Before giving evidence at the Whiskey Au Go Go inquest, disgraced detective Roger Rogerson stumbled saying he would tell ‘anything but the truth’.
And when Rogerson was finally sworn in, his lawyer said the convicted killer wouldn’t answer any questions about the 1973 nightclub firebombing on the grounds that it might incriminate him.
But after coroner Terry Ryan compelled him to testify “in the public interest”, Rogerson didn’t give much, sometimes complaining of poor memory, hearing and poor videolink reception for three grueling hours of interrogation on Friday.
Seen arriving using a walker in the jail greens on the Long Bay Correctional Complex Link, the 81-year-old dismissed investigative evidence that he had threatened to halt an operation to whiskey heroin before the bombing and denied that police had ‘verbalized’ James Finch to get a confession.
Finch and John Stuart were arrested less than a week after the Whiskey fire and convicted of murder the same year.
Rogerson gave evidence at the inquest’s third session in Brisbane as the only surviving person to sign a confession made by Finch days after the attack at the Fortitude Valley site.
Former ACT attorney general Bernard Collaery told the inquest this week that the Sydney underworld was “jealous” of Whiskey’s heroin operation and that Rogerson and another notorious police officer from New South Wales, Fred Krahe, had threatened the place before the firebombing.
As a special investigator for the Department of Immigration, Mr Collaery said he warned Queensland police that the whiskey would be set on fire.
But asked about the evidence on Friday, Rogerson said the first time he heard of the whiskey was when he was told to pack up and fly to help investigate the fire.
“Fred who? What were we supposed to have done? he said after complaining of a “fuzzy noise coming from the speaker”.
“Fred was a grumpy old bugger. Fred despised someone like me – I never had any association with him.
“I had nothing to do with Fred Krahe and I had nothing to do with Whiskey Au Go Go – that’s it in a nutshell.”
When attorney Chris Minnery suggested this wasn’t the first time someone had suggested Rogerson was involved in protecting criminals linked to the heroin trade, the ex-detective said: ‘I’m asking you sorry – that’s not true.
“I never protected heroin dealers. I hated heroin dealers.”
Rogerson was called to testify after Ryan was told at the inquest that the former officer would be able to testify directly about the events of March 11, 1973, when Finch was interviewed days after the fire.
Rogerson said he was involved in the NSW Whiskey investigation because of his understanding of possible links to Sydney-based criminals and was there as an “observer”.
Rogerson could not recall the details of Finch’s confession and had not read his own 1973 statement about it in the “donkey years”.
When he read his statement, Rogerson agreed that he heard Finch say in another room “kill me, kill me, why did you catch me?” as well as “loud noises” before the interview.
But he dismissed Mr Minnery’s suggestion that Finch’s confession was the result of a police ‘verbalisation’.
“It was definitely not a verbal one. It was a real confession,” he said.
Rogerson said Finch was only involved in the whiskey fire once police spotted him with Stuart, who he described as a “delusional ratbag and a complete rat”.
Australian Associated Press