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Allan, Norman Thomas (1909–1977)

by Evan Whitton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Norman Thomas William Allan (1909-1977), police commissioner, was born on 3 June 1909 at Lithgow, New South Wales, son of Thomas Sorbie Allan, an ironroller from Scotland, and his native-born wife Florence Gertrude Lewis, née Price. The family moved to Sydney where Norman was educated at Haberfield Public School and became a junior telephone technician. Having been retrenched, he joined the State police force on probation on 18 September 1929 and was formally accepted the day after he had married Elsie Lillian Wild on 17 September 1930 at St David's Presbyterian Church, Haberfield.  

With grey eyes and a strong nose, Allan was 5 ft 11½ ins (181.6 cm) tall and weighed 11 st. 11 lb. (74.8 kg). Following a brief spell on the beat at Redfern, he prosecuted at Central Criminal Court from 1932 until transferred to headquarters in 1938. A Protestant and a Freemason, he was assistant from 1944 to three police commissioners, William MacKay (1935-48), J. F. Scott (1948-52) and Colin Delaney (1952-62). Promoted to the rank of inspector in 1948 and superintendent in 1956, he was commended for 'exceptional skill and ability' in securing the extradition and conviction of Stephen Leslie Bradley for the kidnapping and murder of Graeme Thorne.

A competent administrator, known as 'Norman the Foreman', Allan was acting deputy-commissioner in 1959 and became chief commissioner of police on 28 February 1962. With command over 5000 men, he could be paternalistic and charming, but also autocratic, pedantic and inconsiderate; he maddened his secretaries by changing his mind, found it difficult to delegate responsibility and was increasingly unable to cope with the media. He showed pride in his force, but his assertion—later that year—that the local police would not tolerate breaches of the liquor and gambling laws at Broken Hill engendered scepticism in parliament and the press. Allan believed that, by working with his men in the field, he kept in touch with underlying problems: he took personal charge of the investigation into the bizarre deaths of Gilbert Bogle and Margaret Chandler during the night of 31 December 1962, only to be as baffled as everyone else.

Considering them to be the nearest approach to the man on the beat, Allan introduced additional motorcycle police who remained in radio contact with headquarters. He planned to have the finest equipment available, with every type of electronic device for crime detection, and secretly initiated illegal telephone interceptions about 1967. He upgraded police training and encouraged his men to take degrees or diplomas in law and criminology at the University of Sydney.

Physically courageous, Allan personally negotiated with a petty criminal Wallace George Mellish who defied police in a siege at Glenfield in July 1968 by holding his girlfriend Beryl Muddle and their baby as hostages. Having persuaded Allan to arrange his marriage to Beryl, and to provide the wedding ring and the feast, Mellish refused to surrender as promised. Allan, by then the subject of international media attention, acceded at gunpoint to Mellish's demand to be furnished with an Armalite rifle and 200 bullets. The marriage celebrant Rev. Clyde John Paton persuaded Mellish to surrender five days later. Both Allan and Paton were commended by the Queen for bravery.

In November 1971 Sergeant Philip Arantz of the computer section declared that Allan was party to falsifying official statistics on 'solved' crimes. Although an attempt failed to have Arantz declared insane, he was dismissed without a pension in January 1972. Allan was not charged with any offence and negotiated early retirement in May, with a pension and two years salary. He recommended Frederick John Hanson as his successor.

A member of Manly Bowling Club, Allan lived at Balgowlah. In 1963 he had shared a £30,000 winning lottery ticket with a friend. Awarded Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and police good conduct medals, as well as the Queen's medal for distinguished service (1957), he was appointed M.V.O. in 1963 and C.M.G in 1973. Survived by his wife and son, Allan died of a cerebral neoplasm on 28 January 1977 at Manly and was accorded a state funeral. When the hearse stopped suddenly as it left St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral en route to Northern Suburbs crematorium, an inspector remarked: 'He's changed his mind again'. Some observers later alleged that a long-established culture of corruption had become more deeply entrenched during Allan's term as chief commissioner, and that Premier (Sir) Robert Askin had continued to support his police chief because they had 'established an arrangement under which thousands of dollars weekly in bribes and payments were handed over by the gambling clubs'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Hickie, The Prince and the Premier (Syd, 1985)
  • B. Swanton and G. Hannigan, Police Source Book 2 (Canb, 1985)
  • D. Stewart, Royal Commission of Inquiry into Alleged Telephone Interceptions (Canb, 1986)
  • E. Whitton, Can of Worms, vols 1-2 (Syd, 1986, 1987)
  • Australian Security Journal, June 1969, p 13
  • New South Wales Police News, Aug, Nov 1990
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Jan 1957, 30 July 1963, 27 Jan 1966, 16 July 1969, 1 Mar 1972, 29 Jan 1977, 9 Dec 1990
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 Feb 1977
  • Allan service record (New South Wales Police Dept)
  • private information.

Citation details

Evan Whitton, 'Allan, Norman Thomas (1909–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/allan-norman-thomas-9333/text16385, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 21 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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