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Insights into gangland world

Briefs

Co-author of Underbelly, John Silvester, has a chilling description for Melbourne’s gangland murders.

“We ended up with a deadly game of musical chairs. Whenever the music stopped, someone got shot,” he told the LIV President’s Leadership Lunch.

Mr Silvester, a senior writer at The Age, co-authored the book behind the controversial TV criminal drama, Underbelly, which was suppressed by a court order from being shown by Channel 9 in Victoria while a trial was underway. [See “Underbelly gutted”, July 2008 LIJ cover story, for more on the suppression order.]

Mr Silvester shared his insights on the notorious gangland war with about 280 people who attended the lunch at the RACV Club on 4 July.

Between 1998 and 2006, more than 30 people were killed in Victoria as a result of the “gangland wars” – deaths that related to various feuds between elements of Melbourne’s organised crime underworld.

Some of the murders remain unresolved, and others are subject to criminal proceedings in which charges have been laid but which have not yet gone to trial.

Mr Silvester said some of the key players of the gangland war were enjoying celebrity status, hiring agents and loving the notoriety.

He said there were times when the media was complicit in their celebrity status, and had had its judgment clouded by its infatuation with them.

Mr Silvester told the lunch that some important lessons had been learned.

“If you give police investigators the proper resources, they don’t have to break the law or beat people up and they can do it [their job],” he said.

He said while “quite clearly the justice system was too slow” this had been a resourcing issue and the judges were not to blame.

Overall, Victoria’s court system had coped with the enormous stress and the jury system had proved “robust” and to be the best system in the world, he said.

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