Roberts cleared over 1998 police murders

·3-min read

Jason Roberts is a free man after two decades in prison with a fresh jury finding him not guilty of murdering two Victoria policemen, in a verdict that's devastated the officers' families.

Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller were ambushed and killed in the early hours of August 16, 1998 while staking out armed robbery targets.

Bandali Debs is serving a life sentence for their murders.

Roberts, now 41, was convicted alongside Debs and jailed for a minimum 35 years in 2003.

But a new Supreme Court trial was ordered for Roberts after allegations of police wrongdoing were investigated by Victoria's anti-corruption watchdog.

Following months of evidence from dozens of witnesses and being locked away together to deliberate since Thursday, jurors returned their verdict on Monday.

Roberts was granted bail ahead of being sentenced on September 8 on armed robbery charges he had admitted committing with Debs at the start of the trial.

He did not comment as he left the court on Monday.

Neither did the families of Sgt Silk and Sen Const Miller, but they later issued a joint statement through the Victoria Police Association saying they are "absolutely devastated."

"What cannot be changed is that two young Victorian Police Officers - Gary Silk and Rod Miller - who were loved by their families and friends, were callously murdered on 16 August 1998. Their loss continues to leave a huge hole in our lives."

Justice Stephen Kaye said the trial was one of the hardest he had seen a jury consider, given the length, COVID-19 complications, density of evidence and burden of responsibility for each juror.

He gave each of them a lifetime exemption from jury duty.

Three appeal judges found long-undisclosed conduct by an officer had corrupted Roberts' initial trial.

Senior Constable Glen Pullin destroyed an original statement about the murders and substituted it with a backdated document, containing dying declarations of Sen Const Miller about a second offender.

He then lied about its existence in what the judges labelled a "gross and fundamental corruption of the trial process".

Among the evidence jurors considered was that of Roberts himself, who confessed that when police came for him, he lied to protect himself.

He told them he knew nothing about the murders and denied being involved in robberies with Debs.

"I knew what (Debs) had done and I didn't want to be dragged into it," he told jurors.

"I lied because Ben killed two police officers. That's not a small thing."

He said he got up during the night and saw Debs with a gun, listening to a police scanner and he detailed a "shootout" with the officers.

Roberts was 17 when he did the first robbery with Debs - getting involved while dating the four-time killer's daughter Nicole.

Debs gave evidence from prison at the trial, claiming Roberts was with him at the Silky Emperor and fired the first fatal shot at Sgt Silk when their car was pulled over in Moorabbin.

Debs rejected suggestions he was trying to minimise his own role and was labelled a "vile and evil person, a psychopath and liar" by Roberts' barrister David Hallowes.

Police colleagues also gave evidence, including Sergeant Helen Poke who said Sen Const Miller uttered "Get them, I'm f***ed, two offenders, one on foot, six foot, dark hair, checked shirt, dark Hyundai" as she cradled his head in her lap.

Sgt Silk died at the scene, Sen Const Miller died in hospital.

Following the verdict, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said verdict was disappointing.

"We put forward what I thought was a very substantial body of evidence and a very strong case and I don't think I can take the matter any further than that," he told reporters.

Victoria's Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said the verdict would bring enormous grief to the policing community.

"Losing not one but two of our members at work some 24 years ago is the worst thing you could ever imagine," he said outside court.

"To have a day like today, some 24 years later, is probably just only second to that."

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