Years as a youth sitting in courts taught me that there are normally two sides to most crime stories, even the most sordid and sad ones. In that sense covering police rounds for Tassie and Melbourne Truth was a great teacher. I learned the wisdom of keeping “the presumption of innocence” until a verdict was finally delivered. Whether it was the high life or the low life on parade, there was rarely a case that turned out as straightforward as a police prosecutor’s initial summary.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma is not much of a one for believing people are innocent until proven guilty. Iemma was happy that his Aboriginal affairs minister Milton Orkopoulos was arrested, charged, sacked as a Minister and stripped of his ALP membership all on the one morning. The Premier had no time to listen to Orkopoulos’s denial of all the allegations and his promise to defend his reputation. There was scarcely time to pretend that he was not prejudging his former colleague before setting about helping to create a climate where it is guilt not innocence that is presumed.

Iemma went further by suggesting that if Orkopoulos did not resign immediately from the Parliament he will be expelled from it. This morning, with a gun to his heard, he tendered his resignation. If Iemma’s conduct does not signify a presumption of guilt I do not know what would.

Not that the Premier is the principal creator of the warming climate of guilt with its strong overtones of homophobia. The Daily Telegraph takes that prize. It did its best to paint Orkopoulos as some kind of serial homos-xual child molester with its story that:

Labor Party figures knew in 1997 that child s-x allegations had been levelled against disgraced MP Milton Orkopoulos but were dismissed by police. A Newcastle father told The Daily Telegraph yesterday he approached Hunter region MP John Mills almost ten years ago with claims Orkopoulos had interfered with his 15-year-old son. Just two years later, Orkopoulos was preselected as Labor’s candidate for the seat of Swansea.

Now I am not sure what impact stories like that (or for that matter the splan in Saturday’s Herald: “Fired minister ignored child sex complaint”) will have on a jury when the case finally comes to trial in 12 months or so. I do know that the law assumes there is a capacity for such stories to be prejudicial.

Perhaps the first case that the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery QC should consider mounting out of this investigation is against the editor of the Tele for the contempt he has shown for the administration of justice. Mr Cowdery should have a look at the same time whether there are grounds to put the Premier in the dock as well.

Now that would be a court case that an old Truth man would love to cover!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey