By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
Legendary Sydney whistleblower Sallie-Anne Huckstepp knew her time was up after she’d accussed NSW police detective sergeant Roger Rogerson of killing her boyfriend, heroin dealer Warren Lanfranchi, during a 1981 interview with 60 Minutes.
Such was the reputation of the notorious Sydney police officer, who died on 21 January, after suffering a brain aneurysm in his cell in Long Bay Gaol.
The body of then 31-year-old Huckstepp, a sex worker turned informer against the NSW police, was found floating in Centennial Park five years later.
Winning multiple bravery awards, Rogerson had a stellar career in state law enforcement. But the Sydney-born man, who grew up in Bankstown, also stood accused of two murders, one attempted murder, bribery, assault and supplying prohibited drugs: and he was later dismissed from the force after being found guilty of none.
The Sydney detective was convicted of perverting the course of justice in 1992, six years after having been forced to leave the NSW Police Force. And Rogerson was subsequently convicted of the 2014 murder of a 20-year-old student, one Jamie Gao, and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Indeed, Rogerson’s time on the NSW police was completely different to now. This was long before the mid-1990s Wood Royal Commission cleaned up the agency. And it was a time when officers were more interested in skimming off illicit drug and sex work trades than silencing cultural dissent.
Some kind of honour
When Rogerson was serving on the NSW Police Force over the 1970s and 80s, Sydney had a serious underbelly. The NSW police detective sergeant and a number of his fellow officers were key players, as was Kings Cross organised crime boss, nightclub owner and property developer Abe Saffron.
Rogerson had a mutually beneficial relationship with menacing standover man Arthur “Neddy” Smith. The high-profile cop let Smith operate freely. And Neddy, who passed in Long Bay prison hospital in 2021, was one of the top heroin dealers in Sydney, as well as being a keen armed robber.
And like Huckstepp, Smith blew the whistle in the 1990s, this time to the ICAC. But the convicted murderer stood loyal to Rogerson as he testified before it. Neddy was willing to admit NSW police had provided information to facilitate sizable robberies, but he refused to name the detective.
When representatives from the Royal Commission paid him a visit inside, which was halfway through a three year stint for perverting the course of justice, they offered Rogerson a deal, walk free on exchange of ratting out senior officers, but due to a certain honour, he refused to whistle.
That type of honour existed on the Sydney streets in the 1980s. It was a code whereby a good cop could still be serving justice and the community, whilst collecting their own commission on the side and meting out a bit of rough justice that might be warranted, according to them.
As the then free former detective Rogerson told the Good Weekend in 2006, the top cops that the Royal Commission wanted him to “tip a bucket of shit on… were great Australians. One bloke fought the Japanese… for God’s sake. But that didn’t matter”.
Along with killing Huckstepp’s partner, Rogerson was accussed and then stood trial for the attempted murder of former fellow NSW police officer Michael Drury, who, after refusing to tamper with evidence, was shot through a window whilst he was feeding his three-year-old daughter.
Drury was in something of a state of shock after Rogerson and two coconspirators were acquitted of his attempted murder, which had followed on the back of another case that saw Rogerson found not guilty of having attempted to bribe Drury in order to see him tamper with evidence relating to a trial.
Rogerson even received praise from his colleagues for the way he dealt with Drury. But in 1992, he went down for perverting the course of justice, in relation to lying about $110,000 he’d deposited in a bank account under a false name, as he’d claimed the funds came from that sale of a vintage car.
The “disgraced former detective” was also convicted in 2005 of having lied to the Police Integrity Commission, in 1999, when claiming he didn’t know Liverpool Council manager Sam Masri was corrupt. He served three years for the first conviction and was sentenced to two for the second.
The crime that saw Rogerson serve out his days in Long Bay was murder – that of Sydney student Jaime Gao at a Padstow storage facility in May 2014, and then going on to dump his body off the coast near Cronulla.
Rogerson and fellow ex-NSW police detective Glen McNamara arranged to buy close to 3 kilograms of methamphetamine from Gao, and then executed him, via two shots, and stole the drugs.
And the killing of a young naïve 20-year-old student was perhaps not the most honourable curtain fall.
Wild Colonial Psychos
In his later years, and prior to shooting dead a young suburban man in order to acquire some drugs for free, Roger Rogerson toured the country, as part of a comedy trio, with well-known ex-AFL player Mark “Jacko” Jackson and the nation’s most infamous standover man Mark “Chopper” Read.
The passing of Rogerson marks the end of the most notable figures from a time when the Sydney underworld was visibly bustling and neon-sign-lit. It was a time when NSW police operated as a force of its own: at one moment, penalising organised crime and at the next, giving orders to run it.
NSW police officers today aren’t known for being on the take. But they are known for corralling the community into compliance with drug dogs or via the threat of strip searches. Police officers today are known as being the blunt instrument of the state government and corporate power.
So, with the passing of Roger Rogerson, the city of Sydney is reminded that gone are those days when good community police officers, might also be creaming a little off the top and applying a bit of extralegal justice for the benefit of all, as Rogerson is of a species that no longer exists.
Instead, the NSW police officer of 2024 is well aware that the chief enemy of the public is the social justice activist or climate defender. Officers are further aware that heavy-handed drug law enforcement is the only option and stripping teens to ensure no drugs are swallowed is essential.
And these days we’re more likely to hear of yet another report about a NSW police officer lethally shooting or tasering a civilian having a mental health crisis, than we are about a bad cop shooting a good cop for refusing to partake in some behind-the-scenes corruption.