Irina Dunn: The night I didn’t get arrested

It was about 11pm on 6 November 1981, the eve of the inquest into the death of Warren Lanfranchi, who had been gunned down by Detective Roger Rogerson in a back lane in Chippendale in June of that year. Four of us were getting ready to paste large posters featuring the infamous Detective onto the glass doors of the old Coroner’s Court in Glebe on the corner of Parramatta Road and Ross Street.

There was Ms X, Ms Y, Kevin Storey and me.

Ms X and Ms Y were members of Women Behind Bars, while Kevin was from the Prisoners Action Group.

As for me, I had a particular interest in Rogerson as he was responsible for “verballing” (obtaining fictitious confessions from) the three Ananda Marga men whose case I had taken up after I was employed by the Department of Corrective Services in 1981 as an Education Officer, working in all NSW prisons.

Tim Anderson, Paul Alister and Ross Dunn (no relation), the three Ananda Marga members, were jailed in 1978 for conspiracy to murder a right-wing leader of the National Front in Sydney.

Even though they were never charged with it, it was generally believed that the three were responsible for the Hilton Hotel bombing on 13 February 1978. The bomb exploded on the morning of a scheduled meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting (CHOGRM) at the Hilton Hotel in central Sydney.

I had found a large photograph of Rogerson in what was then very easily accessed Sydney Morning Herald photographic files. It showed him leaving a property in the eastern suburbs with a shotgun in his hands. With the help of my graphic arts mate, I added the words “WARNING: This man is armed and dangerous!” up the top, and down the bottom I wrote “Roger Rogerson: murderer, corrupt cop, bribe taker and giver, drug trafficker, inter alia!”.

I printed a number of large posters featuring this photograph with this wording, and it was these we carried to the Coroner’s Court on that dark night in November 1981 along with some glue and brushes.

The two women and Kevin were to paste the posters on the doors of the Coroner’s Court so that they would be the first things the throngs of media would see, and photograph, the following morning when they turned up to cover what was expected to be a packed-out coronial inquiry.

I was nominated to be the “cockatoo” to watch out for police, security guards and any officials who might try to stop us.

It was not long before I saw a police car heading west from the city, so I called out for my partners in crime to “beat it”.

Kevin Storey disappeared in a puff of smoke.

The police car passed the Court, screeched to a halt, chucked a wheelie, jumped across the raised median strip and headed back east along Parramatta Road towards the Court.

As one, the other two femmes and I raced to the other side of Parramatta Road.

Ms X and Ms Y ran west along Parramatta Road towards Missenden Road.

They’ll get caught, they have zero chance of escaping arrest, I thought, as I watched them run faster than I had ever seen them move.

I was wearing all black clothes, even black sneakers, in preparation for the event, so rather than pitting my legs against a V8 engine, I screened myself in the branches of a poplar tree as the police car whizzed by. At that time, Parramatta Road from the Ross Street gates to Missenden Road was lined on the university side with tall straight poplars. Sometimes it is better to remain stock still than to run. It’s a tactic used by some animals to escape detection.

As soon as the police car passed me by, I ran into the university grounds and threw myself under a large bush a few metres from the entrance. When I caught my breath, I noticed that a security guard was sitting in a university vehicle just a few metres away from me on the road next to the oval. I waited breathlessly for him to get out of his car and approach me but he did nothing.

Maybe 20 minutes later, when I thought the coast was clear, I returned home to my flat just up the road where my boyfriend, ex-prisoner and prison activist Brett Collins, was waiting for me.

We spent the next few hours ringing around all the police stations in Sydney but no Ms X or Ms Y was to be found.

I harboured awful thoughts that Rogerson might be getting stuck into them if he had been told by the arresting police about the posters that featured him, and the accompanying words.

What happened to Rogerson?

He was dismissed from the police force in 1986, and in 2016 he was found guilty of the murder of Jamie Gao, a university student, and sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 20 years.

He will most likely die in jail. He was 82 years old in 2023.

And the Margis? After two trials, a Supreme Court appeal, an appeal to the High Court, and a Section 475 inquiry, the Margis were released in May 1985 and pardoned not long after. They each received compensation of $100,000.

I produced a documentary film about the case called “Frame-Up: Who Bombed the Hilton, Who Didn’t” which was instrumental in securing the release of the three men.

Irina Dunn confronting a member of Special Branch on 16 June 1984 outside Special Branch HQ in College Street Sydney. Note the headline in the newspaper the SB man is holding, with the words “police perjury” clearly visible.