Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bugging heat on top brass of NSW cops

One of the leading contenders to become the state's next police commissioner "may have participated in police corruption", according to a secret report.

The report, written in 2004, examined complaints against Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn and other officers while they were working in the Special Crime and Internal Affairs unit. The revelations are contained in the second report of Strike Force Emblems. Two weeks ago The Sun-Herald reported the first report found there may have been "criminal conduct" in the bugging of 100 serving and former police.

The second report found there was no evidence to support criminal or disciplinary charges. The Sun-Herald does not suggest Ms Burn is corrupt. But the report said investigators were denied access to crucial documents.

Internal NSW Police emails have also been obtained that reveal the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, was told of possible corruption in SCIA more than a decade ago.

One email to Mr Scipione included an allegation that SCIA allowed a heroin dealer to continue selling drugs on the northern beaches - potentially causing deaths - so the special crime unit might have more time to entrap corrupt police.

It said there was a concern some of the dealer's customers had "injected the product and subsequently died".

Mr Scipione forwarded the email to the then deputy commissioner, Ken Moroney, noting it raised "some very serious concerns".

On Friday The Sun-Herald sent a series of questions to Mr Scipione. He refused to answer them, saying: "It would be totally inappropriate to comment on any matter currently the subject of a review by the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission."

Ms Burn also refused to comment.

Mr Scipione has previously said he has not read reports by Emblems.

However, the revelations will put further pressure on the government for an independent judicial inquiry into the activities of SCIA, set up in the late 1990s to root out corruption.

The report is one of at least two by Emblems. It was set up in mid-2003 to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by officers within SCIA who worked under the umbrella of the secretive NSW Crime Commission.

Two weeks ago The Sun-Herald revealed that the first report found "criminal conduct" and revenge may have been behind an SCIA and crime commission operation that involved the bugging of the police officers.

Ms Burn was a team leader within SCIA at the time of the bugging. One of the officers she and her colleagues secretly investigated and recorded was Nick Kaldas, now the other deputy commissioner. Both are potential successors to Mr Scipione.

The second Emblems report looked at whether police attached to SCIA, including Ms Burn, induced a criminal to breach his bail in a bid to gather evidence on a police officer.

It also investigated whether the same criminal was "influenced" by SCIA officers to "perjure himself, under oath, by giving false and misleading evidence". Under the heading "Code of conduct and ethics", the second report says: "In the absence of any further evidence or information, it appears on face value … involved officers within this complaint may have participated in police corruption as defined by the NSW Police code of conduct and ethics. Within this code, it is incumbent upon police officers to report allegations of suspected corruption".

Under the heading "Police involved" it names Ms Burn and three other officers, all of whom have been promoted. One is now a member of the Australian Federal Police.

The report says there is no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against any of the officers, including Ms Burn. But it repeatedly states Emblems investigators were denied access to documents and witnesses by the Crime Commission.

The report says the complaint affecting Ms Burn and the three other officers stemmed from a kidnapping and armed robbery in Coffs Harbour in 1994. It says career criminals Terry Blewett and Craig Cant, and a third man, broke into the home of the night manager of the Coffs Harbour ex-services club. At gunpoint, they tied up the man's naked wife and kidnapped him and drove him to the club. But the club's safe was on a time delay and the robbery failed. The three were charged in 1994. One of the police involved in the arrests was a Coffs Harbour detective, Peter Burgess.

The second Emblems report says that, in February 1999, SCIA and the NSW Crime Commission started a covert investigation into police corruption called Operation Mascot. They recruited a corrupt police officer, codenamed M5, who secretly recording his colleagues for 2½ years. He alleged wrongdoing in the arrest of Blewett and the two others.

SCIA then targeted several detectives, including Mr Burgess, who was relatively junior. Mr Burgess has never been charged with any offence. He denies any wrongdoing.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald before this latest report was leaked, he told how the saga had turned his life upside down.

By May 1999 the third man in the kidnap and robbery had become an informer for SCIA. He was on bail. One bail condition was that he not approach any witnesses in his case. Mr Burgess was going to be a witness.

The Emblems report says that on May 3 that year, SCIA officers orchestrated a meeting between the third man and Mr Burgess, who by this time had quit the police and was working in a Kempsey pawnbroking business.

They wired the third man and sent him into the shop but Mr Burgess gave him short shrift. A second attempt to get information failed. Mr Burgess complained to police.

The Emblems report says on September 23, 1999, the third man was brought before Coffs Harbour District Court on the breach of bail. He told the court he had been surprised to see Mr Burgess in the shop. "I asked Mr Burgess whether he remembered me … it was as much of a surprise for me to see him there as for him to see me, I guess."

The Emblems report says: "On face value, the evidence given by [the third man] is clearly false and misleading." The Emblems report said SCIA officers involved denied knowing of the man's the bail conditions. One said he had acted "as per directions from superintendent [Cath] Burn".

The unanswered questions:

The Sun-Herald put the following questions to police chief Andrew Scipione.

In late 2001, was Mr Scipione warned, or alerted to, serious concerns that SCIA was engaged in possible wrongdoing?

If Mr Scipione was aware of serious concerns about possible wrongdoing within SCIA, apart from informing his superiors, what did he, as commander, personally do about it?

Why has Mr Scipione said, or implied, that he hasn't read the [Strike Force] Emblems report because he is bound by secrecy provisions?

Was Mr Scipione ever warned some SCIA officers were concerned that drug dealers identified by SCIA had not been arrested but allowed to continue to sell their drugs and that heroin users may have died as a result?


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