Underbelly: articles

Underbelly gangster glamour wears off

THE next series of crime drama Underbelly is under fire from the State's police officers who say the show is guilty of glorifying violent and dangerous criminals.

Based on the two previous series of the Nine Network's highly successful drama, police have expressed their concerns and frustrations that Underbelly: The Golden Mile will make heroes of criminals and portray police as the real crooks.

They predict a slanted view of the turmoil that shaped law enforcement during the 1990s and rocked the NSW Police Force.

"It's disappointing," one senior officer from the Central Metropolitan Region said.

"Bagging cops gets people watching — you get one copper doing something wrong and the rest of us get tarred with the same brush.

"Most cops would say glamourising s***bags like they're going to do is not the best idea ... but it's a television show at the end of the day." The series, due to air in February, is set to retell Sydney's criminal past from the late 1980s through to the fallout from the gruelling 1995 Wood Royal Commission into police.

At the centre of it all will be nightclub promoter John Ibrahim, played by actor Firass Dirani.

The show is set to chart Mr Ibrahim's meteoric rise from street-wise hustler to successful businessman — untouchable to authorities and irresistible to women.

Mr Ibrahim, 38, known to be notoriously publicity-shy, has previously been the subject of police surveillance and intelligence, but has beaten all charges that have been levelled against him in court. Although he is known as "Teflon John" and "The King of the Cross", the entrepreneur has never been convicted of a single crime.

Acting Police Commissioner Dave Owens told The Sunday Telegraph while it was hard to judge a show he hadn't seen, police would be watching closely for any embellishments.

"There's always the potential for poetic licence," Mr Owens said.

"We're yet to see the most recent series so it's not possible to form a view about its accuracy.

"It will obviously be covering a period of turmoil in the history of the NSW Police Force that's thankfully long gone. We'll watch with interest."

The Victorian police force experienced similar misgivings with the first series of Underbelly, which detailed Melbourne's notorious gangland murders of the 1990s and beyond.

Retired detective Dr Michael Kennedy, a senior lecturer in policing studies at the University of Western Sydney, said the show could not be a credible account of events.

He said key police agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police, which played instrumental roles during the period, were likely to escape scrutiny.

"Every week the series should begin with the line 'Once upon a time', because it's a fairy tale," Dr Kennedy told The Sunday Telegraph.

"The drama series portrays it in a simple way of good guys and bad guys who are misunderstood — and they're not. There's nothing about it, in my view, which hinges on the truth."

Former NSW Police assistant commissioner Clive Small's new book Blood Money, due out in February, is said to be Underbelly's main information source.

But Small, whose novel Smack Express informed Underbelly's second outing, A Tale Of Two Cities, admitted only a small percentage of the new novel informed the latest scripts.

"You or I could write a book with 30 names in it. There's no way people watching TV are going to remember 30 names so you have to condense a lot of the facts. Where say four or five people might be doing something, by the time it gets to television, one person will have done it all," Small said. While program producer Des Mongahan was unavailable for comment, a Channel Nine spokesperson confirmed Ibrahim had met with Dirani, before reiterating the that nightclub boss had no official attachment to the production.

"He was aware of the production, but he did not act as a consultant on Underbelly: The Golden Mile... He has no official relationship with the production and anything else is pure speculation," the spokesperson said.

"It's a dramatic portrayal of real people and events — entertainment is often heightened, a certain amount of dramatic license taken and judgements shouldn't be formed until people have viewed the entire series."

By Richard Clune and Yoni Bashan
January 10, 2010
The Sunday Telegraph