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Kennedy, Les (1958–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Veteran crime reporter Les Kennedy, who died of cancer today aged 53, fought the disease until the very end and insisted on leaving Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to resume his life.

He left the hospital last week, went into the Fairfax building at Pyrmont, announced to The Sun-Herald that he had a "scoop" on the Kerry Whelan murder case, then went back to hospital.

The story, on the discovery of a pistol Bruce Burrell might have used to murder Mrs Whelan, was certainly worth publishing.

Kennedy preferred to keep his photo out of the paper because he did not want people he had written adversely about to recognise him.

When Sun-Herald editor Rick Feneley asked whether the paper could run his photo this time, Kennedy said: "At this stage of the game, I've got bigger things to worry about than crims coming to get me."

The story was duly published with a picture byline in the newspaper last Sunday.

Kennedy was by then at home in Glebe, having insisted on leaving hospital, though his doctors thought he should stay. The list of people who trooped to Kennedy's bedside was astonishing, including police officers, prosecutors, lawyers and journalists.

Feneley said: "It is testament to Les's life devotion to his profession and to his greatest quality as a journalist – one who built a huge base of contacts – [that] even on his death bed they were bringing him stories. And even on his death bed he was determined to write them."

Kennedy's former partner and close friend Trish Croaker said that, about a week ago, while the pair were going for a walk, he had discussed his legacy.

"He stopped and he said: 'I don't want people to remember me like this – as a cancer sufferer,'" Ms Croaker said.

"And I said to him: 'People will remember you as a legend – your family, your friends, your colleagues, everybody will remember you as a legend.'

"Everybody that knew him understood his passion and his commitment and his dedication to getting an accurate story, to pursuing important stories that made a difference.

"He was highly principled and highly ethical and absolutely 100 per cent passionate about every story he did – didn't matter whether it was the smallest ambulance-chasing story to a major scoop, to chasing down [paedophile] Dolly Dunn in South Africa.

"That was really his hallmark." Ms Croaker said Kennedy had worked until the end.

"As sick as he was, with only weeks to live, he just appeared in the newsroom," she said. "He said to me on the day he got diagnosed, he said: 'I want more great yarns' and that was part of what was keeping him alive."

A fixture around the courts and pubs of Sydney, he had been heavily plugged into what was happening.

Scott Weber, president of the Police Association of NSW, said: "Les Kennedy was one of Sydney's great police reporters. He was more than a journalist; he was an enthusiast.

"In a world where far too much of both policing and media is done through carefully managed processes, Les's random style worked: he would be the one who nailed the stories that told so much about how this state works.

"Les loved cops and many, many cops love Les – they love him because he took the time to know them, to see the world through their eyes and to stay the distance, when the truth always comes out. Les Kennedy, the Policeman's Police Reporter."

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said: "Les has those qualities that have always endeared him to police, his media colleagues, the legal profession and those whose causes he chose to champion.

"From the police perspective he has been determined and persistent. Like a dog with a bone. But he has always understood the needs of police and, over the years, police placed trust in him to report accurately and fairly.

"That trust has been rightfully earned.

"Les Kennedy has been a vibrant part of the fabric of Sydney in particular for so many years.

"On behalf of his many friends in the New South Wales Police Force our sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones."

Fairfax chief executive officer Greg Hywood said: "It is a sad, sad day when we lose one of our own too early. So it is with Les Kennedy our legendary crime reporter who passed away this morning at age 53.

"Les leaves a legacy of great public service. He told our readers what was really going on.

"Condolences to his family, friends and close colleagues who will miss his unique personality and style."

Kennedy – born in Darwin on February 18, 1958, the son of an airman, John Kennedy, and Merle Kennedy – was part-Aboriginal. Racial issues did not trouble him. "It is all cool, mate," he said.

He had a twin brother, Stephen, and sisters Josephine, Glenda and Kathleen.

He became a journalist in 1978, spending three years at AAP and 35 years on the crime beat at Fairfax and News Ltd.

He was married in Liverpool in 1979 to Kay Sharland, with whom he had a daughter, Leah.

The marriage broke down and Kennedy formed a long-term relationship with Ms Croaker, a journalist, who bore him three children – Isabella, Marcus and Charlie – before they eventually separated.

In 1996, he was recruited by The Sydney Morning Herald and quickly demonstrated the advantages of being a long-term confidant of police and criminals.

He was no mere ambulance-chaser either. 

With journalist Mark Whittaker, he wrote three books, one being Sins of the Brother, the Definitive Story of Ivan Milat and the Backpacker Murders, published in 1998.

Publishers Macmillan initially baulked at the size of the manuscript, but were soon won over by the quality of the text.

Kennedy also teamed with Whittaker to write Granny Killer, the Story of John Glover, published in 1992.

"They broke the mould after Les. One of a kind," Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew Hornery tweeted.

His mother said today that her son was surrounded by his family this morning.

"We were all with him and we had some music playing for him and he was comfortable," Mrs Kennedy said.

"He was a gentle person, a nice person.

"He had a very quick decline since we arrived [from Darwin] on Sunday."

Mrs Kennedy said that, while growing up in Darwin, her son and his twin brother were protective of their mother and their three sisters because their serviceman father was often away.

"We have wonderful memories of our son," she said.

Mrs Kennedy said she did not know that her son was so well loved and admired in the Sydney media industry.

"We would like to express our deepest thanks to his many friends within the journalism area. He has many, I didn't know that," she said.

His family will hold a service for him in Darwin.

A fund-raising benefit due to be held in Sydney tonight to honour Kennedy is due to go ahead.

Kennedy is survived by his parents, his former partners, his children, two grandchildren, nieces and nephews and hundreds of friends and colleagues.

Original Publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August 2011

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Kennedy, Les (1958–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/kennedy-les-16702/text28598, accessed 24 September 2017.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2012