Phillip Gordon FLEMING
Victoria Police Force
Police Academy Squad 11 of 1967
Regd. # 15731
Rank: Commenced training – 10 October 1967
Probationary Constable – appointed 4 March 1968
Stations: Russell St, Flemington, Collingwood ( June 1969 )
Service: From 10 October 1967 to 19 February 1971 = 3+ years Service
Awards: Victoria Police Star – granted on 5 April 2007 ( posthumously )
Born: 31 January 1949 at Creswick Hospital, Victoria.
Died on: Friday 19 February 1971
Cause: Motor Vehicle accident – passenger – front seat
Funeral date: ?
Funeral location: ?
Buried at: ?
Memorial at: Frankston Hospitil, Hybrid Interventional Theatre, Peninsula Health, Frankston, Victoria
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Funeral location: ?
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May they forever Rest In Peace
About 5.40am on Friday 19 February 1971, Constable Fleming was the observer in a police divisional van travelling along the Boulevard, Kew, when the vehicle ran off the road, crashed through a fence and plunged down an embankment. Fleming received massive head injuries and died instantly.
He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Police Star on the 5 April 2007.
The Mornington Peninsula Branch of the Blue Ribbon Foundation together with our local police, Chief Commissioner and other distinguished guests today hosted a dedication to Constable Phillip FLEMING 15731 who was killed on duty in a motor vehicle accident on 19 February 1971.
The ceremony with Police Honours dedicated a purpose built emergency operating theatre at Peninsula Health as a permanent memorial to Constable FLEMING.
The service was a moving tribute to his memory and the creation of this new state of the art facility at Peninsula Health will ensure his memory lives on.
I take this opportunity to thank the Blue Ribbon Foundation, business and community alike for enabling the creation of this important medical facility.
A committed officer takes the exit ramp
THE sight of the apparently unflappable senior policeman giving calm television updates as the state burnt provided just a measure of reassurance as we faced our greatest natural disaster.
On Black Saturday, and in the days and weeks that followed, Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe was the front man, running the police response, from initial evacuation to the grim process of identifying victims.
With the death toll by late Saturday standing at 16, he knew it would get ”much worse”, but no one could have imagined the count would rise to 173.
Much has been said about then chief commissioner Christine Nixon choosing to head to a North Melbourne pub for a meal on the night of February 7, 2009, as Victoria burned.
But little has been said about how Walshe ran the emergency operation, providing strong leadership for police out in the carnage and a measured tone for the community trying to come to terms with an event almost beyond imagination.
What few knew at the time was that, behind the carefully constructed professional facade, the deputy commissioner was in turmoil as – like so many – he had been touched by those fires.
The father of four daughters, he had feared early on that his son-in-law’s family had been caught in one of the blazes. The worst was confirmed the next day. ”His mother and brother were victims who were lost in the Strathewen fires,” he says.
”I was trying to provide support for my daughter and her husband, but at the same time we had a job to do. I believe that if you take on a role, then you have to step up during the testing times.”
It has been part of the philosophy that has sustained him during his 44-year career, which has seen him rise from a 16-year-old police cadet to a deputy commissioner who served under three chiefs.
Big, broad and bald, with a copper’s handshake and a friendly manner, the senior policeman, now 61, will retire at the end of next week, proud at what he has achieved and confident the force has moved on from the poisonous office politics that previously infected its top ranks. This included assistant commissioner Noel Ashby’s bugged conversations that showed him trying to damage rival Simon Overland’s chances of becoming the next chief commissioner, and then deputy commissioner Sir Ken Jones’ well-documented spat with Overland.
”I have always believed that you must remain loyal to the organisation and to your leader,” says Walshe. ”So it was particularly disappointing when certain members of the executive showed less than true loyalty to the chief commissioner.”
The manner of Simon Overland’s forced resignation last year still grates. ”He had the organisation on the right track and was totally committed to the Victoria Police. The way he left remains one of the low points of my career.”
He says he also enjoyed working with Nixon. ”Christine has a different, more relaxed, management style. She recognised people’s skills and trusted them to do a job.”
Many kids flirt with the idea of joining the police. Most grow out of it. Walshe didn’t. Ever since he was nine, growing up in Bendigo, his career path was set. His father knew many of the local coppers, who left a lasting impression on the youngster, and as soon as he was old enough he moved to Melbourne to join.
It was 1968 and Australia was just starting to feel comfortable about decimal currency; former fighter pilot John Gorton was prime minister; and Richard Nixon moved into the White House.
As a cadet, Walshe was sent to get experience at busy stations, including Northcote, where he no doubt got under the feet of the head of the crime section, a certain Detective Senior Sergeant Fred Silvester. After graduating, he went to Russell Street before transferring to Collingwood, where he experienced firsthand the dangers of his job.
On a night shift in 1971, the Ford divisional van he was driving along The Boulevard in Kew smashed through a fence and plunged 45 metres down an embankment. When he regained consciousness he tried to help his partner, Constable Phillip Fleming, who was motionless in the passenger seat. Walshe radioed for help then clambered back up the hill, his head badly gashed. What he didn’t yet know was that his partner had been killed on impact.
Walshe, now finishing up as Victoria’s traffic chief, says that having been involved in a fatal accident (”losing a mate … you carry it your whole life”) taught him the consequences of each road death.
”There is the victim, the family and the friends. The effect is devastating to so many people. I think it is one of the reasons I have been passionate about road policing.”
Walshe moved around busy inner-city stations before moving to Ascot Vale and the CIB (criminal investigation branch). ”I tried to treat each investigation as a learning experience and a chance to build your skills.”
By the 1980s, he was in charge of the air wing, which he built up from one helicopter and two fixed-wing aircraft to a service that provided emergency rescues, ambulance response, transport, traffic observation, drug crop identification and criminal surveillance. Despite not being a pilot, he was once given a million dollars and told to go out and buy a single-engine helicopter. Considering the number of lame buys senior police have made over the years, including spending a fortune on a computer system with the power of a crystal set, it is a wonder he didn’t come back with a blimp.
His career – in which he has moved through all ranks and most areas of the force – proved to be the perfect grounding for high office. This included a stint with the ethical standards department, an area that he thinks too many police avoid as they ”don’t see it as a good career move”. While there are still police (including some elite investigators) who refuse to work in ESD, dubbing it ”The Filth” or ”The Toecutters”, Walshe says a spell in the area improves leadership skills. ”You learn to recognise the early warning signs of when someone might be about to make some poor decisions.
”ESD deals with serious criminal and disciplinary matters. We accept that when someone in the community commits a crime they should be prosecuted and we should have the same attitude when it comes to police.”
From 1999, Walshe also spent two years at Seymour, where he found a new respect for country police. ”Country policing is so different to metropolitan policing. There is no sense of anonymity as you live in the same community where you work. Everyone knows you are a police officer.” He sees police in Victoria’s 99 one-person country stations as ”the last bastion of authority. The house is usually next door to the station, so you are expected to be available 24/7.”
Like many, Walshe watched the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre, soon realising it would change the face of policing. In 2005, he was made assistant commissioner counter terrorism and was involved in Australia’s two biggest terrorism investigations, Pendennis and Neath. ”These were significant disruption exercises. It remains of great concern that these cells were operating not only in Australia, but specifically Melbourne.”
He says there has been a marked shift in the expectations of police recruits today. ”It is a generational thing. The vast majority are as committed to serving the community as we were back in 1968, but more of them see it as a job rather than as a career. That never entered my mind when I joined, as I fully expected to stay until I retired – although I didn’t dream I would last 44 years.”
”When Ken [Lay] was appointed Chief Commissioner, I knew the time was right for me to go. There are some things I want to do while I am still fit enough to do them.” These include travel with his wife, Denise, and spending time with his family, including his eight (soon to be nine) grandchildren.
Mate and long-time colleague Lay told us, ”Kieran has had a magnificent career. I was his subordinate and he was the sort of boss you would die for. When we were peers I always appreciated his wise counsel and as my deputy he has been rock solid and loyal.
”You always know where you are with him. He will look you in the eye and tell you what he thinks. I will miss his wise advice, and the organisation will miss his leadership.”
Crash helps me understand road trauma: Walshe
Victoria’s top road safety policeman, Kieran Walshe says a fatal crash he was involved in 40 years ago puts him in a better position to understand road trauma.
Constable Phillip Fleming was killed when a police van driven by Kieran Walshe crashed in Kew, in February 1971.
Deputy Commissioner Walshe has spoken publicly about the crash for the first time, ahead of the launch of the international decade of action for road safety.
He has rejected allegations he was driving inappropriately and has told ABC Local Radio, he is able to do his job well, because of his experience.
“I live with it, I deal with it. I think it makes me a better position to understand what other people endure when they experience and go through road trauma,” he said.
“I think it helps me be a little bit more passionate about the message that I need to make sure I give to the community of Victoria.”
He has spoken out because of questions from former officers about his ability to do his job.
“Obviously, for some reason, someone wants to challenge my reputation, or challenge my credibility to do my job,” he said.
“I dispute that. I think that I’ve done my job and continue to do my job very well and you never get over these things.”
Senior Victoria Police in more controversy
Liz Hobday reported this story on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 18:30:00
MARK COLVIN: There’s been more controversy around senior figures in Victoria Police today, with revelations that the state’s top traffic cop was the driver in a fatal car crash in Melbourne 40 years ago.
The facts of the accident have resurfaced, just days after the State Government ordered an independent inquiry into the upper echelons of police.
Liz Hobday reports.
LIZ HOBDAY: Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe was driving a police wagon at a notorious accident spot on Kew Boulevard in 1971, when he lost control of his vehicle. The van ran off the road and plunged down an embankment, killing his passenger and good friend 22-year-old constable Phillip Fleming.
Kieran Walshe was 19 at the time, and says he woke up in hospital.
KIERAN WALSHE: I have no actual recollection of what took place at the time the vehicle left the road.
LIZ HOBDAY: A coronial inquest delivered an open finding.
KIERAN WALSHE: There has been a thorough investigation. There is no evidence to implicate or any impropriety in the way I drove the vehicle.
LIZ HOBDAY: The revelations emerged in the Herald Sun this morning, two days after the Victorian Government ordered an inquiry into the actions of those at the top of the force, after a string of controversies.
Kieran Walshe says he doesn’t know who told the newspaper about the crash, or why.
KIERAN WALSHE: I don’t know what their motivations are. All I can say is that I can only assume there’s some endeavour by somebody to discredit me.
LIZ HOBDAY: Kieran Walshe says he didn’t tell Chief Commissioner Simon Overland about the crash when he got the job of deputy commissioner, regional and road policing.
KIERAN WALSHE: Simon Overland has only been in Victoria Police for a little over eight years, nine years. It wasn’t something that I thought it was necessary to go and say to him. This happened 40 years ago.
LIZ HOBDAY: The Police Association’s Greg Davies says the latest story won’t affect morale; the problem is more the numerous inquiries now underway.
GREG DAVIES: Well we’ve got obviously at least three inquiries running at the moment into the police force, we’ve got turmoil at the top levels, that has to have a cascading effect to other levels of senior management, down all the way to the youngest constable.
LIZ HOBDAY: And he says retired officers could be behind the latest story.
GREG DAVIES: As far as who might be behind it, well we can only speculate. I’d be more inclined to think it would be a retired police officer than a current serving one.
LIZ HOBDAY: The latest inquiry into senior management at Victoria Police, is expected to report to Government within six months.
MARK COLVIN: Liz Hobday.
Road safety cop Kieran Walshe’s tragic secret
Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe lost control of the police divvy van he was driving 40 years ago as it was travelling on The Boulevard in Kew.
The Falcon van crashed through a fence and plunged 45m down a steep embankment, killing Constable Phillip Fleming, 22, about 5.40am on February 19, 1971.
Mr Walshe decided to tell his story to reject recent claims by former police officers that he was driving inappropriately on what has for decades been one of Melbourne’s most notorious street racing black spots.
“That’s not something that I ever did. It was not in my nature to drive in that manner and there is just no evidence to say that I did,” he told the Herald Sun.
Mr Walshe said Chief Commissioner Simon Overland was not aware of his involvement in the crash when he appointed him head of the traffic branch, but was now, and was happy for him to continue in the role.
Mr Walshe said: “I have been subjected to a thorough investigation. I have been subjected to a coronial inquiry and at no stage was there any evidence identified that gave any indication of any inappropriate behaviour on my part.”
Coroner Harry Pascoe recorded an open finding in 1971, saying from the evidence available it was not possible to determine if Constable Fleming’s death was “accidental or otherwise”.
The former officers this week claimed they were raising the issue only because Mr Walshe was recently put in charge of road safety policing in Victoria.
“The question arises how he, with any credibility, can criticise people in their 20s for hoon-type behaviour on Victorian roads,” one of them said.
But Mr Walshe, 60, said yesterday that having been involved in the fatal accident made him better able to do his job.
“I certainly have a greater appreciation than other people would who haven’t been involved in trauma like I have been,” he said.
“It makes me more passionate about the message I am trying to deliver out there – anybody can be involved in road trauma.”
The death of Constable Fleming continued to haunt Mr Walshe.
“When you are the driver … and you lose a close mate it has an impact … that you carry for the rest of your life. It’s just a really difficult thing that you have to live with,” he said.
Mr Walshe was quizzed by accident investigator Sen-Constable James Kenneday about why he was driving on The Boulevard.
Mr Walshe replied: “I don’t remember.”
The issue comes as the administration of VicPol has become a major political issue. Premier Ted Baillieu this week appointed Jack Rush, QC, to examine, among other things, the effectiveness of the senior structure of police command.