About (7)

by Patrick O'Brien

Journey to Hell

In 1973 I accepted an invitation to join Criminal Intelligence and, working deep undercover, became an agent provocateur for the Crown. Four years later, haunted, hunted, traumatised and scared, I resigned the police and fled New Zealand — lucky to be alive.

There is nothing that can prepare one for the realities of life as an undercover agent. It’s a dangerous world of lies, deceit and double-cross … adrenalin, drugs and fear.

The job description was simple: lock up criminals. Being a determined and ruthless agent, working without rules, my targets never stood a chance.

Success brought recognition, commendations, plus a medal; even a letter from High Court Judge and former Governor General, Sir David Beattie. “It would be difficult to imagine a more dedicated member to the job,” wrote one commander on my file.

It was all a lie . . .

In truth, to do the work required of me, I had become a corrupt policeman, a criminal, a drug addict, an alcoholic, a liar whose operational focus was to obtain convictions against my targets — at any cost — even committing perjury and tampering with evidence.

Television journalist, John Campbell, in the introduction to his programme about my work, Cop turned Criminal, described the reality using plain language:

“To survive undercover you have to be utterly convincing, and to be convincing you’ve got to join in, for weeks, months and even years; day after day, doing whatever it is the people you’re with are doing, and, living a lie. Eventually you bust the people you’re with, they go to jail, and you go back to your normal life. But Patrick couldn’t go back; in part he’d become the criminals he busted.”

Eventually, the work broke me; — embittered, cynical, a price on my head, I left New Zealand with just a backpack and went looking for my place in the world . . .