Biker gang chief cleared in police murder case

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The Independent Online

A leading member of a notorious Australian biker gang has been acquitted of murdering a former senior police officer in a verdict that deals a humiliating blow to prosecuting authorities.

After an eight-week trial surrounded by heavy security, Graeme "Slim" Slater was found not guilty of planting a car bomb that killed the former head of the Perth Criminal Investigation Bureau, Don Hancock, and his bookmaker friend, Lou Lewis.

The case against Mr Slater, 36, a high-ranking member of the feared Gypsy Joker gang, rested on the evidence of Sid "Snot" Reid, who broke the biker code of silence. In exchange, Reid, 38, was given a reduced 15-year sentence and perks including money, a Sony PlayStation and four annual visits from his girlfriend.

But a Perth Supreme Court jury, apparently judging that Reid - a drug user and thief - was not a credible witness, returned a not-guilty verdict. Police officers in court shook their heads in disbelief.

The bombing in September 2001, described by police as an act of suburban terrorism, followed a long-running feud between Mr Hancock and the Gypsy Joker gang. After retiring, Mr Hancock had taken over the Ora Banda, a historic pub in the West Australian Outback, 45 miles from the gold town of Kalgoorlie.

In October 2000, he had an argument with Billy Grierson, one of a group of Jokers who had set up camp near by. According to the prosecution, Mr Hancock was angry because Mr Grierson made obscene comments in front of his daughter, Alison. Later that evening, shots were heard and Mr Grierson was found dead. Bar staff testified that Mr Hancock had gone to fetch his rifle.

Mr Hancock, the court was told, had been drinking all day with police mates, including Kim Gage, head of Kalgoorlie detectives. During the police investigation of the killing, Mr Gage did not search Mr Hancock's home or do other routine forensic science tests. The jury was told that Mr Slater became obsessed with exacting revenge on Mr Hancock, whom he blamed for the death of his friend. Bomb attacks were launched against Mr Hancock's home and the pub.

The car bomb exploded after Mr Hancock and Mr Lewis had spent a day at the races in Perth. According to Reid, Mr Slater rang a number on his mobile telephone, entered a PIN and said: "Rest in peace, Billy." But a friend of Mr Slater's mother testified that she saw him at his mother's house at the time the bomb exploded.

Mr Hancock's widow, Elizabeth, said she was "deeply devastated and shocked" at the verdict. Mr Slater's defence lawyer, Colin Lovitt QC, appealed to the Gypsy Joker gang to remain calm.