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Tag Archives: Supreme Court

The Forgery Trial

Since April 4, 2016 I have been attending the Supreme Court to observe the trial of Peter Gant and Aman Siddique who were accused of forging two Brett Whiteley paintings. Last Friday Justice Croucher finally passed sentence. The jury verdict had been delivered months before, but the sentences had been delayed to hear plea hearings and applications for damages.

The trial of Aman Siddique and Peter Gant was itself is at a trivial crossroads in legal history as it is one of the last cases to be tried in the Supreme Court with the lawyers and judge wearing the traditional wigs. As of May 1, 2016 Supreme Court trials will no longer have the judge and barristers wearing wigs.

For most of the trial Justice Michael Croucher was wearing in his wig and red robes edged with silver. His tipstaff was dressed in the traditional uniform of a long grey coat with black brocade.

The venerable old defence barrister Remey Van De Weil, QC, who was representing Siddique, commented on the loss of wigs in his summing up to the jury. He noted that the wigs going back to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Mr Van De Weil used this historical point to emphasise this to the jury. “You are here to apply the principles of law, and that’s why we dress the way in which we do and it’s the only justification for it – believe me; I do not go to bed wearing these clothes, I don’t wear them around the house or certainly don’t wear them walking my dog.” He probably uses the same speech on all the juries.

Remey’s old wig looks like it is made out of horse hair, but the younger wigs in the courtroom are all made of nylon.

All the wigs were off for the sentencing.

On Friday Peter Gant, the art dealer who had sold the forgeries was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 2.5 years. Aman Siddique, the art restorer who painted the forgeries was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, with an order for ten months to be served and 26 months suspended. There were several reasons for the difference in the sentences including that there was no proof that Siddique had received any money and because if Siddique served twelve months he would be deported from Australia, as he is not an Australian citizen.

The sentences were not a surprise to those watching the trial. The verdict will probably be overturned on appeal because there is evidence from a couple of witnesses that the two paintings in question existed in 1988.

For most of the time I sat with the large blue painting in its gilded frame known as “Blue Lavender Bay” resting on the padded seats just behind me on the press bench. The slightly smaller painting “Orange Lavender Bay” was further along.

I was not alone on the press bench. The other regulars observing the trial included, Bill Luke and the former arts reporter for The Age, Gabriella Coslovich were also both writing books. We were very occasionally joined by various journalists, generally, Pia Akerman for The Australian.

I have never observed a Supreme Court trial before but I have some experience with court reporting. (Read my blog post Are You Experienced?)

I have not been able to write about most of the trial because my blog allows comments and reporting on a jury trial with online comments risks contempt of court. I was not there for my blog but to work on my book about art and crime. I did find one exception and that was to write about the tagging on the press bench.

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True Crime and Art

I am working on my next book about true crime and visual arts in Australia. (My first book  Sculptures of Melbourne was published last year.) This has involved sitting in court, searching archives as well as, my usual activities, looking at art and talking to artists.

Melbourne, like all metropolises has artists, public art galleries, private art galleries, art collectors, art dealers and criminals, everything that is needed for art thefts. Everything that is needed for a lot of other crimes involving art and art involved in crimes.

There are many true stories about the intersection between the worlds of art and crime. I will be writing about the theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman, of course and also other stories involving art thefts, vandalism of art, vandalism that is art and criminals who do art.

Earlier this year I spent days sitting in the Supreme Court watching the trial of Peter Gant and Aman Siddique for the forging of Brett Whiteley paintings. I learnt a lot about courtroom procedures and how Brett Whiteley’s paintings are framed.

Both Gant and Siddique have been found guilty by the jury but the judgement for that trial has still not been given, so I can’t finish that chapter just yet (both Gant and Siddique were acquitted on appeal in 2017). Coincidentally it was one of the last trials to be conducted with a judge in a wig.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at original documents in the State Library’s Heritage Collection Reading Room. I had heard that they had the sketch book of the bushranger and sculptor, William Stanford. When I investigated I found that there were two books. They were waiting for me on the desk with the pillow on it. The pillow was to cradle the spin of the delicate old books, its cover half falling off, pages coming out. I was surprised that I was not required to wear white gloves to handle them but there was enough grim on the pages already from when Stanford was in Pentridge.

I was not allowed to take photographs of Stanford’s notebooks, nor was I allowed to photograph the tags on Supreme court’s press bench where the crime reporter have cut their names. Not that I am worried as my next book is going to be an unusual book about art, one without many pictures.

Mostly my historical research has involved searching old newspapers scanned on Trove. You would not believe the number of paint brushes stolen in Victoria in the nineteenth century but before mass production made them inexpensive. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that anyone actually stole a painting.

Readers maybe able to help me if they:

  • Any serving or retired member of Victoria Police who has investigated any art theft, fraud involving art, vandalism of art or is interested in art crimes.
  • Knew the painter Ronald Bull
  • Has any information about Phillip Richmond O’Loughlin of Sydney from around 1946
  • Has any information Timur Grin or Anthony D’Souza
  • Has any information about John Allen Haywood of Mount Druitt
  • Knew Ivan and Pamela Liberto in Toorak
  • Taught visual arts at any prison in Victoria
  • Studied visual arts in prison in Victoria
  • Has a criminal conviction for graffiti in Melbourne
  • Was a victims of art theft or forgery in Melbourne
  • Has been arrested and/or convicted of any crime due to their art practice in Melbourne
  • Was a member of the Australian Cultural Terrorists (ACT)

If you want to contact me about this or any other information about art involving crimes or crimes involving art in Australia I can keep your identity confidential.


Taggers Target Supreme Court

It is hard being the press benches in Court 3 of the Supreme Court on William Street in Melbourne. You are made of wood and you are used by journalists and semi-respectable writers, like myself. Even worse as some of these journalists, like naughty school children, will carve their name into the wood.

The benches date back to the construction of the court in 1884. The older marks are dark with layers of furniture polish/varnish whereas the recent marks are pale. This is old school tagging in block capital letters (I will spare your eyes and have altered all the text to include lower case):

“Wayne Flower 14.15”

“Flower 15”

Wayne Flower is a Herald Sun journalist who, along with his colleague Anthony Dowsley, won the 2012 Quill Award for Best Coverage of an Issue or Event for their series of articles about Jill Meagher. Wayne Flower has also written about the street artist Lush, who Flowers described as a “masked vandal” who “has been terrorising the western suburbs for years”.

I did contact Flower for comment but he has not replied to my email. I would like to know if he thinks that there is a difference in the kind of graffiti/scraffiti that you do in the Supreme Court and the kind that Lush does on the street?

Other journalists have also added their names and place of work. A couple of Flower’s colleagues at the Herald Sun, “Ando” and “E. Portelli” have also added their names. After tracking down street artists based on their tags this is playing on easy level. These are at least a bit more obscure than writing your first and last names. E. Portelli is a bit more obscure but @emilyportelli is the Twitter handle of Emily Purcell former Herald Sun court reporter and currently a news writer for Mamamia.

“Steve O5 The Age” is possibly Steve Butcher, Senior Court Reporter for The Age. Other tags on the press bench include “Colin Dale Herald ’85”, “G.T.” and “K.Osborn”.

I have singled out the Herald Sun because it has often condemned the actions of graffiti writers and street artists for years, so this post has the wonderful flavour of irony sauce on revenge fried hypocrite. Most graffiti and street artists do not tag private homes, religious centres and historic buildings, like the Supreme Court.

I am not able to report on what was occurring in Court 3 of the Supreme Court as that would be a contempt of court as it could, or any of the comments could, prejudice a jury. Nor am I able to present any photographic evidence of the scraffiti on the press bench because cameras are not permitted in the court.


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