Turnbull ‘may know more than he is saying’ about illegal 60 Minutes child snatch in 1980s

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “may know more than he is saying” about a child recovery operation conducted by Nine’s 60 Minutes when he was a legal adviser to the network in the 1980s, a former producer on the show has suggested.

mcclellan lateline

McClellan on Lateline: Turnbull may know more

Speaking on the ABC’s Lateline, Anthony McClellan drew comparisons between a child recovery from Spain, about which former presenter Ray Martin went public a few days ago, and this month’s disastrous operation in Beirut which saw Nine’s crew detained by authorities and facing kidnapping charges.

During his previous career as a lawyer, Turnbull was general counsel to Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press Holdings Group, which included Nine, from 1983 to 1985.

It is unclear what year the Spanish snatch took place and whether it indeed crossed over the Turnbull’s time in the role, with Martin only referring to it as “the 1980s”. He was with 60 Minutes from 1978 to 1985.

McClellan, who now owns media management company AMC Media, was asked about Turnbull’s comments on Nine’s botched Beirut operation being “unwise”.

McClellan said: “It’s very interesting he has bought into the debate because he might know – not particularly about this case –  but Malcolm Turnbull was a legal advisor when I was there to Channel Nine and to 60 Minutes. So he may know more than he’s saying.”

McClellan said that he had no recollection of whether Turnbull had been involved in the Spanish story at the time.

At the time of posting, Turnbull’s office had not responded to Mumbrella’s inquiries on the timings.

Meanwhile, McClellan said Ray Martin had been foolish to discuss the 1980s case in the way he had. During last week’s conversation with 612 ABC Brisbane, Martin – who drove the getaway car – conceded: “At the time in Spain in recovering that child, the national laws were such that had we been caught at the time we would have broken a national law.”

This week, Nine CEO Hugh Marks claimed of the Beirut case: “At no stage did anyone from Nine or 60 Minutes intend to act in any way that made them susceptible to charges that they breached the law or to become part of the story that is Sally’s story.

Martin justified the actions of his team in Spain because the child had been taken out of Australia illegally

McClellan said: “I saw Ray went public and said that he was very proud of that story. You know, quite frankly, I think they were unwise comments. I think when you go and snatch children, that’s… you know, that’s a pretty big ask in terms of judgement.”

McClelland was also scornful of the lack of independence of an inquiry set up by Nine to investigate the circumstances of the botched Beirut incident.


Stone: Authorised Spanish snatch story but will be part of inquiry into Beirut operation

The three people running the inquiry are former A Current Affair EP David Hurley, the network’s legal counsel Rachel Launders and former 60 Minutes EP Gerald Stone.

Stone was in charge of 60 Minutes at the time Martin’s crew were involved in the child snatch in Spain.

McClelland said that although Stone was independent minded, his involvement in the previous case should have ruled him out.

He said: “If you’d asked me professional advice on whether he should do this job, I think the answer is no for two reasons. One, he was involved in that previous kidnapping and authorised it. He has a preconceived position about kidnapping children. I would have though that would rule him out.

“Secondly, from Channel Nine’s point of view they’ve got three people who are all connected with Channel Nine. There is no independence about this inquiry . Whatever it finds it will have no credibility.”

McClellan said he believed senior staff should be sacked over the incident. He said: “I think heads will have to roll, but they’ve got to be senior heads, not the grunts on the ground.”

Tim Burrowes

Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes interviewed Stone about his time at the helm of 60 Minutes in 2011:


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