The confession elicited from Brett Peter Cowan by a covert WA policeman in a lavish Perth hotel room was crucial to yesterday’s conviction of the child murderer.
Using a tactic known as the “big boss” scenario, covert operative 483 convinced Cowan it did not matter what he had done, but there needed to be no trace which could cause trouble for the powerful crime gang.
The covert operative – known as Arnold to Cowan - said all he was looking for was “loyalty, respect and honesty” as Cowan guaranteed he “had nothing to do” with Daniel Morcombe’s disappearance.
But after Arnold spoke to him about contradictory information from a well-paid source and the need to keep the gang clean, Cowan sang like a canary.
“I never got to molest him. He panicked and I panicked and I grabbed him by the throat and before I knew it, he was dead,” Cowan was secretly recorded telling Arnold.
The confession – which detailed how and where the 13-year-old died – was the culmination of an elaborate four-month police sting involving officers posing as a brothel madam, prostitute, corrupt police and crooked court, customs and port officials.
The sophisticated ruse saw the undercover operatives act out at least 24 scenarios across Perth and regional WA with the aim of building a rapport with Cowan and ultimately convincing him the gang could make any problem disappear.
The details of the operation were the subject of a suppression application, but Judge Roslyn Atkinson allowed the secretive tactics to be reported due to the strong public interest in the case.
It is understood the decision has angered police in WA and around the country, prompting concerns criminals will now be wise to their tactics and a highly effective investigative tool will be rendered all but useless.
The “big boss” scenario was developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the early 1990s as a way to crack cold cases.
Since then, more than 100 Canadian killers have been jailed after confessing their crimes to people they believed were bosses of a criminal gang they had hoped to join.
But the covert tactics have attracted plenty of critics.
Police in the United States and England do not use the sting because courts there consider it entrapment. And in some Canadian cases, killers have later been released on appeal after it was proved they made up their confessions.
Lawyers argued their clients felt intimidated, or believed they were going to lose out financially if they didn’t tell the “Big Boss” what he wanted to hear.
Victoria Police are understood to have used the sting more than 20 times, but like WA police, they refused to be interviewed on the subject.
Deputy Police Commissioner Chris Dawson yesterday declined to comment on whether police had concerns about criminals being alerted to police tactics.
“I wish to acknowledge that it was a very skilful operation but I’m not going to comment or elaborate on the nature of what they did,” he said.
Mr Dawson said WA Police had played a valuable role in the police investigation which led to Cowan’s conviction.
“I think it is important to publicly acknowledge there were dozens of West Australian police who worked tirelessly under very stressful conditions for many, many months and their contribution to this, in support of our partners in Queensland police, was very important in the investigation outcome that we’ve seen today,” he said.
“Obviously we are proud of our officers and the work they performed. It’s a good example of both jurisdictions working cooperatively together.
“It is a very good example of, in the pursuit of justice, that Police officers working with partner agencies, will not give up and we will work as hard as we can to support the loved ones in their grief and importantly, to bring people to justice.”