Malcolm Turnbull’s mentor Neville Wran is part of the murky chain leading back to the Luna Park ghost train cover up, writes ANDREW RULE.
Malcolm Turnbull’s mentor Neville Wran is part of the murky chain leading back to the Luna Park ghost train cover up, writes ANDREW RULE.

Neville Wran linked to ghost train tragedy

ANALYSIS

Has the cat got Malcolm Turnbull's tongue?

For someone who has always fancied the sound of his own voice, the reject prime minister is noticeably silent about his excruciating connection with those behind the fire that killed seven innocent people at Luna Park in Sydney in 1979.

The death of six children (and the father of two of them) is a blot on Australia's legal system. After decades as an open secret, it has been forensically dissected by the ABC documentary Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire.

The final searing episode went to air during the week, climaxing an overwhelming case to quash the evasive coronial finding made 40 years ago and call a fresh inquest.

The documentary shines a dazzling light in a dark place. But it can't help leaving a few gaps in the appalling tale of corruption at the highest level.

Some black holes are unavoidable because of one-sided Australian defamation laws exploited by the rich and powerful and their crooked cronies. But even a re-investigation this thorough has to draw a line.

Not every weasel can be chased down every burrow. Which brings us to Turnbull's close relationship with corrupt NSW premier Neville "Nifty" Wran.

Turnbull's silence on this has been deafening, given his barrage of "briefing" against his former colleagues since he lost office.

But even a master of political doublespeak can't disown the "father-son" relationship he has often described in warm terms.

It was Wran, rising political star, who landed young Turnbull his Rhodes scholarship.

Later, the wunderkind Turnbull returned the favour, managing Wran's financial affairs and acting as executor for the man he called his closest friend.

Turnbull has been hugely successful at everything he has tried apart from politics. He made his considerable fortune fair and square; there's no suggestion he needed help from Wran, Kerry Packer or anyone else.

But the Wran-Turnbull bond, innocent in itself, is one link in a short chain connecting gangsters to the highest offices in the land.

 

Malcolm Turnbull and Neville Wran.
Malcolm Turnbull and Neville Wran.

 

Wran was always close to the ruthless racketeer and bookmaker, Bill Waterhouse. After university, Wran moonlighted as a runner for Waterhouse at the races, where Sydney's gangsters rubbed shoulders with those running the state.

It was Waterhouse who urged Wran to promote the notoriously bent Sydney policeman, Bill Allen, to be a deputy commissioner above 16 more senior candidates. And it was Waterhouse who knew Abe Saffron through their shared bank manager in Darlinghurst.

Waterhouse's office was at Milsons Point near Luna Park, which was on leased Crown Land close to the Waterhouse family's Imperial Hotel. Another Milsons Point resident who coveted the fun park site was world-famous architect Harry Seidler, brother-in-law of Waterhouse's favourite defamation lawyer, the shifty Clive Evatt.

Waterhouse's son David says Seidler and Waterhouse were involved with a shadowy consortium backed by Saffron - and linked to Wran. Seidler was the natural choice to build a landmark harbour front tower on the site if and when the fun park was destroyed.

As Premier, Wran had also appointed himself Police Minister - a position that Bill Waterhouse told David "is really the Minister Corruption".

It was bent cop Bill Allen who collected weekly cash bribes from Waterhouse's illegal Potts Point casino, The Palace, to split with Wran.

The corrupt relationship between Allen and Wran is just one of the things linking the premier to Abe "Mr Sin" Saffron, whose web of relatives and cronies were intimately involved in plans to develop the Luna Park site.

 

Abe Saffron.
Abe Saffron.

 

Bill Waterhouse.
Bill Waterhouse.

 

Every bent cop in Sydney was "in the joke" with Saffron, who ran an empire of clubs, sex shows, brothels and gambling dens. Bill Allen was top of a queue of crooked cops that included Ray "Gunner" Kelly, Fred Krahe, Roger Rogerson - and Doug Knight.

It was Knight that Allen organised to take over the Luna Park case straight after the fire on the night of June 9, 1979. It was Knight the poker-faced liar who blamed the fire on an "electrical fault" within hours - well before any forensic work could possibly be done. Forensic work that was never done because the scene was cleared with indecent haste the same week.

It was Knight and Allen who sabotaged the investigation by ordering corrupt underlings to hide the fact a group of bikies at Luna Park were overheard talking about lighting kerosene. There were also witnesses who smelt kerosene and saw flames well away from the "faulty" wiring.

The links between murderous mobsters and the premier's office go higher than dirty cops. There's a dirty judge and a deviate prosecutor promoted to judge as a reward for running dead in a subsequent Police Tribunal hearing into Bill Allen's behaviour.

Wran's friend Justice Lionel Murphy, former federal Attorney-General and High Court judge, was compromised by Morgan Ryan, the underworld lawyer who did Saffron's dirty work through a network of police, political and judicial contacts.

It was Ryan that Murphy notoriously referred to as "my little mate" in requesting a highly-unethical favour from a magistrate.

Someone who knew Morgan Ryan well has told this reporter (and federal investigators) that Lional Murphy looked after Ryan because Ryan pandered to Murphy's sexual appetites. The source says Ryan boasted that he controlled Murphy because Saffron trafficked extremely young Filipino girls for Murphy to use for sex.

Ryan said he personally drove Murphy to Saffron-owned addresses and waited outside while Murphy had sex with the girls. But Murphy was not the only judicial figure compromised by Ryan for Saffron.

When Bill Allen was called before the NSW Police Tribunal two years after the fire, Ryan nobbled the prosecutor cross-examining Allen over his corrupt ties with Saffron, Waterhouse and Wran.

The prosecutor was Roger Maxwell Court QC, a bright barrister with a weakness for teenage boys. Saffron organised a young "rent boy" to lure Court to a hotel room equipped with two way mirrors and secret cameras.

 

A story reporting the fire’s cause.
A story reporting the fire’s cause.

 

Firemen sift through remains of the ride. Picture: Uwe Kuessner
Firemen sift through remains of the ride. Picture: Uwe Kuessner

 

Court was filmed in a way that would mean instant professional and social disgrace, if not prosecution. Ryan told him he could fix it merely by not asking Allen certain questions at the police tribunal.

Court agreed to run dead in the tribunal: the Luna Park fire was not pursued and Allen got to retire on a sergeant's salary. Court was later made a judge through Wran's influence and was on the bench until 1998. He died on July 8, 2005.

Tributes are hard to find for Roger Court. There are none at all for Murphy and Wran's evil little mate, Morgan Ryan.

Before he died in 2018, Ryan told his executor not to place prominent death notices or to hold a public funeral. His death was to be kept quiet. Otherwise, Ryan feared, the truth about him would be aired and bring further disgrace to his family.

As David Waterhouse said of the main players, "None of them live happily ever after". But Ryan did leave a $33 million harbourside house. And his estate has helped a charity devoted to prevention of child abuse.

Such as, you might suspect, the trafficking of teenage prostitutes.

 

Originally published as Turnbull 'father figure' linked to ghost train tragedy


One-stop shop for organic, natural, local products

Premium Content One-stop shop for organic, natural, local products

The new business is bringing together natural and organic products

How students in need can access free formalwear

Premium Content How students in need can access free formalwear

“All kids deserve to go to a formal”: How you can help this Northern Rivers...

Car surfing driver a 26-year-old woman, inquiries continue

Premium Content Car surfing driver a 26-year-old woman, inquiries continue

Inquiries continue into the car surfing incident on Monday. Locals are fed up with...