It is discomforting to watch events unfold, to see the terrible vulnerability in the very people who are sworn to protect us, writes Ruth Wykes.
In the early hours of Wednesday 12 October 1988 two young Victorian police constables, Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre, were ambushed and shot dead in Walsh Street, South Yarra. It was a cold-blooded planned ambush, an execution of two innocent men. Payback by a violent and lawless gang of criminals, who’d told friends that next time the cops shot one of them they would go “two for one”. The previous afternoon police shot and killed armed robber, Graeme Jenson, a colleague of the notorious Kensington Crew.
Steven Tynan was 22 years old and had been a police officer for less than three years. His partner, 20-year-old Damian Eyre was only six months out of the Academy. They were working a slow night shift when, at around 4.30am they attended their ninth callout of the evening: an abandoned car in Walsh Street, South Yarra. The car was in the middle of the road with all four doors open and a smashed window. When the constables arrived on scene they radioed their location to D24 then approached the car. Damian Eyre noted down the number plate and registration details while Steven Tynan slid into the driver’s seat.
They were ambushed within minutes. Armed men rushed them. Tynan was shot in the head with a shotgun, then Eyre was shot across the back. He struggled with the killers but he was outnumbered. One of the men grabbed Eyre’s service revolver and fatally shot him twice. Residents of the affluent street heard loud shots and dialled 000. D24 operators, unable to raise Tynan and Eyre on police radio, sent more officers to the scene. They held their breath as they waited. The report, when it came, was chilling: South Melbourne 250 – two members down, urgent! Then a moment later: South Melbourne 250 – for God’s sake get an ambulance.
The crime scene is distressing to watch. The program uses old news footage and the images are sometimes grainy. It’s fitting, I think, because it adds a sense of grit, and of history to the story. Paramedics attempt to treat the wounded constables then rush them to hospitals where they are both pronounced dead on arrival. Police arrive in their numbers. They cordon off Walsh Street then try to make sense of what just happened. There’s a vague fear the shooters are still lingering, many officers appear shell-shocked. They all sense a line into lawlessness has just been crossed; they’re angry, frightened. Worst of all they know: it could have been me.
From the very beginning investigators believe the Kensington Crew were responsible. The Armed Robbery Squad sensed it, word in the criminal underworld was full of chatter about it, and the Ty-Eyre Task Force was formed to bring the killers to justice.
John Silvester features in this episode. He’s a journalist, a crime writer, a man who understands the criminal history of Melbourne better than most. I like his no-nonsense approach as he explains this complex investigation. He and the police explain how evidence was lost at the crime scene. It was contaminated by the sheer number of people who attended and the urgency of the situation. Then it took ten days for the Task Force to get the resources they needed.
And then we learn about the difficulty of finding information from people who loathed the police.
Eventually four men were arrested and charged with the murders of Tynan and Eyre: Victor Pierce, his half-brother Trevor Pettingel, Anthony Farrell and Peter McEvoy.
This came about because of two key witnesses. The first was 17-year-old Jason Ryan, Victor Pierce’s nephew. He was a drug using petty thief and he told police he was involved, that he knew what had happened that night. The problem for the prosecution was that Ryan changed his story several times. The other witness was Victor’s wife, Wendy Pierce. She gave police a 31-page statement in which she implicated the four men, went into witness protection. Former detective, Colin McLaren, worked hard to turn Wendy who identified her husband as the main perpetrator of Walsh Street.
You can see the frustration in Colin McLaren’s face when he talks about how Wendy got up at the pre-trial hearing and declared her statement was all a lie. Her withdrawal fatally compromised the Crown’s case and police believe that somewhere, during her time in witness protection, Victor Pierce got to her.
Without Wendy Pierce’s evidence it was almost inevitable that the four criminals were acquitted of the Walsh Street murders. It would be years later, long after Victor Pierce was gunned down in his own car, Wendy would tell John Silvester that Victor had been responsible for Walsh Street.
This episode is emotionally difficult to watch. It is discomforting to watch events unfold, to see the terrible vulnerability in the very people who are sworn to protect us, to grapple with their frustration that they were never able to find justice for their colleagues. Even worse, the knowledge that the people behind these calculated, senseless murders are free.
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