The Sportsman Who Touched A Nation

Australia is a sad place to be today.

The whole country is in mourning. I kid you not.

Flags are flying at half-mast right across this tiny, little continent of ours. Sports people, both professional and amateur, plan to observe a minute’s silence tomorrow and wear black armbands as a sign of remembrance.

Talkback radio is full of callers openly weeping on air.

Now you might be gagging to know what would prompt such a public outpouring of grief?

Was it the death of someone famous or notable? Well that depends on your point of view.

Maybe it’s a celebrity or a well-known politician? Not even close.

Australia is mourning the death of a sportsman.

Of course there are many sports that involve risking life and limb, motor racing, speed boat racing, stunt flying to name a few.

But what this guy died doing wasn’t one of them or anything like it.

He died playing a game of cricket.

To anyone not familiar with the game of cricket, I won’t even try explaining it. Ok, maybe a little.

Think baseball.

Actually, it’s nothing like it.

Ok, sort of. Think of the game of cricket, as the bastard cousin of baseball twice removed.

Cricket, like baseball, has a batter. Actually there are two batters who alternate hitting the ball

But instead of a guy pitching a ball at the batter from a mound, the whole thing is played out on a closely mowed, flat strip of turf, 22 yards long.

The batter stands at one end, the pitcher or bowler at the other.

The bowler then kind of hurls the ball overarm, which lands about three quarters of the way down the pitch bounces up and the batter is supposed to hit it for a score.

There are 10 other players in the outfield, who are there to catch the ball so that they can to retire the batter.

As in baseball, the ball is pitched or bowled extremely quickly, travelling between 80 to 100 miles an hour, so like baseball you need fast reflexes to play the game at this level.

Ok. At this point I’m jumping ahead and assuming that you understand what I am saying. If you can’t, don’t worry. Understanding the game of cricket is not the focus here.

The name of the sportsman is Phillip Hughes and he died two days short of his 26th birthday.

He died doing what he really loved most in the world. I think it’s called living the dream.

He was an extremely talented, extremely humble country boy who loved his family and his mates.

And everyone he met loved him. He had the kind of attributes people admire, open and genuinely friendly, considerate and unselfish. He gave a lot of free time helping and encouraging young cricketers especially those who had the same dream as him to become a professional sportsman playing for Australia.

Phillip Hughes was also very unlucky. He was often a victim of the capriciousness of Australian cricket team selectors.

…..To put it bluntly, he was an in demand rooster one minute, a feather duster the next.

But he never gave up, never gave in. Always working to improve his game, improve his technique to give himself every chance to climb back to the top.

And that’s what he was doing when he died.

Things were going well for Phillip Hughes in a match at one of Australia’s premier sporting arenas, the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Then fate intervened as she does without warning. Phillip Hughes was wearing a helmet for protection. Unfortunately for him, on this occasion it was next to useless. A ball travelling around 85 miles an hour struck Hughes just below his left ear. It immediately compressed one of the main arteries that supply blood to the brain. The artery ruptured causing a massive bleed. Hughes collapsed, was rushed to hospital only a kilometer away. He underwent an immediate operation to relieve the pressure on his brain but died 48 hours later without every regaining consciousness.

Only 100 people in the world have died this way. And up until now no one has ever died this way playing the game of cricket.

His death has made just about every Australian incredibly sad. His passing was acknowledged by all of the major political parties in Federal Parliament. Even the Australian Prime Minister recorded a message of public condolence. A special, Government initiated, memorial service will be held for Phillip Hughes.

The intriguing question for me is why?

I don’t think it’s unfair, or churlish, to say Phillip Hughes achieved far greater fame in death than he ever enjoyed in life.

So why are we taking this so personally? Here’s my take on why?

Phillip Hughes represents the quintessential Aussie battler. The diminutive guy from humble origins, with the God given talent, forced to fight every step of the way for recognition. He gets knocked down. He gets up again. He dies a hero’s death at one of Australia’s most famous sporting arenas, having given it his all in the same way that thousands of Australians heroically died on the beaches of Gallipoli, during World War I. Not the same, I know, but you get the idea.

What I am saying here could be complete baloney.

But whatever the reason, there is no doubting or denying the grief and sadness, over the death of Phillip Hughes. It is real and palpable and has brought all of us together. And, not only in Australia but also in several other countries as well. Phillip Hughes managed to touch and reach out to a lot of people. It’s such a shame and a waste that he is not here to appreciate it.

Has The Truth Been Told In Ferguson?

What is the truth? That’s a question they are asking in Ferguson Missouri. And it’s a question probably being asked across the continental United States.

What is the truth in the shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown? Is the truth the finding of the Grand Jury that the policeman who shot him dead should not face criminal charges for his actions?

Or is the truth something else entirely?

An unarmed black man willfully shot dead by a white police officer. It was never disputed that the policeman killed Michael Brown. The question has always been was lethal force justified in this case?

As we search for that elusive commodity, the truth, here are the events, outlined by St Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch, played out on that fateful day in August this year.

It might be the best place to start our investigation.

It’s 11.45 am and white Police Officer Darren Wilson responds to a call about a two month old baby struggling to breathe. He clears the job, after paramedics arrive but hears on his police radio about a snatch and grab robbery.

Two young black men, one wearing a red hat, khaki shorts and yellow socks have robbed a local market of some cigarillo cigars. Wilson will tell the Grand Jury he had no intention of answering the radio call concerning the robbery, but he randomly encounters Michael Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson walking down the middle of a street.

Officer Wilson is driving a police SUV. As he reaches the pair, he tells them to move to the sidewalk. Words are exchanged but the pair continues to walk down the middle of the road. Wilson notices that one of the young men, Michael Brown, is wearing clothing that matches the earlier police description of one of the robbery suspects. He also sees that Brown has cigarellos in one of his hands.

Wilson radios for backup.

He immediately reverses his vehicle at an angle, blocking Brown and Johnson’s path as well as incoming traffic from both directions.

According to Prosecutor McCulloch, many witnesses reported seeing an altercation, a wrestling tug of war, going on between Brown who is standing next to the drivers side window of the police SUV and Officer Wilson seated inside.

What happened next, witnesses disagree on. Some said Brown punched Wilson, others said Brown was partially inside the police vehicle via the driver’s window, or that Officer Wilson fired at Brown from inside the police vehicle. We do know Officer Wilson had redness and swelling on one side of his face.

Three post mortems were conducted on the body of Michael Brown. All of the pathologists agreed on the location and number of gunshot wounds on the body. The autopsy results show that Michael Brown was definitely shot once during that altercation at the police SUV.

A total of two bullets were fired from inside the police SUV. One bullet struck the door armrest and the other was never found. One of the shots struck Michael Brown causing an injury to his right thumb. The autopsy confirmed gunshot soot in the wound so it was fired at close range during the altercation. Brown’s blood/DNA was found in the car, on the outside of the driver’s side door, on the left rear door and on Officer Wilson’s clothing and gun.

Almost all of the witnesses agree on one point. Brown hesitates, after the shots were fired inside the SUV, then flees from the scene, running in an easterly direction.

Officer Wilson, gets out of his police SUV with his weapon in hand and begins chasing Brown.

Some witnesses reported seeing Officer Wilson firing at Michael Brown as he ran. If he did, none of the bullets hit Brown from behind as a number of witnesses had claimed.

In any case it is not relevant to the case or what happened next.

Brown is running in an easterly direction and he stops at a street corner, turning towards Officer Wilson, facing west.

Brown begins moving in a westerly direction towards Wilson.

Again there are conflicting eyewitness reports. Some witnesses said Brown didn’t move towards Wilson at all but remained stationary with his hands raised. Other witnesses said he didn’t raise his hands, or raised them just briefly or held onto his stomach. Others said he stumbled towards Wilson or moved quickly or charged.

What is remarkable, even though a group of people will all look at the same thing, at the same time, they can come to completely different conclusions about what they saw.

Which brings us to the fatal shooting itself.

Some witnesses said Officer Wilson opened fire and only stopped shooting when Brown stopped moving towards him. He resumed firing when Brown began moving towards him again. The sounds of the shots were captured by someone video chatting in a nearby apartment. The sounds indicated two set of shots interrupted by a gap in the middle. Officer Wilson fired several more shots, one of which was fatal. Three bullets hit Michael Brown when he was either falling or bent at the waist. One of those bullets entered the top of his head, killing him.

Michael Brown’s blood was found 25 feet east of where his body lay which would indicate that he travelled that distance in Officer Wilson’s direction. Both he and Wilson ended up about 153 feet from the police SUV.

In testimony to the Grand Jury, Officer Wilson said he was carrying lethal force in the form of a Sig Sauer point four zero caliber pistol, with 13 rounds, 12 in the magazine and one round in the chamber. He was also carrying two extra bullet magazines on his belt. Officer Wilson did not have a Taser, but he was carrying non-lethal force in the form of a telescopic police baton and OC spray or Mace.

Ok.

Let’s just step back a little, take a deep breath and examine what has been said here.

Wilson encounters two young black men initially doing what amounts to civil disobedience, walking in the middle of the road. It is reckless and potentially dangerous. He has warned Brown and Johnson but they ignore his warning telling him that they are nearly at their destination. According to the Wilson Grand Jury testimony, Brown let’s fly with some expletives. It is disrespectful to Wilson but hardly a capital crime.

Then Officer Wilson notices what Brown is wearing. It matches a description he has just heard on the police radio. But again we are talking about a petty crime. There is no suggestion in the police radio dispatch that Brown was armed when he stole the cigarellos or that he threatened anyone. It was a crime of opportunity. Brown grabbed the cigarellos from the store and ran away without paying for them.

Then Officer Wilson does something I find totally inexplicable. He radios for backup.

Why?

Backup is something a policeman does if he is going into a dangerous situation where he is outnumbered and he might need extra police resources to bring the situation under control.

But where is the threat?

I can’t see it.

Unfortunately Officer Wilson, was never asked why he called for backup when he appeared before the Grand Jury.

Backup suggests that Officer Wilson is expecting a confrontation.

But why would he?

Brown and Johnson are shoplifters. Petty thieves. They need to be apprehended but they are not dangerous. No violence was used in their crime. No threats were made.

Clearly if Officer Wilson thought the situation needed backup, he doesn’t wait for it to arrive. He decides to confront Brown and Johnson directly.

The forensic evidence discloses that a fight ensues between Wilson in the driver’s seat, inside the vehicle and Brown outside positioned next to the driver’s side window.

Wilson tells the Grand Jury that  during the fight he draws his weapon and points it at Brown who responds by trying to grab it. Another struggle ensues and two shots are fired one of them hitting Brown in the right thumb. Brown responds by fleeing from the scene.

Ok. Let’s pause again.

Wilson says Brown was physically bigger than him, threatening and intimidating. He said the nature of the fight meant he did not have the opportunity to use his police baton or his mace.

Even if what he is saying is true, and let’s accept that it is, what happens next is not so easily explained.

Brown flees with Wilson in pursuit. Armed with his police issue pistol.

I can understand that Officer Wilson would be pretty shaken up at this point.

The evidence shows he has been punched in the side of the face, there has been a struggle over his gun. Two bullets have been fired and the 18-year-old Brown has been shot in the thumb.

But I would have thought Officer Wilson’s training would kick in here. Being cool and calm, not confronting aggression with aggression.

At this point, he has already called for backup, which is only minutes away from arriving. He doesn’t need to pursue Brown. He can wait for more police to arrive and they can pretty easily arrest the young man.

But Officer Wilson doesn’t do any of those things.

He doesn’t arm himself with the non-lethal options he is carrying.

Clearly, his weapon of choice, the only weapon he is intent on using, is his police issue firearm. He has lethal force. He is the man with all of the power here.

Brown only has his fists. But only one fist is working properly to be perfectly accurate. Let’s not forget he has been shot in the thumb, which would have been both painful and incapacitating. Even if Michael Brown had two fists working perfectly he would be no match for someone armed with a gun.

Michael Brown is shot again and again and again. Officer Wilson says Brown kept coming at him giving him little choice but to keep shooting. The fatal shot being delivered when Brown is bent at the waist almost certainly as a result of being shot multiple times.

By the time the fatal shot was delivered, Officer Wilson’s intentions were very clearly to kill Michael Brown.

So of course that brings us back to the original question: was lethal force justified?

This is my take on the answer.

Officer Wilson had a confrontational mindset from the very start. His intention was to deal aggressively with Michael Brown from the very moment he confirmed that he was the suspect in the market robbery.

The problem with aggression is that it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Aggression only leads to more aggression.

But i would like to know what has happened to the concept of using lethal force only as an absolute last resort and only when you you have no other choice and you feel your life has been threatened? Officer Wilson had choices other than using lethal force. He did not need to chase Michael Brown while armed with his police issue pistol.

Sometimes the safest and best option is to withdraw from a dangerous situation in the same way police cars pull away from some high speed pursuits.

If police training says the appropriate response, in cases like this, is to use a gun to resolve the confrontation, then they need to have a good look at their training in my view.

Michael Brown committed a crime, and did something really, really stupid in trying to grab Officer Wilson’s gun.

But I think one incredibly stupid action, shouldn’t be followed, fairly closely, by another in my opinion. Especially when it involves a police officer and a gun.

There can only be one outcome. Someone, will end up dead.

I believe Officer Wilson could have waited, should have waited for the backup he had called for.

Did Michael Brown need to die? I’ll be true to myself and say no I don’t think so.

How Can Police Justify Shooting A 12 Year Old Child?

I don’t want this to sound like I’m some kind of armchair critic of the police because they have a tough job to do at the best of times. But something happened in Cleveland that left me dumbfounded, shocked and appalled.

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, was shot dead by police.

He was a child but he was waving what looked like a black handgun. It turned out to be a BB gun.

Police weren’t to know that or were not prepared to take the risk.

They confronted him and now Tamir is dead.

Let’s just pause for a minute.

A lot of questions need to be asked here. How did this happen? How could it have happened? Why did it happen? How could it be allowed to happen?

Let’s firstly deal with the how and the why.

According to the police account of what happened: A caller tells police “a guy with a gun is pointing it at people” on the swing set at a children’s playground at a local recreation center. The caller says on two occasions that he thinks the gun is “probably fake,” but the person pointing it is scaring people.

Police dispatchers send a radio message to officers that there is “a male with a gun threatening people” outside the recreation center. Officers respond and see the boy pick up what they assume is a black gun, tuck it in his waistband and take a few steps.

Police Officers draw their weapons, telling him to raise his hands. Instead, he lifts his shirt and reaches for the handle of the gun sticking out of his waistband. As he pulls out the gun, one of the officers shoots twice, hitting him at least once in the abdomen.

Tamir is taken to an emergency medical center but dies of his injuries. Police later determine the gun was actually a BB gun, with the orange safety cap removed.

Police later release a statement to further clarify what happened, which said: “Upon arrival on scene, officers located the suspect and advised him to raise his hands. The suspect did not comply with the officers’ orders and reached to his waistband for the gun.

“Shots were fired and the suspect was struck in the torso.”

It added: “Further information reveals that the weapon which the 12-year-old suspect was in possession of is an ‘airsoft’ type replica gun resembling a semi-automatic pistol, with the orange safety indicator removed.”

Now if you break all of this down you get a pretty good idea on what went wrong here. For a start everyone involved gives a completely wrong description of who Tamir Rice really is.

He is not a “guy with a gun” or “a male with a gun threatening people” or a “suspect” and that is a big part of why this went so dreadfully pear shaped.

Tamir Rice is a 12-year-old boy.

He is a child.

Too young and immature to really know what he was doing or what kind of trouble he was causing. If all of those involved in this had simply remembered that simple point, right at the very beginning, the outcome might have been very different and Tamir Rice would be a little wiser but alive.

I know we live in a violent and unpredictable world but since when did it become the police first response to open fire and ask questions later because clearly that is what they did in this case. Asking a 12-year-old to put his hands in the air does not constitute a meaningful question in these circumstances, in my view.

And in any case whatever happened to the simple art of talking to people? Negotiating with them? Couldn’t they have talked to Tamir and found out what the problem was instead of drawing their weapons and responding with lethal force?

That’s what parents do. That’s what teachers do. That’s what any sane or sensible person would do. But it’s what Cleveland police didn’t do. And shame on them.

Cleveland Deputy Chief of Field Operations Ed Tomba said the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “very very tragic.”

“We don’t come to work every day and want to use force on anybody,” he said. “That’s not what our job is. We’re part of this community.”

It’s a bit late now to be making those kinds of statements particularly when the circumstances point to the exact opposite being the case.

Deputy Chief Tomba said the boy did not threaten the officer verbally or physically. So I ask why was it necessary to shoot him?

Tamir’s father told reporters that he couldn’t understand why police had failed to use non-lethal force like a taser to subdue Tamir? I guess that is certain to be one of the questions asked at the Grand Jury investigation into this tragedy.

Tamir’s Dad said his son was “respectful” and “minded his elders.” He said he could not understand why Tamir would have ignored what police told him to do.

Which brings me back to the question why was this allowed to happen?

This might be part of the reason. One of the police officers involved in this incident was in his first year in the job. We can only hope that this tragedy will prompt a serious and rigorous review of police procedures in Cleveland.

The police department’s Use of Deadly Force Investigation Team is investigating the shooting and has security camera footage from the recreation center. The officers, directly involved in the shooting, have been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, which is standard procedure for police.

The evidence will eventually be handed over to a grand jury, which will decide whether the officer was justified in using force.

I don’t need a Grand Jury to answer that question. Children are not adults capable of making rational decisions. It is stupid and wrong to think they can. Tamir Rice clearly had no idea what he was getting himself into. He was relying on adults to make the kinds of rational decisions he was incapable of making. Unfortunately for him the adults let him down. There is simply no justification for lethal force to be used to kill a child under any circumstances.

And if I happen to be living in a world that says there is then quite frankly it’s one I don’t ever want to be a part of.

Are Smart Phones Turning Us Into Dummies?

Sometimes I like to observe human behavior. I find it kind of fun watching what other people do and how they behave. But I am also a bit weird.

One thing I’ve noticed quite recently is that it doesn’t seem to matter what people are doing, travelling on public transport, going to the pub, sitting having a meal or enjoying time with friends, everybody is totally preoccupied with their smartphones.

They’re looking at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, video games, emails, listening to music or just surfing the net. Clearly all of these smartphones, provide endless distraction and entertainment.

But what are these devices doing for human interaction? Because it means people are not talking to each other.

They are not verbally sharing opinions, discussing ideas or having a debate.

They have stopped communicating with human beings and replaced them with a machine.

Here is a question that is too obvious, but I’ll ask it anyway. Is this a good thing? Could it be affecting how we think?

A British neuroscientist called Baroness Susan Greenfield doesn’t think this is a good thing at all. She also says it’s affecting our brains.

Now I am going to add a disclaimer.

I am not endorsing Susan Greenfield or her neuroscience. In fact a number of her peers think she espouses a load of old rubbish. The London Guardian newspaper described a book she wrote as a “poorly researched diatribe.”

But what I do think is that what she is saying is worth a discussion. So let’s have one.

Susan Greenfield says modern technology is changing the wiring in our brains. For example she says a lot of people equate Facebook friends in the same way that they might regard a close friend they have known all of their life.

She says social media gives us opportunities to share, connect and present points of view. But it takes away real human empathy. In fact she says the 21st Century human mindset seems to be characterised by short attention span, sensationalism, and making the mistake of equating information given to us by search engines with real knowledge and wisdom.

Greenfield says the human brain is perfectly designed to adapt to its environment. And because technology creates a vastly changed social environment, it must follow that our brains may also be changing in an unprecedented way.

Here is something that she says that is definitely out there but interesting.

Greenfield argues that young people are developing in a world where relationships are being made and lost online. That means they never get the chance to rehearse important social skills. For example, when people normally meet someone they have in interest in getting to know, they want to talk about themselves, and nature has given us body language cues so that our interactions keep us reasonably safe and secure and we don’t make fools of ourselves, generally speaking.

But words, the primary source of communication in social media networks comprise only ten percent of the impact we have on people when we meet them. As a result, young people are more likely to behave inappropriately and insult each other on line because they don’t have those visual clues as a point of reference. If they tell someone they hate them to their face they are unlikely to repeat it because they can see the offence and the hurt it can cause. But people interacting on social media don’t have that handbrake. I am not saying I agree with this but it’s interesting.

Before we had the internet, a young person who might have been bullied at school had an escape when they went home. But with social media and smartphones the bullying follows you everywhere and can be unrelenting 24/7.

Greenfield claims there is scientific data to show that when young people were deprived of access to smartphones even for just five days their interpersonal skills improved.

Our connectedness to social media means we spend less time thinking and reflecting and more time reacting. She says if young people switched off their devices they would have a stronger sense of personal identity instead of one that is constantly defined by the approval of others.

It doesn’t mean being anti-technology but it does mean acknowledging there is more to life than looking at a smartphone, a tablet or a computer screen.

On that point I agree with her.

American Justice On Trial

The American justice system has taken a hammering in the past 24 hours. And so it should.

First we had the case of a man freed from jail after 39 years who was wrongly convicted of murder.

What’s worse his original sentence was to receive the death penalty. But lucky for him, Ohio, the state, where it happened, abolished the death penalty three years after he was convicted.

So even though he spent all of that time in prison, he was able to walk free and breathe fresh air in the outside world again. If the State had not changed the law he would be dead right now. And the system would have killed an innocent man.

And now we have the case of a woman in California freed from prison after 17 years because she was wrongly convicted of murder. This is yet another example, of the justice system getting it terribly, terribly wrong.

Fifty-nine-year-old Susan Mellen was convicted of beating a homeless man to death. Now a court has found she was innocent.

An appeal judge ruled that Mellen received what he called poor legal representation from her trial lawyer.

Apparently her conviction rested on the testimony of a witness who claimed she heard Mellen confess to the crime. But that witness has now been described as an habitual liar.

WTF?

The appeal judge told Mellen that he “felt really bad about what had happened to her.”

So he should.

So should the entire Californian justice system. They should hang their heads in shame. They are entirely to blame for what happened.

Luckily for Susan Mellen, her case was taken up by an organisation called Innocence Matters, which seeks to exonerate the wrongly convicted.

Innocence Matters said in a statement that the detective, who arrested Mellen, was also responsible for a case in 1994 that resulted in two people later being exonerated.

Three gang members were linked to the crime that Mellen was convicted for. One of them took a lie-detector test and said Mellen wasn’t there when it happened.

There is probably not a lot to make of this revelation other than to say it is yet another point in Mellen’s favour.

The court made an interesting legal ruling when it freed Susan Mellen.

It decided that she was factually innocent in this case.

Factually innocent is a ruling made only in rare circumstances but it means Susan Mellen can claim US$100 a day, from the State of California, for every day that she spent in prison.

After 17 years it adds up to a tidy sum, more than $600,000 which, I am sure, will be a huge help to Susan Mellen as she faces life on the outside.

Mellen said she cried every night in prison but never lost faith that she would be reunited with her three now-grown up children.

Her youngest were aged seven and nine when she was arrested. They have a lot of catching up to do.

Mellen scrawled the word “freedom” on the bottom of her shoes because she never gave up hope she would be free one day.

Try as I might, I can find nothing redeeming about the fact that it took 17 years for justice to finally be done for Suan Mellen.

Unfortunately, the system can’t give her back the very thing that she is most entitled to.

The life she lost.

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 3

Some weeks ago I started a blog post about a mystery plane that turned up in Australia, a significant quantity of illegal drugs, a large amount of cash and likely CIA involvement.

I’ve already written two blog posts on this topic. Here is part three. But first a little background as a recap.

The plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, arrived illegally in Australia but no one knows how.

But clearly someone knew something because the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane while it was parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. The day of the raid was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 police surrounded the plane. The local newspaper was tipped off and took plenty of pictures.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police obviously had Stevermuer under surveillance. They claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue.

Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, mysteriously had access to a large amount of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses.

Several aviation sources say Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy the flight training organisation, NSW Air and another company,the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service.

Both businesses were based at Illawarra airport.

Police allege these two aviation companies were designed to act as legitimate fronts to hide criminal activities. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to the clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, register in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records it turns out that the person who is listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club which owns the mystery plane is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club. Nothing strictly illegal with that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane?

There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft.

Even more unusual, Why an Australian, who doesn’t live in the United States, is listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless there was another agenda being followed.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area know anything about it.

And, it turns out the plane at the centre of all of this intrigue, a Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a stealth plane.

By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. But, what is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the background of this particular Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

When it rolled off the assembly line in 1973, her first owner was listed as the U.S. Forest Service in Boise Idaho. Now at first glance that may seem innocuous but given the history of aircraft owned by the United States Forest Service it is a tell tale sign that this plane was destined to serve a sinister purpose.

Here’s why.

In the 1960s,70s and 80s, the United States Forest Service acquired a variety of aircraft with varying roles ostensibly to assist it with significantly improving aerial fire fighting capability. The USFS traditionally relied on contracting private companies to provide large air tankers for fighting forest fires. Most of these air tankers were retired World War II and Korean War-era transports, bombers, and maritime patrol aircraft.

There was a compelling reason for using these kinds of aircraft. They were relatively inexpensive to obtain and were capable of carrying the large loads of fire retardant needed to make their use cost effective.

In the 1980s, the bulk of the Forest Service’s air tanker fleet consisted of C-119 Flying Boxcars obtained from the military. But after concerns about safety, the aging C-119s were grounded in 1987.

It meant the available air tanker fleet was suddenly and substantially diminished, and the Forest Service needed additional aircraft for firefighting operations.

However, the plan they came up with to achieve this objective only succeeded in handing over ex military planes to private contractors who ended up using some of them for drug running instead of firefighting.

The aircraft were ex military surplus and only supposed to be used for contract firefighting with ownership retained by the United States Government. But under a new arrangement, the aircraft were sold with direct ownership transferred to private contractors who of course, could then do what they liked with them. This was both irregular and illegal. As you might expect under a deal like this some of the aircraft did not end up having anything to do with firefighting.

But here is yet another curious twist in the story with a uniquely Australian connection. Two C-130 aircraft, supplied to the U.S Forest Service for fire fighting duties by the Australian Air Force were subsequently discovered to have been spirited out of the United States and used for illegal activity in South America and Mexico.

We might never have known of these shenanigans were it not for a whistleblower called Gary Eitel who describes himself as a former CIA pilot, aviation consultant and an aircraft broker. Eitel had clients who were interested in obtaining C-130s but his clients had never been part of the original Forest Service arrangement with private contractors.

Consequently Eitel was told no aircraft were available for purchase.

But Eitel suspected he was being given a load of baloney.

And he was right.

He started doing some digging through Freedom of Information. What he uncovered was a scandal. Not only was the whole operation illegal, Eitel claims he inadvertently stepped into a covert CIA operation. Eitel says he discovered that the program was being used to channel military aircraft into the hands of private companies who, in turn, were contracting their services to the CIA using the Forest Service as a benign middle man for the transfer. This activity is known colloquially as sheep dipping. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal the source or true ownership.

In a Congressional committee hearing in 1976, the CIA’s general counsel admitted that the agency regularly used the United States Forest Service as cover for its covert operations. The CIA even shared an address with the Forest Service’s Air Research and Development unit in Alexandria, Virginia.

Which brings us back to the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft owned at one time by the U.S. Forest Service. Is there direct evidence linking this plane to the CIA? The answer is no. But on the balance of probabilities the circumstantial evidence points in that direction based on past history rather than away from it in my view.

Of course the question needs to be asked, if all of these aircraft were being diverted from what was originally their main purpose to boost the Forest Service’s capability to fight wild fires did that have a negative impact on fighting forest fires? The answer is both tragic and emphatic. In August 1994, 14 firefighters died while fighting a forest fire in Colorado.

The U.S. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently cited the Forest Service for “inadequate use of aviation resources.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wanted to know what had happened to all of the Forest Service’s aircraft. What indeed.

In part four of this series, we will examine who owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 plane before the Oregonian Aero Club and the plane’s highly suspicious Florida connection.

Justice For Ricky

I came across something the other day that could best be described as anyone’s worst nightmare.

Guaranteed to be if your skin is of a certain hue.

A man in Ohio has just been released from prison, after 39 years, because the justice system got it terribly, terribly wrong.

The backstory goes something like this.

Ricky Jackson is now 57 but at the time of the alleged offence he was 18 years old.

He was convicted, along with two other men, of a brutal crime. The callous, cold- blooded murder of a money order collector at a grocery store in Cleveland.

Police claim the three men beat the money order collector, threw acid in his face before shooting him twice.

Now you can understand law enforcement authorities wanting to solve this crime. It was unspeakable and grotesque.

The only problem was they accused and convicted the wrong men. All of them were innocent. Unfortunately for them it has taken a generation to establish that fact.

So the question might be asked: How did the system get it so wrong?

Try racism for a start. The accused men are black. Being born black in the United States is almost a crime in itself as trite as that may sound.

In other words, the police and the system are less likely to believe in your innocence if you are black.

The opposite is the norm.

Being black is equated with guilt even if you aren’t guilty as in this case.

But again, how did they get it so wrong?

Here’s the main reason.

Ricky Jackson was convicted on the supposed eyewitness testimony of a 12-year-old boy, who now, as a grown man all these years later, says he made up a story about what he saw.

Made up a story? WTF?

The 12-year-old boy is now a 53 year-old-man called Eddie Vernon who now says everything he said way back in 1975 was a lie. All lies.

Vernon’s web of lies came unstuck after he confessed to his church pastor.

Vernon was on the school bus at the time of the crime and didn’t see a thing. However, he claimed to have heard two pops that sounded like firecrackers exploding. He lied to police because he thought he was “doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing?

Give me a break.

How anyone, even if they were 12 at the time, could think that putting an innocent man in prison for a crime he didn’t do can somehow be the right thing is hard to comprehend.

Needless to say Vernon is now claiming that he was not solely to blame for this travesty. He says the police put him up to it. He accused them of threatening to put his parents in prison for perjury if he didn’t stick to his story.

It might explain what happened but it certainly doesn’t excuse it. Not as far I am concerned.

Now if you think you might have heard the worst of this story. Wait. There’s more.

Apart from Eddie Vernon’s testimony there was NO other evidence against any of the three men including Rickey Jackson. It didn’t matter. They were convicted anyway and sentenced.

Wait for it.

To death.

Yep. They all got the death penalty. But before they could be put to death, Ohio abolished the death penalty, three years after their convictions, in 1978.

Instead the three men had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

So Ricky Jackson can count himself lucky he can actually walk out of prison a free man and breathe air like the rest of us. If the authorities in the state of Ohio,hadn’t changed the law, he would not be alive today.

Ricky Jackson now becomes the longest serving prisoner in the United States to be exonerated of his crime. But there is nothing in any way redeeming by having that notoriety.

He served most of his life in jail for something he didn’t do. That is just as brutal and grotesque as the murder of the money order collector in my view.

Ricky Jackson sobbed when he heard news of his release. I’m coming home, he said.

Now authorities must find a way, somehow, to make amends to Ricky Jackson for all those lost years. Of course they can’t. But millions of dollars in compensation sounds to me like a good place to start.

Of his co-accused, one of them was released from jail after 25 years and the other is still in prison but expected to be free very soon.

But before we all get carried away with how justice has finally won in the end. Think about how many more Ricky Jackson’s there might be.

Either languishing in prison for a crime they didn’t do or worse still buried in their local cemetery.