Ex-cop criticises Milat script


Another true story drama, another case of criticism from those who were there, claiming it was fictitious.

Former assistant police commissioner Clive Small has told KIIS FM Catching Milat scenes depicting Detective Paul Gordon (Richard Cawthorne) were inaccurate. Small says Gordon worked on the case for about 5 months, not two years, and was not the man who caught Milat.

“I can tell you that quite a number of the people on the task force and quite a lot of other people that were associated were very upset. And I think the show has also shown a fair deal of disrespect to the family and friends of the victims and I think that’s a bit unnecessary and upsetting,” he told the Kyle and Jackie O radio show today.

Small (portrayed on screen by actor Geoff Morrell) said Gordon had not met English backpacker Paul Onions nor met the family of victim Joanne Walters.

But these kinds of criticisms are not new in TV drama, whether levelled at Catching Milat, Paper Giants, Underbelly or other dramatisations.

The script by ‘Dalton Dartmouth’ was based on the book “Sins of the Brother” by Mark Whittaker and Les Kennedy. As has become increasingly common, the credits suggests some dramatic embellishment while the media kit is clear about fictitious characters (played by David Field, Salvatore Coco and Helen Thomson). Fictitious characters are usually a merger of actual characters, but not always, and may exist to facilitate storytelling.

Clearly a drama is not a documentary, but for those who were there, such embellishments can impact on reputation. Paper Giants was the subject of a legal case when the former husband of Ita Buttrose, Alasdair “Mac” Macdonald, objected to his portrayal as played by actor Nathan Page. The case was eventually settled out of court.

So where do we draw the line between dramatic license and truth?

It’s important to stay truthful to the spirit of the original story and to be upfront about such embellishment. The audience is usually a good judge of credibility. In the case of Catching Milat they would appear to have ruled in the show’s favour on this occasion, with numbers improving from the first week to the second.

Source: News Corp


  1. I thought Small was portrayed as a lumbering dinosaur unwilling to take risks, while Gordon was portrayed as a genius whizz kid. No wonder Small is slightly peed off!

  2. I think for something as high profile as the Milat case, there’s an expectation on the audience’s part that what they are watching follows the facts as closely as possible. To stray too far from that is an act of betrayal.

  3. It goes beyond ‘dramatic licence’ to credit a completely different detective with ‘Catching Milat’! I have this on PVR but I’m not interested in watching it now. If TV/film folk want to completely distort facts they should use different character names and say ‘inspired by’. I know a drama isn’t a doco but how far from reality can it be until it is just fiction. The disclaimer is really just covering their butts. I don’t believe ‘the audience is a good judge of credibility’, the ratings went up because the first ep had good feedback, most wouldn’t know pertinent details were changed.

  4. It was a good deal more than dramatic licence. They made a main protagonist of someone who was actually peripheral to the investigation, then consequently falsified numerous key incidents. The odd thing was that the changes didn’t make the story clearer, add to the tension, or create a more relatable character as a way in to the story. Gordon was portrayed as a prissy, impudent little twerp, and Small as petty egomaniac – warring combatants on either side of a lumbering and barely competent investigation. Even if there’s truth to some of this – and there probably is – it didn’t make for a compelling police investigation. If Milat hadn’t been based on such a vile real-life character, I’d probably have been cheering for him, given how unpleasant all of the cops were. Overall, it was very poorly dramatised, boringly directed, and frequently marred by weak performances (including…

  5. I’ve read three different books about this case, and Catching Milat didn’t sway very much from the truth. The friction between Clive Small and Paul Gordon was mentioned in all three books, and was evident in Catching Milat. Mistakes were made by both Paul Gordon, and other members of Task Force Air.

  6. jezza the first original one

    As long as they state ‘based on true events’ and it is faily accurate, that is fair enough. They need some dramatic licence

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