Shane Drumgold appointed as ACT’s new Director of Public Prosecutions
Shane Drumgold was appointed ACT Director of Public Prosecutions in December 2018. (ABC News: Luke Stephenson)
He started out a high school dropout from a troubled family, and just recently landed a job his young self could never have imagined.
- Shane Drumgold takes over from Jon White as DPP
- His career included prosecuting Kai Yuen and Marcus Rappel
- In 2006, a family trip turned into a nightmare due to the Solomon Islands riots
The ACT’s new top prosecutor, Shane Drumgold doesn’t sugar-coat his early years growing up in Mount Druitt, which saw him leave school in year nine.
“School and I never got along very well, simply because of the distractions that occurred during that period,” he said.
His formative years were marked by his father’s struggles with mental illness and drug and alcohol problems, and by the death of his younger brother.
Now, he believes those trials laid the foundation for his life.
“It’s a learned experience I think that serves me well in my role … I know what it’s like to be a kid hiding under a bed,” he said.
He admitted there are days when he pinches himself, in disbelief at the life he leads.
Overcoming, if not totally forgetting, his early suffering, he completed three university degrees, in economics, law and international law.
“I at no point would have thought at 15 years old that at 50 years old I would be a senior lawyer,” he said.
“But I love the life, I love the work, I love dealing with victims.
“I genuinely love working for the community and I seem to be particularly well suited to this work.”
And much of that work involved murder.
Dealing in human suffering
Mr Drumgold’s career was marked by a series of high profile cases, including that of Kai Yuen, who was responsible for the 2010 killing of Brendan Welsh, Marcus Rappel, who was jailed over the axe murder of his former partner Tara Costigan, and Magid Al Harazi, who stabbed his wife Sabah Al Mdwali to death.
“There are no winners in a murder matter,” he said.
“I feel equally for the family of the victims, and also when you appear every day, you see the family of the accused and you can see the pain in their face.
“It’s a painful place to be for everyone involved.”
But in court he says he keeps to a clinical approach.
“I don’t try to get into the mind of nor could I ever get into the mind,” he said.
“You need to be absolutely intimate with all of the details and to that extent you need to basically walk through the process from start to finish and have a firm grasp of the minutiae of the case.”
He said there was no surprise in the lack of remorse shown by the killers he interrogated in court.
“Nobody likes to think that they’ve done something particularly evil, or done something particularly heinous,” he said.
“There is a strong (urge) particularly in the course of a trial to rewrite the history to make it something more digestible for them.”
A working holiday does not go to plan: Honiara, 2006
It was the dark world of murder trials that Mr Drumgold sought to leave behind when he and his family packed up for a year-long working holiday to the Solomon Islands in 2006.
Shane Drumgold and his daughter fleeing violent riots in Honiara, Solomon Islands in 2006. (Supplied.)
But things did not go to plan, and they were caught up in deadly riots that grew out of control in the capital after the unpopular Snyder Rini was elected prime minister by legislators.
“We were living in Rinandi and when Rinandi started to burn we made a fairly furious escape to the airport and were evacuated by the Australian Army,” he said.
“It’s really a nightmare to be stuck in a dangerous situation like that and you don’t just have to look after yourself, you have to look after your two children.
“That was the scariest aspect — that I had placed the kids in danger.”
The damage caused by the 2006 Solomon Islands riots caused an estimated AUD$37 million. (ABC TV)
Mr Drumgold returned alone later, to finish his secondment as a public defender, dealing with some of the most horrific of crimes
“I was frequently shocked because I would turn up to … prison and there’d be a small, young, seemingly peaceful young person,” he said.
“And the message I got from that is that it was a war zone, and war makes good people do bad things.”
A new chapter for the ACT
Mr Drumgold said he was looking forward to a future as the head of an organisation that has more than eighty staff handling thousands of cases a year.
He said the ACT population growth was expected to reach 500,000 people by the end of his tenure, and with that will come more crime.
“I need to factor in that we will have fairly regular murder prosecutions to deal with,” he said.
It was an historic murder that dominated the work of the DPP’s office over the last few years, with the retrial of David Eastman for the 1989 murder of former Assistant Australian Federal Police Commissioner Colin Winchester.
Mr Eastman was found not guilty after a six month trial.
The outgoing director Jon White was criticised by the Bar Association for running the case at all.
But Mr Drumgold said the office did its job — a statement that gives a clue as to what kind of DPP he will be in the years to come.
“Our job during the course of that case was to professionally present the evidence before a jury and for a jury to do their job which is decide based on the evidence, and that’s what they did.”