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Alfred Thompson (Alf) Hughes (1900–1978)

by David McKnight

This article was published:

Alfred Thompson (Alf) Hughes (1900-1978) police officer, socialist, trade unionist and alleged spy

Birth: 22 March 1900 at Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Alfred Frederick Hughes (1868-1943), miner, later labourer, and Henrietta Eliza, née Jacombs (1875-1921). Marriages: (1) 4 June 1925 at Parramatta, NSW, to Evelyn Margaret Janet Cowell (1902-1983). (2) 5 February 1949 at Chatswood, NSW, to Margaret Ann, née Wallis, late Clancy (b.1899). Death: 18 August 1978 in a nursing home at Petersham, Sydney; usual residence Anselm Street, South Strathfield. 

  • Alf Hughes was a rare breed in the labour movement, a police officer who was a socialist who worked closely with the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).
  • Educated at North Sydney Boys High School and served in the senior cadets. Was a junior chemist when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 15 June 1918. Demobilised on 18 November 1918.
  • Hughes joined the police force as a probationary constable on 14 May 1924.
  • While political views were not secret his close co-operation with the CPA was secret and it is likely he was an undercover member, along with a small number of other police officers. It is not clear when he joined the CPA and little is known of his career before the Second World War.
  • During the War was seconded to the Military-Police Intelligence and then the new Security Service where, not surprisingly he became an expert on subversive organisations, especially the Communist Party whom he made aware of security surveillance. Other material from the Service, leaked to the Russians, was revealed by the ‘Venona’ decoding operation when it was reported back to Moscow.
  • As well as his connection with the CPA, he was on friendly terms with Dr Evatt when he was a minister in the Curtin Government and had offices near the Security Service.
  • At the end of the war he returned to the NSW police force. In 1951 Hughes had tried to join the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, his move being interpreted later as an attempt to penetrate the Organisation on behalf of the CPA.
  • An active trade unionist, in the 1950s he was an official of the NSW Police Association and was a sergeant in the notoriously corrupt Vice Squad, although colleagues recall that he refused all bribes.
  • Among the documents which Vladimir Petrov gave to Australian security when he defected in 1954 was a list of useful contacts of Walter Clayton. The list included Hughes’ name, with the codename ‘Ben’. For reasons which are not clear, ASIO ruled out approaching him at that time but it conducted a thorough investigation and surveillance of him for many years. He was listed in ASIO’s plans as a high priority target to be interned in the event of war with the Soviet Union.
  • After being confronted by ASIO in 1957 about his role in leaking information to the Russians and the CPA, Hughes was very shaken and may have had some sort of breakdown.
  • Left the police force and became a house detective at a department store in Sydney. 
  • Cause of death: terminal hypostatic pneumonia and cerebral arteriosclerosis.

Sources
NAA files: A6119 CS 1510, 1144; David McKnight, Australias Spies and Their Secrets (St Leonards, 1994).

Additional Resources

Citation details

David McKnight, 'Hughes, Alfred Thompson (Alf) (1900–1978)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hughes-alfred-thompson-alf-34062/text42711, accessed 17 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Alf Hughes, n.d.

Alf Hughes, n.d.

from ASIO photos held by National Archives of Australia

Life Summary [details]

Birth

22 March, 1900
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

18 August, 1978 (aged 78)
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

pneumonia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Education
Occupation
Military Service
Key Organisations
Political Activism