Saturday, September 3, 2011

2 Mar 2003 - "Did this man know too much?"

Gerard McManus

Sunday Herald Sun,

2 March 2003, pp. 37-38.

Gary Lee-Rogers blew the whistle on alleged corruption within one of Australia’s leading security agencies. It was, he said, a decision that could cost him his life. Friends believe it did.

WHY did Gary Lee-Rogers die? If his family and friends are to be believed, the anti-terrorist training officer was killed after trying to expose corruption and misconduct inside one of Austra- lia’s leading security organisations.

Sources say police believe Lee- Rogers, who was found dead in his Queanbeyan flat, outside Canberra, on October 1 last year, committed suicide with an overdose of insulin.

However, an autopsy that proved inconclusive, revealed a blood-tipped knife was found near Lee-Rogers’ bed. Blood was also found elsewhere in his bedroom and in his kitchen.

The mystery does not end there.

Earlier, in a series of chilling e- mails sent to friends and colleagues, the 45-year-old Australian Protective Services instructor predicted his own death at the hands of those whom he claimed had persecuted him relentlessly.

In one, from May last year, he wrote: “I am in fear of my life and know I will die ‘accidentally’ or ‘by my own hand’ within the next few months.

“Make it known that if I suicide there is someone behind my demise. I am expecting an accident at any time.”

In another e-mail written shortly before his death, he wrote: “You do not have to look outwards for terrorism and its agents; it is already here, look inside before it is too late.”

His landlady is said to have told Lee-Rogers’ estranged partner that she saw him shortly before he was found dead and that he had been so severely bashed he could barely walk.

His friends believe that bashing was carried out by people connected to law enforcement agencies, possibly even by members of the Australian Federal Police.

Australian Protective Services — which guards many of the nation’s most important buildings, including Parliament House, detention centres and international airports — has long had close ties to the AFP and was last year brought under its wing.

Lee-Rogers had also claimed a senior AFP detective, working in the ACT, forced a gun into his mouth and demanded he plead guilty to criminal charges that, he said, had been brought against him in an effort to discredit his claims of corruption.

“I have already had a gun placed in my mouth and you should know it was ... of the ACT police regional fraud squad who did it. Make it known he is a corrupt police officer,” he wrote to a friend.

The officer is still a member of the AFP.

Now, five months after resisting a thorough probe into the circumstances of his death, authorities in Canberra have agreed to a coronial inquest.

THE AFP, which also speaks for APS, declined to discuss the case. “As the matter is before the NSW coroner it would be inappropriate to comment,” a spokeswoman said.

The NSW coroner is involved as Lee-Rogers’ Queanbeyan flat was outside the ACT.

Lee-Rogers’ mother, Aileen Leslight, 80, of Frankston, is demanding justice for her son.

“I definitely believe he was mur- dered,” she said this week. “What happened to Gary was something that should never have been done in this country.”

Mrs Leslight, a retired ballet pianist, said she believed her son was now free of the torment that had plagued the last two years of his life, but would not be at peace until justice was done.

“The biggest thing I’ve got to do now is to forgive them,” she said. “But I’ve got to find out first what they did so that I can forgive.”

The authorities’ treatment of Lee- Rogers’ family has also been criticised. Mrs Leslight and Lee-Rogers’ former partner, Kathleen Mills, who have been demanding a full-scale investigation since his death, only heard about the decision to hold a coronial inquest from the Sunday Herald Sun.

“You’d think they would at least pay us the courtesy of telling us, but no,” Ms Mills said. “It is very strange, but it has been strange from the beginning.”

As of Friday, there was still no official phone call or letter to inform Lee-Rogers’ next-of-kin of the inquest.

Ms Mills said she had occasionally doubted her former partner when he described how he was being perse- cuted by sections of the APS and then the police. Those doubts were dis- pelled by his death.

“All I want to know is what hap- pened to Gary,” Ms Mills said. “But in my heart now, I do not believe it was suicide.”

She said that, while she was estranged from Lee-Rogers in his last year, they were still engaged in phone- text tiffs right up until his last days.

“That’s one reason why I believe he didn’t commit suicide,” she said. “We were still arguing — that’s how I know he was OK.

“But he also said in those messages that he was going to ‘beat those bastards’.”

Events surrounding Lee-Rogers’ fall from grace as a highly regarded senior instructor with the APS make for puzzling reading, but the circum- stances of his death are even more disturbing.

He was one of the most qualified instructors in the APS. Before joining the organisation he worked for many years as a paramedic.

He was later to join search and rescue teams, and underwent security training in the US.

He was also qualified in scuba diving, flying and parachuting.

But in 1999, his career collapsed when he warned his superiors about problems within APS.

These ranged from small-scale racketeering, the promotion of badly trained or unprepared officers, and misappropriation of government funding.

More disturbingly, Lee-Rogers believed there were serious short- comings in security at facilities such as Sydney Airport and “other sensitive establishments.”

His warnings were made long before the terrorist attacks in New York and Bali.

Instead of acting on his warnings, the organisation is alleged by his

amily to have turned on him, leading to a 2 1/2-year ordeal that culminated in his death.

The names of members of the APS alleged to have committed fraud, as well as AFP officers who allegedly threatened Lee-Rogers, are recorded in his e-mails which have been obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun. The offi- cers still hold senior positions.

Lee-Rogers registered official complaints about the alleged harass- ment that followed his allegations, including being relegated to storeroom duties, and, Ms Mills said, he was eventually suspended without pay.

“From that moment on (when he first made a complaint) everything went wrong,” she said. “Gary’s life was gradually taken apart, bit by bit.”

The alleged campaign of harass- ment reached a peak on April 12, 2000, when the AFP charged Lee- Rogers with criminal offences relating to alleged false salary and overtime claims, and the theft of a first- aid kit.

He strenuously denied the charges, claiming they were fabricated as punishment for him trying to expose corrupt officers.

Without an income and unable to find work, Lee-Rogers gathered 26 witnesses to support his case. He also sought the support of Whistleblowers Australia, a voluntary organisation that campaigns against corruption.

BUT, according to another friend, Christina Schwerin of Morwell, the more determination Lee-Rogers showed in wanting to fight the charges, the more vicious the persecution became.

Lee-Rogers did not have the chance to clear his name — he died 38 days before his trial was to begin.

Ms Schwerin is convinced police officers were involved in his downfall. “You don’t expect police to be doing this sort of thing,” she said. “It’s like a public execution,” she said. “Gary wasn’t worried about the charges because he knew he would beat them.”

According to the e-mails he sent to friends, the alleged persecution by colleagues and police included house break-ins, as well as physical and verbal threats.

The character assassination is said to have reached extreme levels, with Lee-Rogers complaining one of hispersecutors signed him up to more than 400 internet pornography sites without his knowledge.

His passport was confiscated and his mother said this week he was not allowed to leave Canberra to visit her in Melbourne.

According to his e-mails, the persecution also involved “get well” cards sent to him with the message: “Hurry up and die.”

In other e-mails, he alleged that on several occasions an AFP policeman drove by his flat and drew his hand across his neck as if slitting his throat.

On another occasion, the officer was said to have stretched out his hand in the shape of a gun.

“He did this as though he was shooting me,” Lee-Rogers wrote.

Despite his accusations that people were out to kill him, authorities insisted at the time of his death that there was no evidence to suggest foul play.

Unofficially, police are said to be sticking to the theory that Lee-Rogers committed suicide with an overdose of insulin, which would not necessarily show up in a post-mortem examination.

The mystery surrounding his death increased with the release of an autopsy report written by Melbourne forensic specialist Michael Burke.

In it, Mr Burke wrote: “There is no evidence to suggest any other persons were involved in the death.”

Yet he went on to make an inconclusive finding, declaring the cause of death was “unascertained.”

However, Whistleblowers Austra- lia president Dr Jean Lennane, a trained physician, criticised the autopsy.

“There were several omissions, and no one appeared to have looked at his medical records,” she said. “The suggestion is that he died of an insulin overdose, but there is no mention of a syringe.”

Whistleblowers Australia also points out the report did not mention any markings from the alleged bashing, and there was no mention of scars left by an operation to remove a brain tumour in the late-1990s.

Mr Burke, who is a senior forensic pathologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, declined to discuss the criticisms of his autopsy.

“Given that there is a coronial inquest, I think it would be inappropri- ate to comment,” he said.

ACCORDING to his report, Lee- Rogers was lying in his bed “in the fetal position holding a prescription of Prednisolone” — a powerful anti- inflammatory agent.

The only item of clothing men- tioned was a green tie, leading to suggestions he was naked.

However, the person who eventually found Lee-Rogers, a close family friend and former paramedic col- league, said he was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Around his neck was also a number of medallions, including a Green Berets badge, a St Christopher’s medal, and one showing the image of a wolf.

Mrs Leslight’s suspicions were further raised when the medals were returned to her with apologies for the fact bloodstains had not been removed.

Mrs Leslight is also unhappy with a reference made by the pathologist that Lee-Rogers “had a history of alcohol- ism and depression.” She rejects this and wants it withdrawn. “He was ostracised earlier in his life because he didn’t drink,” she said. “He was definitely not an alcoholic.”

Ms Mills said she had known him to drink during only two periods in their relationship — when he was diagnosed with the brain tumour and again during the alleged persecution by police. “It is simply wrong to claim he had a history of alcoholism,” she said.

Nobody knows for certain the exact day Lee-Rogers died. His mother became concerned in late September after repeated attempts to contact him failed. On her request, Ms Mills went to the flat on Saturday, September 28, Grand Final day. “His mother rang me to tell me she had this feeling that Gary was dead,” Ms Mills said. “I went around there on the Satur- day afternoon and bashed on the door, but there was no answer. “He was found on the following Tuesday (October 1). “Now I know he was probably already dead inside.”

She and Lee-Rogers had lived together for almost six years, but their relationship could not survive the pressure imposed upon it by the alleged campaign of persecution, she said. Whether the people behind that campaign were also responsible for his death remains a matter of conjecture — for now.