For accessing the police database and endangering a victim of domestic violence, Police Officer Neil Punchard received a suspended sentence. Now he’s had that conviction overturned.
Yesterday, a Queensland court overturned the conviction handed to a police officer who used the Queensland Police computer system to give the address of a domestic abuse victim to her violent former partner.
Senior Constable Neil Punchard pleaded guilty to nine counts of computer hacking in 2019 and received a two month suspended prison sentence, one that has since been removed by the court.
The Queensland district court ordered Punchard to complete 140 hours of community service and erased the conviction from the record. According to Ben Smee of The Guardian, “The successful appeal and the lack of a recorded conviction may mean police are unable to now sack him.”
The story so far
If you haven’t been following the story, in 2014, Neil Punchard, who was at the time an active serving officer with the Queensland Police Force, accessed Julie’s confidential contact information without authorisation, from the QPS database, QPrime. He then gave it to her former abusive partner, a man who had previously threatened to blow up their children.
Officer Punchard and the man were apparently friends, and it’s been alleged that Punchard joked in a text that Julie would “flip out” after discovering she had been tracked down.
Neil Punchard was eventually charged, and after being unsuccessful in his attempts to have the charges dismissed, then pleaded guilty to nine counts of computer hacking. He was suspended with full pay in 2019.
Many considered the initial sentence lenient under the circumstances, given that Julie feared for her life and had to relocate her family, and also considering the number of offences and the significant breach of trust. Julie went through a lengthy battle to receive compensation from the Queensland Police Force as a result.
In Queensland, the use a ‘restricted computer’ without the consent of the computer’s ‘controller’ is punishable by a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
The maximum penalty increases to five years in prison where the person causes or intends to cause detriment or damage, or gains or intends to gain a benefit, from the conduct, or ten years where he or she gains a benefit of more than $5,000 or intends to commit an indictable offence.
Julie’s ‘sham’ settlement from QPS
In the meantime, the victim, who won her breach of privacy case against the Queensland Police Force over the information leaked by Punchard and was awarded a financial settlement by the Queensland Administrative and Civil Tribunal (QCAT) is still trying to reach an agreement with the QPS.
Under increasing backlash and both political and public pressure, and after being denied leave to appeal the QCAT finding, the Queensland Police Service released a statement last year saying it would “attempt to resolve the issue of compensation as soon as possible.”
However, Julie has been asked to sign a broad liability clause as part of the financial settlement which indemnifies the state from “all actions, proceedings, claims or demands whatsoever as a result of, or arising out of, or in connection with, whether directly or indirectly, the allegations in and the facts and circumstances giving rise to the complaint.”
While the exact legal wording has not been released and is likely to be subject to confidentiality, it’s understood the broad nature of the clause means that Julie could be liable for any future action brought by third-parties, including police officers and other people whose details were accessed by Neil Punchard. And it could also make her liable for any wrongful dismissal case brought against the police by him.
Sonia Hickey contributed to this report.