You see and hear a lot of things as a journalist. You sit in court, you stand at crime scenes. You talk to investigators, lawyers, witnesses. You talk to families, grieving families who have lost someone.
So many things stay with you. I once walked into a house set up for a kid’s 18th birthday party. There were balloons and streamers and presents. But he’d died that morning – along with two of his mates – in a car crash on a country road.
But there is nothing quite like the total immersion that comes with writing a book. Day after day I sat reading through research, court transcripts and articles on an eight-year investigation into the kidnapping and murder of a 13-year-old boy. Thousands of pages. Many, many phone calls.
I wrote The Sting after sitting through the trial into Daniel Morcombe’s murder. Covert police had spent months posing as members of a criminal gang, convincing their suspect, Brett Peter Cowan, that he was on his way to being one of them. Soon he would be earning big money, living a life of fast cars and parties – a brotherhood. He’d never been part of anything, so by the end, he was hooked.
It was incredibly rare to get such an insight into the workings of a covert operation. In court we heard recordings, testimony from covert officers and had access to pages and pages of transcripts. Later, I was given access to one of the covert officers and gained more insight through my own research.
It’s a horrible thing to enter that world. To listen to the things a man like Brett Cowan likes to talk about. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like for those covert officers. I know they hated him, hated having to laugh along every day, join in on his jokes. And the secrecy of the operation meant they had nobody to talk to at the end of each day. The judge talked about it in court before some of the recordings were played. Just be aware, she told Daniel’s partners who sat in the public gallery, that these covert officers are saying things and responding to things in order to further the investigation. They don’t really find him funny. They don’t really mean the things that they say. This is not who they are.
I dedicated the book to those guys. Because of the work they do, their identities can’t be revealed. And that means they can’t get the public recognition they deserve for the incredible work they did.
But we can read about it…