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The QLD police officer that misused his powers has now been charged without fronting court. Despite this, the system continues to protect him.
The Queensland Police officer who was found to have unlawfully accessed a police database and leaked a domestic violence victim’s details to his friend, the woman’s abusive former partner, has been charged with multiple criminal offences.
An internal police investigation found that senior constable Neil Punchard illegally accessed the QPrime police database and provided the victim’s new address to her ex. It was further found that the officer even advised his friend to, “Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol. She will flip.”
The abuser had threatened to kill his former partner, strap bombs to their two children and blow them up as “martyrs”.
He is understood to have fled to Greece after failing to appear in court to face a charge of contravening an apprehended domestic violence order. While the Queensland Police didn’t charge Punchard after a 2016 investigation, but on Monday he pleaded guilty to charges of nine instances of computer hacking; thusly, the Brisbane magistrates court sentenced Punchard to two months imprisonment.
However, the sentence has been suspended. A decision that terrified his victim, as she explained to Destroy the Joint: “I live in fear every day. I never go anywhere alone because of fear. I lock the car doors as soon as I get into the car. I cannot trust new people. I am unable to make new friends or know which police officers to trust again. No matter what I do, I cannot feel safe…I thought that if I was brave enough to come forward and speak up, (and) that the strength of the law would remove such a threat immediately. It has not.”
Despite putting the victim in danger and even joking about it, officer Punchard was not suspended and remained on duty.
After a court case, he walked free. In the year before the decision, the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and the state government has been under sustained public pressure to act since details of the conduct first emerged in the media.
However, neither the police commissioner, White Ribbon ambassador Ian Stewart, nor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk signalled any intention to act upon the matter.
Proceedings for privacy breach
The victim has been seeking compensation through Queensland’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) on the basis that officer Punchard breached her privacy and put her life, and the lives of her children, at risk. She was forced into hiding as a result of the conduct.
As the QCAT hearing progressed, allegations emerged that a car belonging to the abuser was transferred into officer Punchard’s name at around the time he accessed and leaked the victim’s details.
Attempts to suppress information and evade responsibility
Police originally tried to suppress this information, submitting to QCAT that it had nothing to do with the victim’s compensation case.
However, there was enough evidence for the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) to launch a fresh investigation into the officer’s conduct.
At the QCAT hearing, officer Punchard invoked his privilege against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions.
The officer and the Queensland government were separately represented by legal teams, while the victim was left to represent herself.
The QCAT has already found that the law does not allow actions to be taken in the tribunal against officer Punchard, and the government’s barrister has submitted that the state cannot be held responsible for the actions of a rogue police officer.
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The tribunal’s decision in respect of the proceedings against the state is pending.
The QPS has not advised whether he will be been stood down, but a spokesperson said in a statement:
“This matter will be subject to further consideration within the QPS disciplinary system”, adding, “This does not mean that the allegations against the officer have been substantiated.”