Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Queensland in court fight with domestic violence victim whose details were leaked by a policeman

The vicious Queensland police again

The Queensland government is fighting a domestic violence victim in court, in an attempt to avoid paying up to $100,000 in compensation for having to relocate her family after her personal details were leaked by a police officer.

The woman, who has been referred to in previous media reports as Julie*, told Guardian Australia she felt "intimidated" by the government’s attempts to brief a senior counsel in the supposedly "accessible" and "inexpensive" Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Julie was forced to go into hiding after a senior constable, Neil Punchard, accessed her address from the police QPRIME database and sent it to her violent former husband, who has been convicted of domestic violence and faces another charge of breaching a domestic violence order.

Punchard then sent text messages to Julie’s former husband joking about the matter.

"Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol. She will flip," Punchard wrote in one message that was later sent to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Punchard was disciplined but not charged with a criminal offence and remains a serving police officer. Julie told the tribunal she remained fearful knowing he still had access to her details.

"An officer gave the details of where I was living, gave them to his mate, using the police database as if it was a Yellow Pages," Julie said during a QCAT hearing in June. "Now, this officer, Neil Punchard, is still in a job. He still has access to the police computer. And I have had to move ... [and] cross my fingers like this and hope he doesn’t do it again.

"I’m already intimidated. I come here today because there is an officer with a gun and a grudge and access to my private details. The damage is done."

Julie launched a breach of privacy claim and is seeking compensation for having to relocate her family after her details were leaked. The matter is being heard by QCAT after she lodged a complaint with the Queensland office of the information commissioner. The maximum payout she can receive is $100,000 and she estimates the ordeal has cost her "much more than that".

The police service is represented in the proceedings by the government legal service, Crown Law Queensland. The lawyers are instructed by the Queensland Government Insurance Fund.

Julie is self-represented in QCAT. She says she wanted to mediate the matter and negotiate a settlement. Instead, the government applied to the tribunal to brief a senior counsel.

During the June hearing, a government solicitor could not give the tribunal a guarantee they would not ultimately pursue Julie for legal costs.

"I’m here trying to recoup the costs that I’ve had to bear after having to relocate and the extra security for my family after the gross breach to my privacy," Julie told QCAT. "I am the victim. Yet, I understand today that the public purse is funding [the defence of] the state and the police union will be funding [the defence of] the officer, no doubt, that disclosed my private details to a violent perpetrator.

"Now, how would it make sense for me to wear the costs of having to brief or bringing in a senior counsel in order to recoup the expense that has been incurred by me so far? I absolutely see this as absurd. The crown has said that this matter is complex. What is complex about this?

"I’m supposed to wear the expense of senior counsel if I want a level playing field. I wish for this to be fair. This goes against everything that QCAT says it is."

The police defence to Julie’s claim is broadly that the state should not be held responsible for the actions of rogue individuals.

Guardian Australia approached the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, with questions about whether this position was an abrogation of the government’s responsibilities in managing and protecting the sensitive personal data of citizens.

Palaszczuk, who is a public advocate for domestic violence victims, was also asked why her government had not sought to support Julie, or to negotiate a settlement with her.

The premier’s office responded with a one-line statement.

"It would be inappropriate to comment on a matter currently before QCAT, just as it would be inappropriate for the premier to intervene or become involved in tribunal proceedings in any way."

Julie has also attempted unsuccessfully through right to information to obtain a copy of her QPRIME file, which would include details about how and when her personal data had been accessed, and by which officers.

Police have refused to hand over the file. She has made a similar application to QCAT but has not yet been granted access.

Police said in a statement the service "has substantial information holdings and takes information privacy very seriously".

Police said that, as of last month, 11 officers had been charged for improperly accessing the system. Eight officers had been stood down from official duties for conducting unauthorised checks of QPRIME and five suspended.

The statement did not respond to specific questions posed by the Guardian, which which included why Punchard had not been charged, and why Julie had been unable to access her police data file. In other cases, people who applied for their files have been granted access.

"[Police] cannot comment further on access to specific information on this system for privacy reasons."

The matter is ongoing.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Victoria Police criticised for 'no arrest' policy following violent brawl

Victoria Police top brass are reeling from deepening criticism that their no-arrest policy is failing to tame teen gangs following a violent street brawl that involved more than 200 ­African-Australian and Pacific ­Islander youths and ended in a terrifying car ­attack.

An 18-year-old man was in hospital in a critical condition last night with leg injuries after being hit by a car at the end of a huge fight that broke out at a ­record label launch early yesterday morning.

Five other youths were hospitalised with injuries suffered during a fight in the street.

The latest public brawl involving African-Australian youths comes three weeks after riot police and helicopters were called to control a clash between warring teens in the outer-northwestern suburb of Taylors Hill.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for a tougher approach to policing in Victoria following the latest violent brawl.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton established an African-Australian Community Taskforce in January to deal with youth crime. Since then, there have been several out-of-control parties and violent robberies.

In July, 19-year-old South Sudan­ese woman Laa Chol was stabbed to death after an altercation at an Airbnb party.

Former Victoria Police chief commissioner Kel Glare said the latest event was evidence the police strategy to tame the teens was not working and a new ­approach was needed, including on-the-spot ­arrests.

“I am losing hope this will be solved under the current leadership of Victoria Police,” he said. “If you don’t make arrests on the spot, these kids will just continue to act the way they do … these black African kids are easily identifiable but the police are so risk-averse.”

He said some measures required to make on-the-spot ­arrests during public outbursts of violence could be confronting for the public but were necessary.

“The community needs to know it will take some rough work to make those arrests,” he said.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton echoed Mr Glare’s comments, saying a new approach was necessary because the state Labor government had “lost control”.

“Daniel Andrews has lost control of law and order in Victoria,” he said. “The longer the Premier refuses to act, the more people will be at risk of serious injury.

“It is a disgrace and innocent people are victims to these thugs while Mr Andrews refuses to act.”

Officers were called to Smith Street in inner-suburban Collingwood soon after 2.45am yesterday after reports of a fight between ­African-Australian and Pacific Islander youths leaving the “66 Records Label Launch” at the ­Gasometer Hotel.

The pub’s management declined to comment yesterday.

The teens reportedly ran riot down Smith Street, jumping on cars and brawling as they went, ­before congregating on nearby Mater Street.

Soon after police arrived, a car drove at speed into a group of youths on the side of the street, pinning the 18-year-old against another car and seriously injuring his leg.

Victoria Police is yet to make any arrests but says it anticipates some will be made in coming days.

Mr Glare, chief commissioner from 1987 to 1992, said he did not want police to attack teens but force ultimately would have to be used despite protests from some in the community.

“Most people don’t want to be arrested, and I’m simply saying there will be some physical activity involved. Police shouldn’t go out of their way but appropriate force should be used.

“Of course there is an element of society which will cry from the rooftops about police brutality and all that nonsense. “The vast silent majority will accept that police need to use the force necessary.”

Former NSW police assistant commissioner Clive Small said a review of Victoria’s strategy on dealing with African-Australian youths was needed after multiple violent incidents. “When there are an increasing number of these ­violent events, I always think it’s best to do a proper review of what police are doing and what needs to change,” he said. “These events just seem to be happening in increasing ­numbers.”

Residents who watched as the brawl unfold outside their homes said police were “completely outnumbered” and unable to control the crowd after the car ploughed into pedestrians.

Collingwood resident Josh Whelan detailed horrifying scenes just outside his new apartment, saying the car involved in the ­attack deliberately accelerated before it ploughed into the brawling teens.

“The car came at a very steady pace before it sped up and aimed at the group that were bashing each other … it was unbelievable,” he said. “I wasn’t so scared … I was up here, but I was scared for the people in the street.”

Neighbours in the street reported seeing a car speeding towards the crowd, where it hit a young man and pinned him against ­another car.

Other reports detail gang members being physically ­aggressive to residents who came out of their homes to help the injured after their heard the loud smash.

Mr Whelan said he was shocked to hear police had still not made any arrests after the brawl. “I think the police do a good job but I couldn’t understand that there’s been no arrests,” he said.  “If there’s no arrests, what if they just keep doing stuff like this?”

Another male Collingwood resident speaking to The Australian said he saw a group of about 60 to 70 youths of African appearance starting to brawl outside his window at 2.30 in the morning, and that police were “completely outnumbered” and “unable to control the crowd”.

North West Regional Commander Tim Hansen said persons of interest had left the scene very quickly but they had identified the driver of the car and were planning to talk to him. Mr Hansen said he expected to make an arrest in the next 24 hours.

Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville rejected suggestions that police needed to change their strategy, and said there was evidence its current strategy, as well as new officers boosting numbers in the force, were contributing to a fall in the rate of violent crime.

Victoria chief executive Wayne Gatt said the event demonstrated that police did not have the numbers they needed to be a visible presence in trouble spots around the city.

He also defended police who prioritise dispersing crowds over making arrests, reasoning that each arrest takes two officers away from the frontline and could leave the rest of the team exposed ­during a large flare-up.

But he agreed with a suggestion that a lack of arrests would “100 per cent, absolutely” embolden troublemakers to act out again.

“We’re coming from behind the eight-ball,” Mr Gatt told 3AW.  “Years ago, we would have had police walking in and out of ­licensed venues every Friday and Saturday night, checking on patrons, looking for trouble spots (but) we simply don’t have the same numbers anchored to police ­stations.”

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