The Australian Football League and Victoria Police were sharing covert criminal information well before they hatched a secret cooperation deal in 2009, according to former Herald Sun editor-in-chief Bruce Guthrie.
In Guthrie’s tell-all book Man Bites Murdoch: Four Decades in Print, Six Days in Court, the media heavy hitter details an exchange between league boss Andrew Demetriou and then-police chief Christine Nixon on August 29, 2007 in which Nixon wrongly told Demetriou that Herald Sun football scribe Sam Edmund was the police source on a page-one splash detailing drug dealing at an AFL club.
In his book, Guthrie reveals then-Herald & Weekly Times managing director Julian Clarke had exchanged words with Demetriou on the day the story appeared:
Around 11:30 on the morning of publication, Clarke was on the phone to me again. He had had a conversation with AFL boss Andrew Demetriou who, according to Clarke, questioned the veracity of Edmund’s report.
‘What did we get wrong?’ I asked my managing director.
‘Andrew reckons your reporter was also the police informant,’ he replied.
This wasn’t my understanding and I told the managing director that. I asked Clarke who had told Demetriou our reporter was the informant.
His answer astounded me: ‘According to Demetriou, it was Christine Nixon.’
What the hell was the police commissioner doing sharing details of a drug investigation with third parties outside the force?”
Guthrie says Edmund — who was not the informant — was “exposed to all sorts of dangers” as a result of being wrongly fingered.
Yesterday, AAP revealed the full extent of the formal seven-page tie-up between Victoria Police and the AFL, signed two years later on August 20, 2009, that required police to consult the league before commenting on investigations and allowed the AFL to conduct their own probes into a litany of crimes, including the drug trafficking exposed by Edmund.
The memorandum, which has since expired, is currently being investigated by the federal privacy commissioner. This morning, Nixon’s successor, Simon Overland, admitted it was “not well worded”.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the AFL, Patrick Keane, flatly denied Guthrie’s account: “The alleged conversation between Christine Nixon and Andrew Demetriou never took place. The assertion in the book isn’t correct.”
Nixon, speaking through the Victoria Police media unit, said “no conversation took place” on the date alleged by Guthrie.
The Demetriou call was far from the first time Nixon had intervened to hose down negative coverage. Elsewhere, Guthrie reveals a sustained pattern of intervention by the former police chief during his 21-month stint in the editor’s chair. In April 2008, Nixon went on the offensive over a Herald Sun front page that polled 3000 officers on conditions in the force:
“When the first story of our three-part series appeared under the headline ‘Poll: Police Face Crisis’, Nixon moved into high gear, attacked the paper and complaining upstairs to management, before hitting the airwaves, long and loud.”
HWT managing director Peter Blunden, who sits on the The Alannah and Madeline Foundation board with Nixon, then confronted Guthrie, “his hands flapping like mad and angry birds”: “Nixon’s rung and she’s not happy; in fact, she’s furious.”
Nixon also allegedly intervened in the weeks before Guthrie’s sacking in November 2008, discussing the infamous Beverly Hills Cop front page with HWT chairwoman and Rupert Murdoch’s sister Janet Calvert-Jones. Blunden allegedly told Guthrie that Calvert-Jones “wasn’t happy” about the story revealing her good friend’s Qantas junket, and that a “third party had got involved.”
In the days leading up to Guthrie’s unfair dismissal trial in May, the Herald Sun ran several front-page splashes pillorying Nixon for her pub lunch on Black Saturday. At the time, Crikey received an anonymous tip claiming the paper had deliberately targeted Nixon to defuse Guthrie’s Calvert-Jones argument in court.
Guthrie told Crikey this morning he stood by his account of his dealings with Nixon published in the book.