The Ipswich solicitor was Ian Berry who asked to inspect the documents – evidence gathered by Mr Heiner – within seven days because his client, John Oxley Youth Centre manager Peter Coyne, was considering legal action.
It followed allegations of children at the youth centre being chained to fences, a 14-year-old girl being sexually assaulted and other child abuse allegations, first made public in 1989.
Mr Berry wrote to the Department of Family Services twice in February 1990 seeking the documents and advising “of our intention to commence court proceedings in view of the fact that – against the wishes of our client [Mr Coyne] – has been seconded to another section”.
Mr Berry telephoned the department on February 14 to advise that the firm would take court action to view the Heiner documents and to say his firm would begin legal action.
The full section 129 of Queensland Criminal Code reads: “Any person who, knowing that any book, document, or other thing of any kind, is or may be required in evidence in a judicial proceeding, wilfully destroys it or renders it illegible or undecipherable or incapable of identification, with intent thereby to prevent it from being used in evidence, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment with hard labour for three years.”
That is the central point in the three-decade-long “Heiner Affair”, also known as “Shreddergate”, which was triggered when Mr Goss’s cabinet chose to shred the evidence gathered by Mr Heiner after taking Crown Law advice.
There was concern that because Mr Heiner was engaged as a contractor, full legal immunity may not be provided to people providing the information he gathered as evidence.
Cabinet minutes from February 12 and 17 show the government accepted the financial liability from any legal action arising from the way the evidence was gathered by Mr Heiner.
The March 5 decision to shred the documents, including transcripts and tape recordings, triggered senate and federal committee inquiries over three decades, the 1999 Forde Inquiry into child orphanages and the 2013 Carmody Inquiry into child protection.
Wayne Goss’s then-attorney-general, Dean Wells, told the Carmody Inquiry the decision was the inexperienced cabinet’s baptism of fire.
“We had been out of office for 32 years,” Mr Wells said.
“We did not know what was normal and within the area of the cabinet’s concern. What we did know that a minister had a problem that an inquiry that had been established by her predecessor had been pulled up.”
Queensland’s then-child protection commissioner, Tim Carmody, ruled in 2013 that the Goss cabinet decision to shred the documents was unlawful and that charges should be considered.
But he warned a decision to proceed could be challenged because cabinet sought Crown Law advice.
He found no strong evidence of sexual assault at the centre.
In July 2014, the Office of the Director Public Prosecutions ruled out charging Wayne Goss’s cabinet for shredding the Heiner documents.
The three decades also produced noted whistleblower, Kevin Lindeberg, the now-74-year-old who became involved in 1990 because he was the lead organiser for the Queensland Professional Officers Union for public servants.
“The minutes show I was right from the very beginning,” he said.
“This was never, ever, a madcap conspiracy theory.”
Mr Lindeberg has for three decades pursued the cabinet decision to shred the documents.
“I have been betrayed everywhere, right from the beginning and been portrayed as someone as being over the top,” he said.
“I have been solid in my position in law right from the beginning, but what became horrendous for the system was that they had to charge the entire cabinet and certain senior bureaucrats and they couldn’t face that prospect.”
The decision to destroy the documents was taken by Cabinet on March 5, 1990, and the documents including tape recordings and transcripts were destroyed on March 23.
The Goss government said evidence gathered was shredded in March 1990 because it was gathered in a way in which, the government believed, it may not have had legal protection.
Tony Moore is a senior reporter at the Brisbane Times