How Bra Boys gangster took on our toughest cop — and lost
HE WANTED notoriety as Sydney's toughest beachside gangster, a man with no fear of anyone, least of all police.
But then Tony Hines, a founding member of the infamous Bra Boys surfing gang, met equally fearless police Sergeant Ron Mason, the pair developing a grudging respect for each other.
That relationship would see Mason a fixture in the life of the Bra Boys and Hines before the gang leader's unexpected death at the hands of one of his own.
"When you spoke to him he was intelligent, even a nice guy, but it was a matter of time before somebody got him because he created that many enemies," Mason said of the gang leader born out of the housing commission homes of Maroubra on Sydney's Eastern Beaches.
"I look at him and there (but) for the grace of God go I. He had not had much chance in life in relation to where he went to school, where he lived, his friends. With a couple of (different) decisions in life, you never know, he may have been a policeman. You know, sometimes it helps to be a little bit crazy (as a policeman), and I'm sure he would have fitted in."
But it was the criminal side of the crazy dangerous Tony Vincent Hines that Mason confronted in a pub back in 1989 after Hines had already assaulted a general duties cop trying to execute warrants on him and a call for back-up went out.
"I went inside the Maroubra Hotel and Tony was there with probably 15 or 16 others. I was with one other young guy,'' he told True Crime Australia's Police Tape podcast.
In the back of his mind, Mason thought it could have been a set-up to get a few cops there, outnumber them and then attack. The animosity between the cops and the Bra Boys was folklore in the area, with punch-ups between off-duty cops and gang members not uncommon.
"I went in there and I knew Tony, having locked him up a couple of times in the past.
"I thought the best thing was if I went there and talked to him and talked to him nicely, that perhaps he might do the right thing. I went in and said, 'Tony, I've got a warrant for you, and I'm also going to arrest you for the assault of the police officer'.''
"I'm drinking my beer," a defiant Hines said.
Mason remembers it vividly - it was like a scene from an old western, with the good guy and bad guy staring each other down in the saloon.
Hines took a swig of his beer, then put it down as the crowd gathered around to see what was going to happen.
"Tony, settle down you're under arrest, you've got to come with me now,'' Mason told him.
"I saw him empty the beer, and (he) got the beer and (he) was going to beer glass me," Mason said. "I could see the glass coming straight towards me, so I hit him in the head, and one punch and he went down unconscious. I dragged him out, and he woke up as I was taking him out, and I put him in the back of the truck and took him to the police station.
"I spoke to him later on and I said, 'Why did you turn it on (in the pub)? You knew I was going to arrest you - you know me'.
"He said, 'I had all my mates there, and I had to put on a show. I'm not going to dog it and get dragged out easily … I'm going to fight, and fight all the way'. Fair enough.''
Mason said he lived in the same area as Hines so they would see each other around, and while Hines respected him, he knew he would "take him out" if he had a chance.
"I lived in the eastern suburbs at the time (and) I'd met him a few times. (I'd say,) 'Tony, how are you going?' and he was civil to me and nice, but I'd never turn my back on him," Mason said.
Another time the pair confronted each was anything but civil.
"The situation was he flogged his girlfriend. Police wanted to arrest him, but he'd barricaded the front door of the unit,'' Mason said.
Hines had stacked lounges against the door, and the cops had been told he had knives and possibly a firearm when Mason decided to go in, with other cops to follow.
The plan sounded good, but when Mason went in the door slammed shut, with the lounges collapsing behind it, trapping him inside, with Hines somewhere in the unit.
"He was not in the lounge room. I couldn't see him at the time and I had to make an assessment: Go in, get him by myself, or turn my back on the area I thought he was in and remove the mattresses to let other police in. I chose to go straight in to the bedroom.
"He was laying on the bed, face down, and he had his hands under the pillow. So I made the assessment that there's a chance he's got a weapon. So I got on top of him and held his hand straight away, and he actually had a knife, a large one, an almost machete-size knife, and he swung it towards me and I got it off him. Techniques I learnt in the TRG (Tactical Response Group) helped me disarm him and I got him to the ground.''
In 2003, Hines' naked body was found at the bottom of a cliff on his home turf, Maroubra. He had been shot three times in the head.
Fellow Bra Boy Jai Abberton was charged with his murder, but was found not guilty on the grounds of self defence.
Mason said of the killing: "I was surprised. They were good friends, I think Jai was in the hotel the same day I arrested (Hines). It came as a surprise to me. Tony created a number of enemies over the years and I thought, it's just a matter of time.''