it, he describes a night-time meeting with then-assistant commissioner Graeme Parker in the car park of Brisbane’s Alderley Arms Hotel about a week before the Four Corners program was broadcast.
“Parker there stated that he was concerned about the four corners [sic] team in Brisbane,” Herbert recounted.
“A yellow coloured car drove near our vehicle and Parker told me that he thought that the occupants of the car had him under observation and so we parted company.
“The next day, I received a phone call from Parker and he stated that he had received information that the yellow car driven through the car park the previous night was occupied by member of four corners [sic].”
How the Bagman washed his dirty cash
Queensland’s CCC approved Four Corners’ application to access key evidence sealed under a 65-year restricted access order.
Among that evidence is a bundle of cheques made out to Herbert from the on-course betting agency, Automatic Totalisators.
The cheques range in amount from $1,450 up to $11,915.
The Fitzgerald Inquiry was told the Bagman would often buy winning tote tickets from bookmakers and take them to the Automatic Totalisators head office and get a cheque which he would photocopy for his records.
The inquiry heard it was a simple way for Herbert to “clean” black money given to him by the crooks.
Records revealed that over a three-year period Herbert had been issued $161,741 for winning bets.
Raking in tens of thousands of dollars a month, the Bagman had thought the Joke was “invulnerable”.
“Looking back on it, I think all of us got carried away,” he wrote in his memoir.
“We believed no-one could touch us.”
Herbert even thought The Moonlight State was merely Masters “fishing” and that the Joke would endure.
“When the program was over I told [wife] Peggy not to worry. ‘It’ll blow over,’ I said. ‘It always does’.”
Watch Four Corners’ Breaking the Brotherhood on Monday at 8:30pm on ABC and iView.
The Moonlight State, the 1987 report that prompted the Fitzgerald Inquiry, can be viewed in full on the Four Corners website.