Andrew Clennell, Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 4, 2006
Police were ordered not to approach convoys of men of Middle Eastern appearance who were heading towards beachside suburbs to take revenge for the Cronulla riots.
Police confirmed last night that the commander of their operations centre gave the order at 10.45pm on December 11 — but no recording of it had been made because of a technical failure.
However, Assistant Commissioner Bob Waites told the Herald that a log entry of the commander’s order was kept, revealing that he said: “Cars of Middle Eastern persons are not to be approached, just advise . . . registration number and location.”
The revelation follows Opposition claims that police are “soft on ethnic crime” and that they failed to act quickly enough to stop revenge attacks after the Cronulla riots on December 11, when mobs attacked men of Middle Eastern background.
Before the commander’s radio order that night police made an operational decision not to disperse a crowd of Middle Eastern men who gathered in Punchbowl Park, so as not to antagonise them.
The Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, said yesterday that not only did the missing police radio communications include car registration numbers reported by police, but also “the instruction not to stop those cars”.
Mr Waites confirmed this. Asked why such an order might have been issued, he replied: “They weren’t committing any offences at the time [they were in convoy] and it was about making sure they recorded [the details] so they have all the information.”
Mr Waites said he could not name the commander who gave the order. A technical failure meant that two of nine police radio channels were not recorded on the nights of December 11 and 12, when revenge attacks occurred. The digital recording system had been installed for the Olympics, and its only known failure had been on these two nights.
There was a “switching” failure involving the two channels, but the exact cause had not been pinpointed. “It’s never happened before . . . I don’t want it to happen again,” Mr Waites said.
Although some men of Middle Eastern appearance were held on December 11, after windscreens were smashed and people terrorised, no charges were laid against alleged revenge attackers until last week, other than two arrested for burning an Australian flag in Brighton-le-Sands.
Police said last night that the radio glitch was not a major problem. While car registration numbers of possible revenge attackers were not on tape, phone operators had taken them down by hand. They had 200 registration numbers from the nights of December 11 and 12, and none had been lost.
The head of Strike Force Enoggera, Superintendent Ken McKay, said he was sick of the investigation into the revenge attacks being politicised and he promised there would be arrests.
“We are investigating a large number of crimes that occurred on this night and I’m quite confident, having around 200 car numbers . . . A lot has been made of issues that aren’t issues.”
Police were forced into damage control yesterday after the 2GB broadcaster Ray Hadley raised accusations that police tapes had been “lost”.
Mr Debnam called for an investigation. “It will be a critical issue over the next few months to find out exactly why that instruction was issued . . . no doubt there’ll be another scapegoat, but I think the Government’s getting to the point where the next scapegoat will be [the Police Minister, Carl] Scully.”