The True Story of Australian Undercover Cop Keith Banks

Keith Banks

“You could get on the gas, smoke weed and there was no supervision. You had guns and a shitload of cash. What’s not to like?”

When Keith Banks was just 16-years-old, he signed joined Brisbane’s Police Academy in Oxley.

By the time he was 21, the eager and “clean” kid from Townsville was gone and was replaced with a dope-smoking and binge-drinking fiend.

Banks was an undercover agent who risked his life, health and reputation to infiltrate some of the most notorious drug syndicates in Queensland.

Alongside a group of his peers, Harry, Spider, Giblet, Zulu and Larry — who were all chosen because they “didn’t look like cops” — Banks and his crew were not prepared for the world they had been thrust into.

Harry, was a devout Muslim who didn’t even drink alcohol when he joined the force. Five years later and he was a heroin addict, who would commit armed robberies in two states.

According to Banks, in an interview with The Age, Harry was forced to try heroin “to maintain his cover” and even returned to the force, hiding it for years.

“He did three years’ jail in Adelaide and seven in Brisbane. He nearly died of a smack overdose inside. It was coppers who gave him smack when he was undercover. It was callous and cold-blooded because they could use him to get inside places they couldn’t,” Banks said during the interview. Harry was exploited by the very same cops who had asked him

Now, one of Queensland’s most highly decorated policeman, Banks’ years as an undercover cop have scarred him. And rightly so.

It was a world of corruption, drugs and crime — and other, more senior officers were heavily involved. The drug squad would bag seized drugs to re-sell and undercovers would use keys to the exhibit room to take whatever dope they needed.

Banks even watched a 14-year-old boy inject his first shot of heroin with drugs he had helped him acquire.

In an interview with Gary Jubelin, Banks revealed he kept tabs on him.

“I kept track of him and he died of a heroin overdose when he was 18,” he said on the I Catch Killers with Gary Jubelin podcast.

“It really affected me greatly; the powerlessness to intervene because had I intervened, I would have blown the cover. I was (playing) a heroin dealer. What would I care about someone using?”

In his new book, Drugs, Guns and Lies: My Life as an Undercover Cop, the former officer looks back at the beginning of his career. It was the 1980s and it seemed anything goes.

“There’s no training course, you have to figure it out,” he said, before adding that there was “complete indifference from the men who were supposed to be looking out for us”. Now, undercover cops (UC) are drug-tested and better supervised.

In his interview with The Age, Banks exposed the tricks the “UC’s” would use. You either learned to play “the heavy or the wimp” depending on your circumstances.

“You could get on the gas, smoke weed and there was no supervision. You had guns and a shitload of cash. What’s not to like?”

But there was also the people they were targeting — in some cases, they were drug lords, others they were murderers and in one particular instance, both.

According to Banks, many did not recover from their time as a UC and when he returned to normal policing in 1987, he joined the Tactical Response Group.

During a mission to arrest Paul Mullin, a violent armed robber who had been in hiding for nine years, the criminal fired through the door, fatally shooting Senior Constable Peter Kidd and injuring  Senior Constable Stephen Grant.

As he told the outlet, he had suffered severe “survivor’s guilt” — especially after SC Kidd died in his arms.

“I was pissed every night. Two months later I put a gun in my mouth at home. I cocked it thinking I wanted to feel what Peter did. What stopped me was I didn’t want my girlfriend to find the blood splatter and have to clean it up,” he said.

Banks has won two Valour Awards, for the Mullin raid and for a separate incident at the Brisbane MLC building.

It’s now been 25-years since he retired from the police force and he is still managing his PTSD.

“Almost everyone I worked with ended up wracked by trauma, substance dependency and mental instability … It is an epidemic.”

Listen to the podcast I Catch Killers with Gary Jubelin here.

Drugs, Guns & LiesMy life as an undercover cop, by Keith Banks with Ben Smith is now available.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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