Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NSW police coverup must end

The NSW police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn this week becomes responsible for specialist operations, putting her in charge of squads such as homicide, counterterrorism and professional standards - which used to be known as Special Crime and Internal Affairs (SCIA).

This move places her in a powerful position to succeed the Commissioner, Andrew Scipione. But it also puts Burn in an invidious, if not untenable, position.

Serious unanswered questions relating to her time in the controversial SCIA unit more than a decade ago remain. Indeed, as revealed in The Sun-Herald, a secret NSW police report states Burn "may have participated in police corruption" while she worked there.

So how is it that Burn is now installed as the head of internal affairs and in charge of the state's most experienced and senior detectives with such serious claims still unresolved?

The report, by Strike Force Emblems, written in 2004, examined complaints against Burn and three other SCIA officers who were involved in an undercover operation on the north coast.

It said there was no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against her or the others and the Herald does not suggest Burn is corrupt. But, critically, the report also states its inquiries hit a roadblock when it was denied access to crucial documents and witnesses.

This was because, at the time, SCIA was running a covert inquiry into police corruption code-named Operation Mascot and, as a result of the NSW Crime Commission's involvement, the highest secrecy provisions applied.

When Emblems detectives investigating Burn went knocking on the crime commission's Kent Street door for help, it rolled down the shutters.

Scipione says he has not read the Emblems report because of the secrecy provisions. Why a report written by NSW police for the then commissioner, Ken Moroney, is secret from the current commissioner remains a mystery. Nevertheless Scipione, like Sergeant Schultz from Hogan's Heroes, knows nothing.

But leaked documents reveal that Scipione received an email in November 2001, explicitly warning him that some officers within SCIA were worried about the legality of telephone taps and the release of "fictitious information" to obtain listening devices. There were other serious concerns about wrongdoing. Scipione was SCIA's commander at the time.

Some of those concerns expressed in 2001 were followed up by the Emblems investigators. Its report found that "criminal conduct" and personal vendettas may have been behind one particular SCIA/crime commission bugging operation in September 2000.

On September 14 that year, Justice Virginia Bell of the Supreme Court approved an application for a listening device. It allowed SCIA and the crime commission to bug a staggering 114 people over a 21-day period.

There is another problem that arises in all this. Ms Burn must now work alongside senior commanders who, just 10 years ago, she nominated as being corrupt. Ticklish, to say the least.

Scipione, Burn and the state government have refused calls for an independent judicial inquiry. The matters, they say, are being looked into by the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission, David Levine, a former Supreme Court judge.

At best, this is disingenuous. Levine has told Parliament he is looking at whether Emblems' report, or its recommendations, can be released. When this reporter asked him if he was only working one day a week as Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission, he declined to comment.

Levine does not have the time or resources to explore and resolve the serious matters raised by Emblems, including those involving Burn.

It appears the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, is being poorly advised. This matter has been going for 10 years and it will not go away.

A judicial inquiry is needed. The serving and former police affected deserve the truth and so do the people of NSW.


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