Tuesday, February 3, 2015
As the state's top police officer prepares to take the stand at a sensational police bugging inquiry next week, questions have emerged about his possible role in a shadowy taskforce set up with the intention of spying on a journalist.
On September 9, 2012, Fairfax reporter Neil Mercer published explosive details in The Sun-Herald about Strike Force Emblems, a long-buried internal police report into Operation Mascot, an anti-corruption surveillance exercise that controversially involved the secret bugging of more than 100 police officers and civilians on the back of suspect warrants and allegations.
It can now be revealed that nine days after the story was published, the force's professional standards command launched Strike Force Jooriland to monitor the veteran reporter and hunt down the police whistleblower leaking critical information to him.
When NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione appears before the parliamentary committee on Wednesday, he is likely to be grilled on how the operation came to be approved.
Mercer had remained oblivious to Jooriland until last Friday when he appeared as a witness before the inquiry.
"I am completely gobsmacked," he said on Saturday, adding: "You're exposing allegations of serious wrongdoing and criminal offences. Their response is, let's shoot the messenger and then screw the whistleblower."
MEAA chief executive officer Paul Murphy also expressed alarm, stating: "The professionalism of a journalist and the ethical responsibility to protect confidential sources needs to be respected at all times, regardless of the type of inquiry."
As Mercer was left to nervously dwell on the nature - and extent - of the surveillance, biggest questions surround the broader roles in the bugging affair played by Commissioner Scipione and NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn - who at one stage was an acting commander of the special crime and internal affairs unit (SCIA).
"We can't comment on matters that are currently the subject of an investigation by the Ombudsman," said a police spokesman when asked who had triggered the hunt.
On Friday, the inquiry heard explosive allegations about a mass cover-up that blanketed the police corruption investigation, Operation Mascot, which ran between 1999-2001.
Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas was a central target of the surveillance operation, which he testified had ruined the careers of many officers and triggered a suicide.
Ms Burn had been a senior officer within the operation which at one stage, was commanded by current Commissioner Scipione. The hearing heard that some affidavits presented to NSW Supreme Court judges had contained no information to justify surveillance, and some content was false. It emerged that during the operation, Ms Burn's unit had secured a warrant to bug Mr Kaldas and his family - despite no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Against the wishes of the NSW government, the inquiry was established last year in response to complaints about the amount of time taken by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to investigate the scandal. On Friday, Mr Kaldas launched a scathing attack on Mr Barbour, about his treatment. "We, the police, could not treat criminals this way and neither should we," he said.
Mercer had earlier published details of the secret Emblems report which showed Ms Burn had come under investigation, following a string of complaints relating to the investigation. While the report stated there was no evidence to bring criminal or disciplinary charges against her, it noted inquiries into those complaints had hit a wall after access to crucial documents and witnesses was repeatedly denied. It was also revealed that in November 2001, Commissioner Scipione, then commander of SCIA, had been warned some officers within the branch were concerned about the legality of the telephone taps and the release of "fictitious information" to gain listening devices. The inquiry resumes on Tuesday.
Posted by JR at 9:27 PM