The officer who used the police database to allow his ‘mate’ to find the partner he abused will not appear at the tribunal to explain his actions, nor was he suspended.
The Queensland Police Service (QPS) has made written submissions to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) arguing that it should not require the attendance of a police officer who was found to have illegally accessed the police database and leaked the details of a domestic violence victim to her abusive former partner, who was his “mate”.
Despite an internal police investigation finding the officer guilty of misconduct, he was not dismissed, charged or even suspended.
The story so far
Domestic Violence victim “Julie” launched a breach of privacy claim with the QCAT seeking compensation arising from being forced to go into hiding with her children as a result of senior constable Neil Punchard unlawfully accessing the QPrime database and sending her address to his “mate”, Julie’s violent former partner, who had been convicted of domestic violence offences against her.
After sending the new address, officer Punchard engaged in a text exchange with Julie’s ex-partner, joking that Julie would “flip out” when she discovered her ex-partner knew where she was.
Prior to her case with QCAT, Julie lodged a complaint with the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC), but the supposedly independent police watchdog sent the case back to the QPS Ethical Standards Command.
The complaint was found to be substantiated, but the officer nevertheless remained with the Service.
The system protects police officers
Julie is representing herself in the QCAT.
She took proceedings against the Queensland government and officer Punchard, but the officer was removed as a co-respondent after it was found that actions for breaches of privacy can only be brought against agencies, not individuals.
The government sought, and was granted, permission by the QCAT to brief a barrister in the proceedings – which means Julie will be up against an experienced legal team.
The maximum damages claim in the QCAT is capped at $100,000.
The government is not disputing that Julie’s details were unlawfully leaked, yet it continues to fight Julie’s application for compensation, arguing it cannot be held responsible for the rogue actions of an individual.
And therein lies the multi-faceted, systemic problem – the CCC (to whom the case was initially referred) referred the case back to the QPS, the QPS then decided not to punish its own, the QCAT then removed the officer from the proceedings, the QCAT allowed the government to have a barrister represent them in the proceedings (presumably instructed by solicitors) while Julie has been left to fend for herself, and the government has then claimed to have no responsibility.
The Queensland shadow attorney general, David Janetski, says he finds it “hard to believe the lengths that this government has gone to cover-up for their own failures in this case.”
Needless to say, taxpayers will be footing the bill for legal costs as well as any compensation award.
New investigation by CCC
But as the proceedings unfold, further questions have emerged surrounding records relating to the transfer of a white Hyundai Sonata in 2015 which belonged to Julie’s former husband.
Text messages suggest the vehicle was in his “mate” officer Punchard’s possession in early 2015, shortly after he leaked Julie’s details.
Police submit this has nothing to do with the case, but there has been enough public criticism for the CCC to launch a fresh investigation into the matter, specifically seeking information relating to the transfer of the car.