One of many miscarriages of justice orchestrated by Yugoslav secret services before Croatian independence. On Monday, December 4, 2023, there will be a public hearing for the inquiry into what might be the biggest injustice in the history of Australian counter-terrorism, the Croatian Six case:

By: Michaela Whitbourn

Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

The activities of a suspected spy, trumped-up terrorism charges and the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of six innocent men over an alleged bomb plot in Sydney would make for a startling work of fiction.

But a NSW Supreme Court inquiry, starting public hearings on Monday, December 4, is set to determine if it is gravely troubling fact – and one of the nation’s worst miscarriages of justice.

On February 8, 1979, six Croatian-Australians were arrested in raids in Lithgow and Sydney following a tip-off from a man claiming he was involved in a shared plot to bomb a string of targets across the city, including a Serbian club in Cabramatta, the Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown, and water supply pipes.

Among the officers leading the arrests in Sydney was one Roger Caleb Rogerson, then with the armed hold-up squad.

Bosnian-born Vico Virkez, real name Vitomir Misimovic or Mesimovic, told police about the alleged plot. He would give evidence for the Crown in the men’s marathon criminal trial, which spanned 172 days and led to the men’s conviction on charges of conspiracy to bomb and related offences.

The 10-member jury spent the night in Darlinghurst Supreme Court during deliberations, The Sydney Morning Herald reported, and took about three days to reach guilty verdicts on February 9, 1981. The men were sentenced to 15 years behind bars, but released within a decade.

In a historic decision last year, Supreme Court Justice Robertson Wright ordered a judicial inquiry into the decades-old convictions of Maksimilian Bebic, the late Mile Nekic, Vjekoslav Brajkovic, Anton Zvirotic, Ilija Kokotovic and Joseph Kokotovic, known as the “Croatian Six”, amid longstanding fears the men were framed. Previous applications for a review of their convictions had been unsuccessful. Acting Justice Robert Allan Hulme will head the inquiry.

Brajkovic turned to the jury after the guilty verdicts were delivered, the Herald reported at the time, and said: “The evidence brought into the court has no value. The police have done it.”


  • 8 February, 1979: Six Croatian-Australian men, later dubbed the “Croatian Six”, are arrested in raids in Lithgow and Sydney after a tip-off from a man claiming he was involved in a shared plot with the men to bomb locations in Sydney.
  • April 14, 1980: Trial of the Croatian Six starts in Sydney in Darlinghurst Supreme Court, then known as the Darlinghurst Central Criminal Court.
  • February 9, 1981: A 10-member jury returns guilty verdicts against all six men for conspiracy to bomb and related offences after what was then the longest criminal trial in Australian legal history.
  • February 17, 1981: Justice Victor Maxwell sentences each of the men to 15 years’ imprisonment. They are ultimately released within 10 years.
  • 14 October 1982: Court of Criminal Appeal dismisses each appeal against conviction and denies each man leave to appeal against sentence.
  • 14 March 1986: High Court refuses special leave to appeal against the convictions.
  • 30 August 2022: Supreme Court orders an inquiry into the men’s convictions.
  • 4 December 2023: Public hearings in the inquiry begin.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Trish McDonald, SC, said at a preliminary hearing this year that the inquiry would examine whether Virkez gave deliberately false evidence and explore “his connection with the Yugoslav Intelligence Service”.

The inquiry will also examine evidence of 39 police officers at the trial, a number of whom have since died, the circumstances in which evidence was withheld from the defence, and ASIO records declassified in 2018.

The six men were members of Croatian national organisations and were said to have a motive to bomb the targets, including the Newtown venue where entertainers from Yugoslavia were about to perform, in the name of Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia.

Each of the men denied claims they had made confessions to police and four of the six alleged they had been severely beaten by officers.

Walkley award-winning investigative journalist Hamish McDonald, who has written extensively about the case, wrote in his 2019 book, Reasonable Doubt: Spies, Police and the Croatian Six, that the trial and appeals took place “while public faith continued in the trustworthiness of police evidence”.

This would change within years, McDonald said. Rogerson, one of the officers leading the arrests, was dismissed from the force in 1986. In 1990, he was convicted of perverting the course of justice over $110,000 held in bank accounts under false names and spent three years in prison.

Rogerson served another 12 months behind bars after he was convicted in 2005 of lying to the Police Integrity Commission, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2016 for the murder of university student and drug dealer Jamie Gao, with a minimum of nine years over the supply of 2.78 kilograms of methylamphetamine or ice.

In his judgment ordering the inquiry, Wright noted Rogerson said in a 1991 interview that police frequently “verballed” people and fabricated evidence in the 1970s and 80s. However, Rogerson also told the Herald at the time that he “never did it myself.”

Lawyers acting for the three members of the Croatian Six who applied for the judicial inquiry – Bebic, Nekic and Brajkovic – argued in court that it was conceivable Rogerson “might be more forthcoming in relation to the role that he and other officers played in the Croatian Six case” now that he was serving a life sentence for murder.

Wright said the “applicants were not submitting that Mr Rogerson’s conviction was evidence suggesting that he or somebody else involved in the present case acted improperly, but rather that if there was any impropriety, he may be more willing to disclose it now in light of his circumstances”.

The first tranche of hearings in the inquiry will start on December 4 and run for up to a week. Among the witnesses expected to give evidence in December is one of the Croatian Six, Brajkovic, a seventh man initially charged with the group, Joseph Stipic, and Walkley award-winning journalist Chris Masters, about a 1991 interview with Virkez.

Charges against Stipic fell over when it was revealed police claimed explosives were found in a desk drawer in his room when there was no drawer in his desk.

Post-conviction inquiries are rare, but NSW has now had two in quick succession: Kathleen Folbigg was pardoned and freed from prison in June after an inquiry concluded there was reasonable doubt about her convictions over the deaths of her four young children.

The Croatian Six inquiry is expected to lend further weight to calls following Folbigg’s pardon for an independent post-conviction review body to investigate potential miscarriages of justice, modelled on the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission.

P. S.

You can watch it live on the YouTube channel in the link:



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