Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Terror Attack in Toorak by Tamara Heath

The 1986 Turkish consulate bombing sent Victoria Police investigators into overdrive as they worked around the clock to find out who was responsible. By Tamara Heath

Crime scene: Insp Wayne Rotherham revisits the scene of the Turkish consulate bombing 20 years later.

It was early morning on Monday, 24 November, 1986 and Inspector Wayne Rotherham was asleep when his telephone rang. There had been an explosion at 44 Caroline Street, Toorak at 2.16am and, as a then detective senior constable with the Major Crime Squad (MCS), he was needed immediately.

"I had just finished another big job and was trying to get some rest when I was called out," Insp Rotherham, now working with the State Emergency Response Office, said. "When I arrived, myself and several other members were instructed to wait in our cars because the Special Operations Group were still going through the scene and it wasn't yet secure. "While sitting in our cars at the perimeter of the scene, senior police met and decided that a taskforce would be set up to investigate." Initially Taskforce Caroline investigators, comprising members of the MCS and Armed Offenders and Arson squads, had little to go on.

What they did know was that there had been a large explosion in the car park beneath the building, which housed the Turkish consulate, and that at least one person had been killed. The surrounding area was littered with debris that would take days to sift through. "We were conscious that time was critical," Insp Rotherham said.

"We needed time to collect evidence but we didn't have time to wait. "So, over the next few days, we were required to make a number of educated guesses" One of the taskforce's first steps was to attend a briefing by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

ASIO was critical in providing the Armenian link” Insp Rotherham said. They said it was likely that the consulate had been targeted by Armenian terrorists as part of ongoing protests against alleged acts of genocide by the Turkish government in the early 1900s. "They also told us that Armenian surnames mostly finish in "ian". "It was after that briefing that we began to look at the bombing as an act of terrorism." A wallet containing a return Ansett bus ticket to Sydney in the name of Jacobsen was one of the first significant items recovered from the scene.

The ticket told investigators that the bomber had most likely arrived in Melbourne by bus and was planning to return. A check of the bus confirmed the empty seat, as well as the suspicion that the bomb had been detonated before planned. At the same time, a numberplate recovered from the scene was traced to a white Torana owned by a Heidelberg couple.

'He couple told investigators they had recently sold it but did not get the name of the male buyer. However, neighbours told police that a "new looking" red Commodore was parked outside the couple's house at the time. Believing it might be a hire car, the records of hire companies around the Ansett bus depot were searched. Investigators soon discovered that a red Commodore had been hired by a male with an “ian” surname - Levon Demirian. The Sydney resident had links with an Armenian terrorist group and quickly became the focus of police efforts. "Over the next few days we hardly slept and travelled to Sydney several times," Insp Rotherham said.

"We knew Demirian was leaving for Beirut with his family on the Wednesday after the bombing so we didn't have a lot of time. "And we still hadn't even established the identity of the deceased person at this stage, although it was believed to be Demirian's associate Hagop Levonian."

Running out of time and needing to act quickly, investigators raided Demirian's home, business and other locations early on Wednesday morning and took Demirian in for questioning. Hotel and meal receipts and other items seized in the raids enabled investigators to connect Demirian to the bombing.

The case against Demirian was clinched by an eight-year-old boy who saw the red Commodore pull up behind the Torana and two men transfer something into the Torana's boot on the night of the bombing. The numberplate the boy remembered matched the one found at the scene.

Meanwhile, Levonian was eventually identified two weeks after the bombing, using a fragment of skin found at the scene. Warrnambool Crime Scene Unit's Peter Pangrazio, a fingerprint expert, was one of many police who searched the scene for evidence. He was particularly looking for fragments of friction ridge skin - the unique skin on the palms of hands and soles of feet.
Ink prints were taken of a skin fragment, about the size of a five-cent coin, found at the scene and then carefully compared to developed prints on books, raffle tickets, letters and invoices seized from Levonian's Sydney home. It was an invoice book that held the vital clue, a palm print from where Levonian held a page down while writing an invoice was a match.

Sgt Pangrazio, then working with the Fingerprint Branch, spent more than two weeks searching for the match and remembers feeling a sense of relief. "We were very fortunate that it was the type of book that required him to hold the pages down quite firmly with his left hand while he was writing because it meant we got a good impression," he said. Demirian faced court in April 1987 charged with murder and conspiracy. After a 13-day trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years with a 10-year minimum. The murder conviction was quashed after a subsequent full Supreme Court appeal. He served 10 years.

“It was the kind of case you never forget” Sgt Pangrazio said. "It was high profile at the time and in the mid 80s you didn't come across a lot of that type of investigation." Insp Rotherham, agreed, saying the bombing came at a time when "the world seemed to be going mad and everything was becoming more complicated". "It really made police look at the way they operated in relation to terrorism," he said. "Terrorism charges didn't even exist at the time, which is why Demirian faced existing criminal charges."

The case also had a personal impact, with Insp Rotherham changing his career path and moving into the counter-terrorism field. "During the investigation we blew up a similar bomb at Puckapunyal. It was an absolutely massive explosion. “I just kept thinking about how lucky it was that many more people weren't killed or injured on that day and how devastating terrorist attacks can potentially be. It was this case that really showed me what terrorists are capable of, and of the importance of working with a team of experienced, dedicated, and professional detectives”.

Items from the bombing investigation are available to view at the Victoria Police Museum, open 10 am to 4pni, Monday to Friday, on the Concourse level, World Trade Centre, 637 Flinders Street, Melbourne. Entry is free. For details, telephone 9247 5213.


The Demirian Case is now a bench mark for other Terrorism Matters it was referred to in the case of R -v- ROCHE [2005] WASCA 4 Have a read of that Judgement and see what their Honours said.

R -v- ROCHE [2005] WASCA 4 (14 January 2005)



FILE NO/S : CCA 85 of 2004

BETWEEN : THE QUEEN (Appellant) AND JACK ROCHE (Respondent)
FILE NO/S : CCA 91 of 2004

File No : IND 622 of 2003

52 Secondly, this is [Roche matter] not, in fact, the first case of international terrorism in Australia. In Demirian (1988) 33 A Crim R 441, the Court of Criminal Appeal in Victoria heard, inter alia, an application for leave to appeal against the sentence imposed on Demirian for conspiracy to cause an explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury arising out of an incident at the Turkish Consulate in Melbourne, in 1986.

53 On a Sunday in November of that year, a large bomb which had been placed in the rear of a Holden Torana, exploded in the car park below a building at 44 Caroline Street, South Yarra, causing very substantial damage to that building and to other premises in the vicinity. 44 Caroline Street was used for business purposes. The Turkish Consulate occupied the first floor. Presumably because the offence was committed on a Sunday, the Consulate was unoccupied. There was only one person in the building. He was injured, but not seriously.

54 After the explosion, human remains were found close to the vehicle. It emerged from a detailed scientific investigation that a man had probably been standing alongside the driver's door when the bomb exploded, apparently, prematurely.

55 Demirian was charged with conspiracy and with the murder of the deceased. The Crown case was that Demirian was a party to the agreement with the deceased, and perhaps others, to place and explode the bomb so that it would blow up the building containing the Turkish Consulate.

56 Demirian was convicted of both conspiracy and murder. On appeal, the conviction for conspiracy was upheld and that for murder was quashed. The only remaining issue was whether the sentence imposed on Demirian for the conspiracy was excessive: a sentence of 10 years' imprisonment, with no minimum term.

57 In a joint judgment, McGarvie and O'Bryan JJ said:

The type of activity engaged in by the applicant and others is rare in this country but terrorist acts are commonplace in the country from whence the applicant emigrated to Australia. Unless courts in this country are vigilant in imposing condign sentences for such conduct evil-minded persons might seek to emulate this conduct. The conduct of the applicant in conspiring with others to endanger life and cause serious injury to property by detonating an explosive substance beneath the Consulate brought shame to this country when the bomb exploded. The Turkish nation is a friendly power and members of the Turkish community now assimilated into Australian society were affronted by this evil deed. The heinousness of the crime is accentuated by the fact that the applicant abused the sanctuary this country offered him.

When a crime of such notoriety and heinousness is committed in the name of a political cause this Court is not required to fix a minimum term. The political nature of the offence and its seriousness render the fixing of such a term inappropriate. A sentence imposed in these circumstances should be exceptional to mark the seriousness with which the crime is viewed and therefore no minimum term should be fixed.” (1988 33 A Crim R at p 474)

58 Tadgell J agreed, in relation to that aspect of the appeal (at p 481).

59 The maximum penalty for the offence of which Demirian was convicted was 15 years' imprisonment. The sentence imposed on him was therefore two-thirds of the maximum.

60 In my view, it is not unreasonable to assume that if the maximum penalty in Demirian's case (supra) had been 25 years' imprisonment, a sentence of two thirds of that maximum would have been imposed on him: that is, a sentence of the order of 16 years' imprisonment. It may be assumed also, that if Demirian had succeeded in causing death or serious injury to some person, the sentence would have been more severe, even though the Crown case was that the bomb was placed with the intention of causing death or serious injury, and the knowledge that it would probably do so.

61 The present case (Roche) is distinguishable from Demirian in several respects: the respondent did not commit the substantive offence, he caused no actual harm and he volunteered an account of his involvement to the Federal Police. In my view, a notional adjustment to the sentence imposed on Demirian to take account of those factors would lead one instinctively to a sentence in the region of that suggested by the sentencing Judge as the starting point for the respondent.

62 I consider that the passage in the judgment of McGarvie and O'Bryan JJ in Demirian (supra) set out above, although written some 16 years ago, still reflects the appropriate judicial response to those who would engage in terrorist activities in Australia. Everything said by their Honours about Demirian could have been applied mutatis mutandis to the respondent, had he continued with the conspiracy to the point at which the substantive offence was committed. The respondent could then have expected a much more severe sentence and no minimum term.