Big Brother in the Queensland Police Force

The whole country was trapped in a lie … We were the only truthtellers, as far as we could see. It seldom occurred to us to be afraid. We were sheathed in the fact of our position. It was partly our naiveté which allowed us to leap into this position of freedom, the freedom of absolute right action.” – Casey Hayden, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Barry Krosch worked in the Special Branch for nine years before being seconded to help with the Fitzgerald Inquiry in the late 80s. Maybe they got Krosch to turn on the Bagman? But what was his reward? Krosch has been awarded a PhD on the subject of the Qld Special Branch but his thesis is impounded (no one can get access).

Krosch was on hand when Brisbane’s Bellevue Hotel was torn down under the cover of darkness in 1979. Krosch (pictured) arrested people engaged in women’s rights protests in 1980.

Special Branch Detective Krosch arrests Toni Hubbard at an Women’s Abortion Rights Demonstration outside parliament in 1980.

Krosch was on stand-by when Civil Liberties lawyer, Terry O’Gorman, was arrested at the gates of parliament. He claims he took no part in the arrest.

The Brisbane Courier Mail article that appeared the following day (30 April 1980) had this to say:

“When the woman was arrested, Labor MP for Chatsworth, Terry Mackenroth, asked police what was the charge. The police refused to tell him. He told them she was a ‘guest’ of his and asked for her to be freed. Mr Mackenroth claimed that he was brushed aside by police and told the woman was under arrest. Mr Mackenroth said later that the arrest was evidence that police had tried to provoke violence.”

Ten years ago O’Gorman told Brisbane Times that the Special Branch was a “thoroughly insidious organisation” that kept files on some students who never committed any violence, hindering their public sector job prospects.

Lies, Lane and Qld Special Branch
Don Lane wrote in a memoir, Trial and Error about his days as a special branch officer and later as a Minister of the crown. One passage described a protest (pictured) outside the US consulate on 1st July 1966 which he dated incorrectly as occurring in April.

Don Lane wrote: “In April 1966 (sic), police faced a new tactic from demonstrators outside the Brisbane US Consul’s office when they staged their first “sit-in” during a protest against US bombing raids over North Vietnam. Once again detectives from all squads, including even the Consorting Squad, were involved in dealing with an issue that belonged in the hands of uniformed and traffic police.”

Image from ‘Trial & Error’: Don ‘Shady’ Lane (cop at centre) arrests Mike Parr outside the US consulate in the Prudential Building in Queen Street in Brisbane on 1 July 1966. Photo: original source unknown.

“By now, the media had woken to the fact that police handling of demonstrators was not co-ordinated or disciplined, while the demonstrators were quick to take advantage of the situation. The immediate reaction of police was to handle demonstrators in the way they would handle criminals, and obviously this was difficult when dealing with a mob.”

“In this period I was served with a notice claiming I had assaulted a demonstrator during the course of protest. Other police received similar notices and it was clear that a strategy had been developed by the organisers to put pressure on the police through claiming assault. In my case the alleged “assault” (the action against me did not proceed) involved placing a demonstrator in a police car for transport back to the watchhouse and indicated the sloppy way in which we handled demonstrators in those days.”

“It was sometime before police got the equipment and transport facilities to deal with street marchers and demonstrators. In many respects, our learning curve was not as sharp as that of the demonstrators. – excerpt pages 57 and 58 “Trial and Error” a memoir by Don Lane  (Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, Qld., 1993)

Even though there is a smile on Don Lane’s face in the photo, that doesn’t mean he is not being violent. During this era, plainclothes detectives were as close to criminals as you will get. Especially when consorting squad were involved in getting kickbacks from brothel and escort agencies. Police may have been involved in a murder of a woman (Shirley Brifman) caught up in the game at the National Hotel down the road.

Phil O’Brien a wharfie and returned soldier wrote about Lane in his book Towards Peace a workers journey:

A friend of mine, Heck Chalmers, ex POW in Singapore and department head of a leading Brisbane insurance company, was arrested. He was later fined for assaulting special branch detective, Don Lane (later disgraced National Party MLA who earned the nickname Shady Lane). When I had last seen Heck, Don Lane had a head lock on him. [A standard police practice at demonstrations was to charge a person they had assaulted with ‘assault police’]. Anyone who knew Heck knew him to be a quiet and gentle person. Bad luck continued for the family: during the anti–Ky demonstration Heck’s wife, Norma, (secretary of the Queensland Peace Committee) had her ankle broken amid the melee of police and demonstrators.

On January 19, 2017 Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced that she has asked the state coroner to make further inquiries into Brifman’s death “in the interest of justice”.

“The coroner will, upon making those inquiries, be in the position to determine whether an inquest should be held,” Ms D’ath said.


The Special Branch was used in an overt political manner by the Bjelke-Petersen government,” O’Gorman says.

It was not a police unit that in fact looked at the prospect of political violence; rather it was used to ruin the careers of young students who did nothing worse than protest against many of the policies of the then Bjelke-Petersen government.

Much loved Aboriginal activist Sam Watson helped establish indigenous community organisations and the Black Panther party which were monitored by the Special Branch.

Don ‘Shady’ Lane – special branch officer and Minister for Transport in Bjelke-Petersen government convicted and jailed for mis-use of ministerial expenses.

They raided our place every couple of weeks,” Watson said

In 1970, we were running a very active anti-Vietnam campaign with regular rallies and marches and protest meetings; the Special Branch were always there in the background.” Perhaps in response to Sam Watson’s critique, the special branch made up a story that they orchestrated who would be arrested at rallies with agreement from aboriginal leaders. This is a lie.

Watson did say that officers tried to infiltrate some of the leadership groups.

Special Branch officer, Mick Vernardos (at right), in KGSq in 1977

“There were clandestine officers dressed in hippy gear,” he recalled.

Then head of Special Branch, Les Hogan, could be seen at demonstrations in the late 1970s pointing out to uniform and plainclothes police the people he wanted arrested in King George Square.

Special Branch targeted SEQEB workers fighting for their jobs after the Bjelke-Petersen government sacked 1,003 linesmen and cable jointers in 1985.

Bischof’s Legacy

In 1959, the government named Police Commissioner Francis Erich “Frank” Queensland’s first ‘Father of the Year‘, though he was childless. He often conducted counselling sessions for young people on Saturday mornings in his office and in 1963 arranged for the formation of the Juvenile Aid Bureau under a senior constable (Sir) Terence Lewis who was to become commissioner and later jailed for corruption.

Police Commissioner “Frank” Bischof

In the 1960s disquiet arose over police zeal in controlling street demonstrations. In October 1963 Colin Bennett (Member for Brisbane South) alleged that Bischof and other police frequented, encouraged and condoned a call-girl service in the National Hotel in Queens Street, Brisbane. This led to a royal commission (1963-64) into the police force.

The Royal Commission’s terms of reference were very tight. For example, the government did not require the commission to consider the policing of prostitution, or to examine corruption in relation to members of the licensing branch and the consorting squad who were suspected of running prostitution and drugs in Brisbane CBD and Fortitude Valley.

In 1972, while working as a taxi driver, I picked up a fare on St Paul’s Terrace late one night. It was a very frightened young woman of about 19 years who had been plied with alcohol in a nearby hotel in an attempt to get her to prostitute herself. I drove her home to Brisbane’s backlocks in a very poor neighbourhood. She was desperately afraid of what police might do (as was I).

At that time police ran a protection racquet among SP bookmakers. My girlfriend’s dad was a bookmaker at Albion Park and Archerfield trots. On Sundays his wife ran a SP book on the side. Police would come around and take a cut of his winnings. This was widespread practice yet he was the only bookmaker named in the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police corruption. There was no mention of the large amounts taken by police. Did Krosch unveil this well known practice?

In 1971, Shirley Brifman was killed after she admitted to perjury in her evidence before the Royal Commission. Her death cut short any attempt at further investigation. Both police and royal commissioner Gibbs must have been relieved.

“The existence and extent of the network (of corruption) became public only when G. E. Fitzgerald’s commission of inquiry into possible illegal activities and associated police misconduct (1987-1989) began gathering evidence. This commission revealed that ‘certain police were said to enjoy Bischof’s favour, and to be his ”bag-men“‘, and that they collected protection payoffs. As Fitzgerald observed, ‘in some respects police corruption had acquired a quaint quasi-legitimacy by the Bischof era“. – Biography of Bischof, Francis Erich (Frank) (1904–1979) by W. Ross Johnston.

Who does Special Branch work now?
Does the Crime and Corruption Commission keep an eye on who does this work of prying into our lives?

Plain clothed Special Branch police were as close as you could get to real criminals and thugs in Queensland’s political history. At least one special branch officer was involved in illegal gambling. Another, “Shady” Lane became a corrupt MP and Minister in Bjeleke-Petersen government and was jailed.

In the early 1990s I wrote to Terry MacKenroth, then Police Minister, to seek redress for the lives that Special Branch had tried to destroy. The Minister wrote back that we could not get access to the files saying that our files had been destroyed. Apparently no further redress was needed.

The Special Branch were involved in my own arrest on a number of occasions. For example, I was arrested at a street march from Griffith University on 31 March 1978. Special Branch (pictured) aided police from the CIB to make my arrest (pictured).

Qld Special Branch conferring with CIB and Police Information Officer Ian Hatcher. Griffith University 31 March 1978

Many of the special branch files are held in Qld State archives as revealed by people who have gained access and by court actions taken by Dr Carole Ferrier when she was denied access. Many hundreds or thousands of files were also sent to ASIO.

In 1996 when Dr Carole Ferrier tried to access her special branch file she was denied access under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. This denial of access was upheld on appeal. [See Ferrier and Queensland Police Service [1996]].

As for Krosch, he wrote to me saying: “

I am very lucky as I have some very rare material.” He signed off with “Take care”. That warning rings out across the years.

To the thousands who were involved in the street marches they bring back memories of thinly veiled threats so often spoken to ordinary people by special branch officers in those dark years.

That’s Special Branch Det Barry Krosch with his back to the camera (louped with white shirt, short hair)

If the government didn’t destroy the files, so who does the work of ‘Big Brother’ now? It can’t be Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) because we aren’t criminal, are we? Oh, by the way, I was acquitted by a jury of the charges brought against me by the CIB with the aid of special branch. It took me over a year to win that case. But they locked me up on three occasions before I was acquitted.

Ian Curr
10 Nov 2020