Former Police Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett will head the team investigating alleged murders of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers.
Former Police Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett will head the team investigating alleged murders of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers.

Former top cop to probe alleged war crimes

FORMER Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett has been appointed to head a team of investigators looking into the alleged murders of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian Special Forces soldiers.

Mr Barnett has resigned from his current role as Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner to begin work as Director of Investigations for the Office of the Special Investigator.

The Federal Government announced it would establish the Office of the Special Investigator, using Australian Federal Police powers, following the release of the Brereton Report into war crimes.

Ross Barnett has resigned as the Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner. Pic: Richard Gosling
Ross Barnett has resigned as the Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner. Pic: Richard Gosling

The shocking report - following a long running inquiry - found "credible information" that 25 current or former ADF personnel were involved in serious crimes while in Afghanistan.

The report recommended 36 incidents be referred to the AFP for criminal investigation.

Some of the alleged incidents involved the shooting of prisoners where weapons, radios or grenades were placed by the body to make the killing look "legitimate".

It is understood none of the information gathered during the Brereton inquiry can be used by the Office of the Special Investigator.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton announced a series of appointments today.

Chris Moraitis, Secretary of the Attorney-General's department, will be Director General.

The role of Special Investigator will be filled by Mark Weinberg AO QC.

"The task for these eminent appointees will be challenging and as the Prime Minister has noted, difficult for Australia," Mr Dutton said.

"They bring a wealth of experience to the very important work this office will do.

"Their combined wealth of experience will serve the office well in undertaking the significant task ahead."

He said Mr Barnett's experience included working in major crime and drug squads, as well as major roles with the National Crime Authority, the Australian Crime Commission and the Queensland Crime Commission.

Ross Barnett speaking during Estimates Hearings at Parliament. Pics Tara Croser.
Ross Barnett speaking during Estimates Hearings at Parliament. Pics Tara Croser.

"For nearly 40 years, Mr Barnett was one of the most distinguished officers in the Queensland Police," Mr Dutton said.

Mr Barnett informed his staff today that he would be leaving QRIC in an email obtained by The Courier-Mail.

"This action is as a result of having been appointed by the Commonwealth Government ... where I will have overall responsibility for criminal investigations … into war crimes allegedly committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan," Mr Barnett wrote.

"As you may well be aware, I came to the Racing Integrity Commissioner role from a career in policing of nearly 40 years and it has never been a secret among those who know me well that at some point my desire was to return to a senior law enforcement or investigative role if that opportunity were to arise.

"My new role managing protracted investigations carried out by multi-disciplinary teams comprising seconded police and other specialists is exactly the type of work I really enjoyed doing previously during secondment to the National Crime Authority, Queensland Crime Commission and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

"I am extremely honoured and grateful to be considered suitable to direct and supervise such important investigations."

Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner Ross Barnett leaves the Brisbane Magistrates Court.
Queensland Racing Integrity Commissioner Ross Barnett leaves the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

Mr Barnett said he had "thoroughly enjoyed" his five years at the helm of QRIC despite some "challenging periods along the way".

"It is true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and on balance, it has been a great journey and a wonderful learning experience for me and I am forever grateful I took the risk of leaving the security of my policing career."

Mr Barnett played a major role in the investigation that led to the arrest and conviction of Daniel Morcombe's killer, Brett Peter Cowan.

He trained at the FBI, oversaw the G20 summit and worked in counter-terrorism.

He spent years tracking down serial armed robbers in the 1990s when banks were frequent targets of dangerous gunmen. In 1991, he was shot in the hip by notorious armed robber Harold John McSweeney.

McSweeney had escaped from Boggo Road jail and was on the run until Mr Barnett and his partner tracked him to Toowoomba.

Originally published as Former top cop to probe alleged war crimes



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