According to author Bob Bottom in his book Without Fear or Favour, The NSW police had been carrying out illegal telephone surveillance of key crime figures from 1976 until 1983.

One of their targets was Robert Trimbole. Ostensibly used for "intelligence gathering purposes," the special unit of police listened in to hundreds of hours of conversations trying to glean sufficient information to use against their targets. On the May 5, 1981, when Trimbole's phone was tapped, one of the first conversations recorded was of him being tipped off about his pending arrest for conspiracy to murder Mackay. The caller was notorious Sydney drug figure, Dr. Nick Paltos. Trimbole talked of going overseas for up to two years. The final tip-off was recorded on May 5, 1981. Curiously the phone taps were ordered to be lifted the same day. Two days later Trimbole was out of the country having foiled customs checks by changing his birth date on a departure card. He boarded a flight to the United States, then to France and finally to Ireland. In June 1983, Lindsey Murdoch from The Age newspaper in Melbourne wrote an article about Trimbole's escape making particular mention of the fact the he was tipped off. He also made mention of Trimbole's involvement in race-fixing. At the time of the article Murdoch had been unaware of the phone taps but John Silvester from The Sun newspaper had access to copies of the tape transcripts and wrote his own story confirming that a tip-off had been made. Silvester also exposed a deal that Trimbole had done with corrupt officials to release a friend of his from prison early and supply him with travel documents so he could meet him at his overseas hideout.

The transcripts of the tapes were later published and became known as the "Age Tapes." Nick Paltos, the man who had warned Trimbole, was a leading drug baron and with two associates, Ross Karp and Graham Palmer, ran a drug syndicate known as the Lavender group. In October 1984, Paltos allegedly traveled overseas to organize a heroin shipment and also met with Trimbole in Ireland. A month later Trimbole was arrested in Ireland and held in custody awaiting extradition but, aided by a battery of high priced lawyers, Trimbole managed to avoid extradition after the Irish government refused to extradite him to Australia. He was released just weeks later. Despite their best efforts the Australian government could not overturn the Irish court's decision and Trimbole regained his freedom.

The Australian federal police later intercepted phone conversation between Paltos and an associate while they were discussing the failed extradition attempt and made mention of the large amounts of money that Trimbole had spent. Apparently the efforts to extradite Trimbole failed largely due to the efforts of British constitutional lawyer, Patrick MacEntree who had become famous for defending IRA freedom fighters. Robert Trimbole eventually escaped to Spain and died in a country villa in May 1987, while still in hiding. He was 56. The Sydney Morning Herald reported the news of his death noting that he had spent his last days hiding in an area well known for "harboring criminals and laundering money." In keeping with the way in which he lived, mourners at his Sydney funeral clashed with journalists. The footage of the ensuing brawl made the evening news on all channels.


Bob Bottom

Bob BOTTOM, OAM was educated at Marist Brothers College, Broken Hill but left school aged 15 to become a cadet journalist. Since then he has spent a lifetime investigating and reporting upon organised crime and corruption in Australia, and is the author of seven best-selling books on these topics. His report on organised crime in NSW (1978) was a landmark document of its kind. Since then he has participated in the setting up of the National Crime Authority (1983) and its more recent reformation into the Australian Crime Commission; the establishment of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (1988); and establishment of the Queensland Crime Commission (1998). Most recently he has assisted a Victoria Police Organised Crime Strategy group in tackling Melbourne's gangland warfare.

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Review CONNECTIONS - Bob Bottom
Karen Chisholm
Sunday, August 5, 2007
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