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NCA Bombing – A Mafia Murder?

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Adelaide writer Michael Madigan is the author of a forthcoming book on the NCA Bombing to be published in September 2012, to be entitled 'The NCA Bombing – A Mafia murder?'

March 2, 1994 will forever be marked as a watershed in the history of Australian crime. The murder of a police officer is a rarity in itself but the ruthless, targeted killing of Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen, and the alleged involvement of Australian/Italian Mafia makes it one of the most significant crimes in Australia’s history.

Sergeant Bowen was brutally murdered. Remarkably, a parcel bomb addressed to him slipped through the security net of the Adelaide office of the National Crime Authority (NCA).

Bowen was a senior investigator with the NCA and was exclusively involved with Operation Cerberus; the investigation into Italian organised crime in Australia. An important part of his team’s brief was to report back to a Federal Government parliamentary committee, to answer a simple question, “Does the Mafia exist in Australia, and if so, indicate to what extent.” Bowen was certain that there was widespread Mafia presence in Australia, and was quickly learning the extent of its complex organisational web.

His main focus was on the secretive Italian crime syndicate, ‘Ndrangheta, whose origins formed in the heart of the Province of Reggio Calabria. ‘Ndrangheta’s epicentre is centred on two small villages Plati, which is often described as the ‘heart of ‘Ndrangheta’, and San Luca, the ‘soul’ or the ‘cradle’. Plati once had the dubious title of, “Kidnap Capital”. The local criminals specialised in kidnapping family members of wealthy, northern Italian industrialists, and holding them in secreted caves in the mountains that shadow Plati. Proceeds from the ransoms were reportedly sent to Australia and ‘invested’ in the lucrative business of cultivating marijuana.

In August 1993, a huge marijuana crop (15,000 plants) in the Northern Territory was discovered following a “multi-force agency” investigation by authorities in Australia and Europe. Police described the extent of criminality involved with the crop as probably Australia’s “most complex”. The eleven men who were charged were mostly of Calabrian descent. Bowen took control of the investigation and concluded that Domenic Perre was the financier and organiser of the crop. A raid was made on Perre’s home and subsequently a charge was laid by Bowen against Perre for possession of an illegal listening advice. The court date for the charge was set for March 3, 1994.

Within seven days of the fatal explosion, Domenic Perre was arrested for the murder of Bowen and the attempted murder of Peter Wallis, an NCA lawyer who was seriously hurt in the blast. Police believed they had sufficient evidence for a conviction based on forensic evidence and statements from Allan Chamberlain, an acquaintance of Perre. Chamberlain revealed to police that Perre had given him detonators and bomb making magazines to hide for him.

A week before his trial on September 9, 1994 - South Australians were stunned when the Director of Public Prosecutions, Paul Rofe QC, decided to drop the charges against Domenic Perre, via a “notice of intention” (nolle prosequi), lodged with the Supreme Court.

Operation Zoom was instigated and two undercover operatives came to Adelaide to infiltrate Perre’s team. During this operation the covert officers recorded Perre making statements regarding the bombing. Perre was recorded describing Sergeant Bowen as, “A piece of shit”.

Perre: "It’s just that I had something to do with him before when he came in and trashed my place and arrested me, but I wouldn’t know one from the other, you know ... because what they had done, believe me, I was upset. Sure I wasn’t fucking happy ... down the track they fucking annoyed me so much that I wish I had fucking done and taken out the whole fucking building, you know ... fuck them. The fucking bomb, I dream about it.”

Police raided the drug lab and Perre and three of his associates were arrested. After 12 months in remand, Perre pleaded guilty to charges that he was the architect and financier of the drug lab.

In April 1999 Coroner Chivell led an inquiry into the death of Geoffrey Bowen. Over 50 witnesses were called before the court. Coroner Chivell shocked most observers with his summary.

Chivell: “In my opinion, however, the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the evidence is that Domenic Perre was responsible, in the sense that he constructed the bomb, and either posted it or arranged for someone else to post it on his behalf to Detective Sergeant Bowen.”

Most observers thought that the bold statements by the Coroner would lead to the arrest of Perre however the Department of Public Prosecution released a statement stating that they believed there was still insufficient evidence against anyone.

Did HE do it?

When I began the research for this book, I was confident that I would be able to produce enough information for the reader to confirm my belief that Domenic Perre was the perpetrator behind the bombing in 1994. The more facts I dug out of the Coroners Court files the more clouded my views became, but I kept digging; trying to find the elusive ‘smoking gun’. Plenty of guns were found; some were warm but none of them smoking. I spent countless hours trawling through the 4,000 pages of transcripts and witness statements.

Sitting in the reading room of the Coroners Court I have often felt both anger at this senseless crime and immense sadness for Geoffrey Bowen’s family, still grieving. At times, when I rested my eyes from reading, I would be distracted by a small metal stand in the corner of the room, which displayed an arrangement of pamphlets for visitors to read. Most were about coping with the loss of a loved one, from either suicide or murder. I contemplated on how many people have sat in this small room being consoled, shedding tears and trying to come to terms with the death of a loved one. Mourners lasting question is always – why? What reason could provoke such a hideous crime as Geoffrey Bowen’s murder? This was not an act of spontaneous violence in a moment of rage. The plan was meticulous. The weapon was absurdly brutal, and the result was so devastatingly evil. As a nation, why haven’t we maintained the rage? Why have we let this crime linger in the ether?

There have been two police reviews of this case, and on both occasions, no new evidence that could convict anyone has come to light, although there was talk that the last review uncovered a strong brief, but was rejected as “not strong enough” by the DPP. The SAPOL media message is that “the case is still open”. In 2008, after the last review failed to uncover any new evidence, Jane Bowen-Sutton spoke openly of the on-going investigation, “I always say that it is solved, but unresolved. I believe we know who is responsible, but sadly at this stage, he will not get what is coming to him.”

Did HE do it? Almost everyone who knew I was writing this book would ask me this question. “Who’s HE” I would reply. Of course, their questions were posed at Domenic Perre.

I believe that the Inquest summary from Coroner Chivell makes a compelling argument that Perre was indeed the killer of Bowen. However, a favourite saying of mine from Carl Jung reminds me of our human limitations. “Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.”

So what happens now to arguably Australia’s most important unsolved crime? There is a million reward for information leading to a conviction in Geoffrey Bowen’s murder. I wrote to the S.A.
Police Minister, Jennifer Rankin, suggesting the figure be lifted to $5million, to entice a breakthrough in information. Ms Rankin, after consulting SAPOL, rejected this idea.

Geoffrey Leigh Bowen was a public servant who knew the dangers of his work but did it anyway. In Adelaide, we remember him by a somewhat camouflaged and unkempt small metal plaque on the footpath outside the building where he died. Thousands of Adelaide pedestrians pass it every week without a glance. In stark contrast, as you enter the town of Plati, the small Calabrian village that gave birth to the ‘Ndrangheta mafia clan, there is a large monument of a fallen police officer. Geoffrey Bowen deserves more.

And as for ‘Ndrangheta in Australia – as recently as June 2012 – an Italian prosecutor, Ms De Simone warned Australia of its danger.

“The 'Ndrangheta is the organisation that runs the international cocaine market. It doesn't do its business in Calabria but around the world. It has infiltrated all economic sectors and it controls voting and political candidates at a national and international level. I urge the Australians not to underestimate this organisation. Otherwise it will be too late.”