Former Victoria Police Detective Denis Ryan a Hero of Child Abuse Inquiry
By Jack the Insider
December 8, 2017
Imagine in this age of instant gratification, having to wait for something, anything for 45 years. Then think what it must be like to have to wait so long for something as fundamental as the truth.
Former Victoria Police detective, Denis Ryan, turned 86 last month.
In 1972, he was forced out of the Victoria Police Force after trying to bring the pedophile priest, Monsignor John Day, to justice.
Forty years later, Denis came to my home and together we wrote the book of that appalling story, Unholy Trinity: The Hunt for the Pedophile Priest Monsignor John Day”.
At the time I cautioned Denis about setting his expectations too high. The subject material of the book was so disturbing I doubted it would be a bestseller. To publisher Allen & Unwin’s credit they published anyway.
The book was a modest seller but some important people read it, including a former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Mick Miller. Mick is in his 90s but he agitated on Denis’s behalf within the upper echelons of the Victoria Police Force.
Earlier this week the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its report into Catholic Church Authorities in Ballarat, known otherwise as Case Study 28. .
On page 231 of that report an extract of Mick Miller’s testimony appears.
“This entire episode was a shameful event in the history of Victoria Police. It might well be remembered as a definite disincentive to others, confronted by a similar set of circumstances, to emulate former Senior Detective Denis Ryan’s peerless, principled performance of his sworn duty.”
Mick’s remark was followed by a two word note from the Commission.
And with those two simple words, vindication came for Denis Ryan.
Denis had given evidence to the Royal Commission. He took to the witness box immediately before Mick Miller back in December 2015. Like Miller, his evidence was not challenged. There was no cross examination. Police knew the game was up. Since then VicPol has offered its apologies to Denis in a formal setting at their St Kilda Road headquarters. Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton has offered apologies in public and in private at Denis’s home.
The Royal Commission’s Report was the final and most formal stage in the process of Ryan’s vindication.
How does one feel after waiting so long? Relieved? Exhilarated?
“I feel flat this morning. It took 45 years to expose what has been said is the biggest criminal conspiracy in Victoria’s history,” Denis said.
“Victoria Police pushed me out of the place. I was a good policeman.”
He was better than good. He was hell on wheels as a detective. He solved murders. In his own methodical, probing way, he obtained confessions from violent criminals.
When he came to investigate Monsignor John Day, Denis had a pool of Mildura’s young men - not crooks, just young adults hooning around in cars, doing what young men in country towns do to ease the boredom. He’d befriended them and often sort them out for information. That group of young men were the catalyst in the investigation, one Denis would later describe as “like stepping stones”, going from one victim to the next.
They knew what the denizens of Mildura merely suspected. Day was an outrageous pedophile. The young blokes knew because some of them were his victims and it was only when they were together, perhaps ripping the top off a few cold ones down on the banks of the Murray that they felt safe enough to share their stories. They felt safe enough to share their stories with Denis, too.
Denis took their statements and then sought help from senior police outside Mildura. That was when the shit hit the fan.
Denis was ordered off the investigation. Senior cops put the smother on. Denis was offered an inducement - a promotion - to run dead on the investigation. He declined. He continued making his inquiries. More victims, more statements. In the end, a Detective Chief Superintendent and a Detective Chief Inspector both working under the instruction of the Chief Commissioner Reg Jackson, basically tore up Denis’s work, silenced victims and destroyed Denis’s career.
Denis was ostracised. For nine months no police officer would speak to him. He was placed on divisional patrol duties. Denis was instructed not to leave the Mildura area without the approval of his senior officers. He was threatened with disciplinary action but the charges were a joke and never saw the light of day. Denis had always done things by the book. He was meticulous.
Then he was ordered to transfer to Melbourne, something senior police knew he could not do, due to the health of his children.
More importantly Denis knew if he did accept the transfer that would make him complicit in the conspiracy. It is almost certainly true that if Denis had remained in the force, we simply would not know today what happened in Mildura in 1972 and how Victoria’s most senior police conspired with Bishop Ronald Mulkearns to remove Day from Mildura and set him up in another parish where the old degenerate priest offended again. Monsignor John Day, in my view one of the most prolific child sex offenders in this country’s history, died in 1978. He was never brought to account for his many crimes.
By any measure it was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and everyone involved from Commissioner Jackson down should have been prosecuted for it.
But only Denis would be punished, forced out of the job he loved.
There will be more to the Denis Ryan story. Vindication is one step in the process. Compensation another. Denis Ryan should be seen as the hero he is, as a model for any servant of the public, one that when challenged, never wavered, never took the easy way out. It cost him half his life. Financial mayhem, emotional pain, psychological torment.
When I spoke to Denis just after the Royal Commission handed down its report. I was triumphant but Denis was not in celebratory mood.
“I still think about how many hundreds of victims might have been spared if Victoria’s most senior police did what they were charged to do, what they took an oath to do.”
Then he paused.
“It’s been a long time.”