Coast man's gruelling five years fighting corrupt cops
FOR five years Coast man Ralph Devlin dedicated his existence to taking down Queensland's corrupt cops and politicians in the ground-breaking Fitzgerald Inquiry.
From regional superintendents in Cairns, to a number of inspectors across the state, down to senior sergeants, sergeants and even senior constables, Mr Devlin said corruption had spread to nearly every rung of the police ladder.
The Maroochydore Surf Life Saving Club life governor, now a QC, was a junior counsel assisting the inquiry in 1987, after being appointed from private practice after years as a Crown Prosecutor.
While Coast locals would know him from his work with the surf club, or his stint as a Surf Life Saving Queensland president, in the late-1980s Mr Devlin was scouring the state for evidence against the crime bosses, corrupt police and politicians.
"We went into the field with cops armed with a pistol," Mr Devlin said.
"We were investigating marijuana crop stripping in Mackay and the detective (he was with) had a pistol strapped on his ankle.
"The first 18 months were the toughest because there were no rules.
"Once or twice I became very concerned (for my safety), absolutely."
For those the subject of the historic inquiry - crooked cops, politicians and the heads of illegal gambling and prostitution rings - life changed dramatically.
Then-Acting Premier Bill Gunn called for the inquiry 30 years ago this year, following a series of media reports.
The astonishing results of the investigation revealed widespread corruption.
Ex-Police Commissioner Terry Lewis was jailed and stripped of his knighthood, while the Crime and Corruption Commission website reported four State Ministers were also imprisoned and numerous police officers were convicted.
Former Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was charged with perjury over evidence he gave to the inquiry, although his trial was aborted due to a hung jury.
For Mr Devlin, life also changed dramatically.
"It had a huge impact on me personally and professionally at the time," he said.
"I did nothing else."
Mr Devlin was a single man, in his early-30s when he joined the ground breaking inquiry led by Tony Fitzgerald, QC.
By the time the gruelling, five-year process had wrapped up he was married, and a father to three of his five children.
"We had to come to Melbourne to get married just to have a level of privacy," the Member of the Order of Australia said.
It didn't stop his wedding being splashed on the front page of major Melbourne newspapers.
"The lawyers were sort of celebrities in a way," he recalled.
"The memories of my involvement in the Fitzgerald Inquiry have never really left me."
The first 18 months was spent conducting the inquiry, which was initially meant to take only six weeks, looking into possible police corruption involving illegal gambling and prostitution.
Testimony was heard from 339 witnesses over 238 public sitting days and the inquiry's terms of reference were extended, enabling Mr Fitzgerald and his team to expand its scope, and investigate evidence of political corruption.
Mr Devlin said the first 18 months were the most difficult of the five-year inquiry which consumed his life, more difficult than the following three-and-a-half years of criminal prosecutions which stemmed from the inquiry's findings.
Such was the enormity of the task Mr Devlin essentially had no practice to return to when the inquiry finished, and it took a decade of hard work to re-establish his private practice.
While his colleagues, the likes of Tony Fitzgerald and Gary Crooke were afforded police protection during the inquiry, Mr Devlin recalled with a laugh that he was "too junior" to be provided the same security.
"It was obvious that they needed protection and everyone accepted that," Mr Devlin said.
"(Nevertheless) it was difficult and dangerous work.
"We worked with very courageous police officers."
Mr Devlin said the criminal prosecution side of the process was easier, as it was a matter of running out lines of inquiry and turning information into admissible evidence.
"Fitzgerald was the absolute heart and soul of the inquiry and he was a very incisive thinker," Mr Devlin recalled.
"He worked incredibly hard.
"There were many prosecutions that took probably in total about four-and-a-half years to finish."
Mr Devlin found himself in demand following the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which he described as "pretty amazing".
He went on to appear in the Bundaberg Hospital Inquiry, Racing Inquiry and the Queensland Floods Inquiry.
"It opened up an opportunity for me to do a lot of investigative lawyering," Mr Devlin said.
"I always wanted to be a criminal lawyer first and foremost and all I can say is I got my wish."
He was speaking up again to make sure Queenslanders never forget "how bad the times were".
While he said the Queensland Police Service was a very different service to what it was, he added it was important the public remained vigilant against corruption of public figures and police.
"You can never get complacent," the 62-year-old said.
He believed of the 100-plus recommendations made in the 639-page Fitzgerald Report, the establishment of the Criminal Justice Commission (now the Crime and Corruption Commission) was the most important.
"(CJC) was the single-most important thing to come of the inquiry," he said.
"It's incredibly important to public life in Queensland that it remains, is properly resourced and has (suitable) powers.
"I'm very proud of what all the people did to bring some justice to Queensland, after years of very questionable leadership both politically and from the police."
So what now for a man who has accomplished so much?
Mr Devlin said he was preparing to sing in the theatre, during a "week off" in Melbourne.