By: Sam McKeith

Photo: Australian Associated Press

An ex-police officer says he overheard talk that one of the so-called “Croatian Six” was beaten after being arrested over a Sydney bomb plot, more than four decades ago.

He was giving evidence on Monday at the NSW judicial inquiry into the 1981 convictions of six men who were jailed over a terrorist conspiracy to blow up Sydney targets.

At the time Maksimilian Bebic, Mile Nekic, Vjekoslav Brajkovic, Anton Zvirotic, Ilija Kokotovic and Joseph Kokotovic were Croatian nationalists who wanted a breakup of Yugoslavia.

The men were each sentenced to 15 years’ jail over the alleged conspiracy to bomb two Sydney travel agencies, a Serbian social club, the Elizabethan Theatre in Newtown and the city’s water supply pipes.

Counsel assisting the inquiry Trish McDonald SC on Monday quizzed retired Lithgow police officer Christopher Ingram on his memory of February 8, 1979, when a man named Vico Virkez told him about the alleged bomb plot.

Mr Virkez later became a crown witness, but the inquiry was previously told there was a possibility he might have been working for Yugoslavian intelligence services.

His claims prompted police to raid a nearby property and arrest of Mr Bebic.

After the raid, Mr Ingram said he was inside Lithgow police station’s detective office when he heard a voice in the hallway telling a story about Mr Bebic.

Mr Ingram recalled overhearing the voice, which he could not identify, relay Mr Bebic’s words “‘you hit me, you kill me I be dead and I tell you nothing'”.

Quizzed by Acting Justice Robert Allan Hulme over who may have been speaking, Mr Ingram said it could only have been police.

At the police raid earlier that day, Mr Ingram said he saw Mr Bebic flee a house and be placed against a wall, but he denied hearing someone yell out “shoot the bastard”.

He also said he did not recall the suspect being handcuffed or remember seeing him being hit hard on the back of the head.

“Did you see any violence being inflicted on Mr Bebic?” Ms McDonald asked.

“No I didn’t,” Mr Ingram replied.

The witness said he was “totally engaged watching the door so I don’t know what was going on behind me at that stage”.

Asked by counsel representing three of the convicted men, David Buchanan SC, if Mr Virkez was bashed at Lithgow, Mr Ingram said “I have no knowledge of that”.

Mr Virkez, in prison in 1980, told Mr Ingram he was tired of jail and wanted to go home but did not mention any link to the Yugoslavian consulate or intelligence service, the inquiry heard.

“I didn’t have a conversation with him about his plea or his evidence or anything,” Mr Ingram said.

He said there was “a lot of this stuff I don’t really recall”, describing his memory as “pretty scratchy” on details from the events of more than four decades ago.

Among issues being examined at the inquiry are whether police fabricated evidence and extracted false confessions from the six men.

All of the group denied making confessions attributed to them by police and four claimed to have been severely beaten while in custody.

The inquiry continues on Tuesday.


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