Sunday, February 13, 2011

S. Aust. Police charged over private data leaks

Two serving police and a former officer have been arrested and charged in a corruption probe. The secret Anti-Corruption Branch operation also has resulted in the arrest of a commercial agent who was allegedly using confidential information obtained from police files to locate members of the public - in many cases to repossess their cars and recover debts.

The operation has been under way since last June, with several detectives seconded to ACB from Local Service Areas because of its scope.

Senior police have refused to comment on the operation but sources said the racket was the largest uncovered since three detectives were charged after they were caught selling information from police computers to high-profile private investigator Frank Carbone in 1995. "The extent of this activity has raised more than a few eyebrows internally," the source said. "While this group appears to have been fairly contained, its extent is still a concern in the current political climate."

It is understood while all of those involved in the alleged corrupt activity with the commercial agent have been detected, a number of "offshoot" investigations have begun as a result of evidence gathered from several sources during the operation and further arrests are possible.

Police moved against the alleged ringleader in the racket last July when Port Pirie police officer David Barry Hawkins was suspended from duty. He resigned from SAPOL in late October and on December 9 was arrested and charged with 79 corruption-related offences. He is facing 42 counts of abuse of public office and 37 counts of unlawful operation of restricted-access computer systems. The charges relate to his alleged illegal activities between February 1, 2008 and December 3, 2009.

Hawkins, 37, appeared in Adelaide Magistrates Court on Wednesday and was remanded to appear again in May.

On December 20, detectives arrested commercial agent Heath Lee Boyle. He has been charged with 44 counts of aid and abet abuse of public office. He appeared in Adelaide Magistrates Court on January 28 and was remanded on continuing bail to appear again in May. Court documents state Boyle, 33, "aided, abetted, counselled or procured David Barry Hawkins to commit an offence, namely abuse of public office" between February 1, 2008 and December 3, 2009.

Following those two arrests detectives continued investigations, which included intensive analysis of several computers seized during the operation, and on January 19 detectives arrested and charged a 39-year-old police officer from the northern suburbs. The traffic patrol officer faces one count of abuse of public office.

On January 25 detectives charged a 46-year-old police officer from the eastern suburbs with 44 counts of abuse of public office. The detective was on secondment to the Australian Federal Police but his contract has now been terminated.

Both officers have been suspended from duty and will appear in Adelaide Magistrates Court on March 2.


Rowe case shakes public trust in police

Bruce Rowe is one of those blokes authority hates. He has a simple sense of justice and when he digs in his heels he is immovable.

Rowe is the oldish fellow (65 at the time) who was seen on TV being manhandled by a bunch of cops in the heart of Brisbane's Queen Street Mall back in July 2006.

He was arrested, charged and convicted of obstructing police and failing to obey a police order after an incident that began in the public toilets and ended with him being held down by four officers and kneed by another.

Rowe was last seen on TV last week savouring a moment of triumph after Constable Benjamin Arndt was found guilty of assaulting him and fined $1000 and ordered to pay him $2250 court costs.

That was the result of a private prosecution by Rowe, not one launched by the established forces of law and order.

The case was one of the most unsavoury in Queensland's policing history and dragged through the Magistrates Court, the District Court, the Court of Appeal and back to the Magistrates Court.

The first court convicted Rowe, the second confirmed it, the third overturned it and the fourth fined Arndt, although it did not record a conviction. Even the supporting magistrate and judge made known their displeasure with what they saw on video tape.

Rowe was not caught up in some kind of public toilet degeneracy. Depressed and homeless after his wife of 41 years died, he went in there to change his clothes. There was some argy bargy with the cleaner, who wanted to close up for cleanings, and the police were called. The rest is history.

You might think that after the best part of five years, all involved would be happy to put it all behind them. But, no, the Police Union wants a rematch. Spokesman Ian Leavers said it would back an appeal against Arndt's conviction which had "dire consequences for all police officers doing their jobs".

"I am very, very concerned now that police officers across the state will be reluctant to do their job and the community will suffer," he said.

Any officers who think the right of assault is issued with their batons and handcuffs might be reluctant to do their jobs but I can't see what difference it will make to the majority who follow a tough calling with courage and dignity.

"It simply doesn't make sense at all because a District Court has found the force used was reasonable," he said.

Judge Nicholas Samios did find that but he also found the arrest was lawful. Whether he would have found it reasonable had he found the arrest unlawful is another thing.

In the Court of Appeal, Judge Cate Holmes noted that Rowe wanted to argue three grounds of appeal, including on the grounds that "the arrest was unlawful or, alternatively, because Mr Rowe's actions were a response to unlawful force used in effecting it".

It never came to that because the court found other reasons to rule the arrest was unlawful. In the circumstances, it might be a pity it was not resolved by the higher court. And whether the degree of force was reasonable and has much to do with the fact of assault is another matter.

Arndt is entitled to seek to clear his name and the Police Union is entitled (possibly obliged) to support him in his actions.

However, whatever the outcome, this was a shameful incident that should never have happened. It was badly handled during and after the event and has dragged on too long, to the detriment of just about anyone involved and at a cost to trust in our police service.

The courts will do their job, but I think public opinion has reached a verdict.


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