Sunday, October 3, 2021

Punchard gone at last: He got off lightly


A senior constable convicted of leaking personal information about a friend’s ex-wife and her new partner, including their address, after accessing a police database has resigned from the Queensland Police Service following years of legal battles.

Neil Glen Punchard, 55, had a suspended prison sentence reinstated in August, following a successful appeal by the QPS.

His resignation from the QPS was effective from September 17, according to official police documents viewed by the Courier Mail.

The road policing officer from the South Brisbane District was charged in December 2018 with nine counts of accessing the Queensland Police Records and Information Management Exchange computer program – known as QPrime – and leaking personal information about the woman, including her address, to her ex-husband over a one-year period from 2013.

The mother of three told the Courier Mail in 2019 that she had moved her family twice in three years – after first making sure the removalists were not being followed – after the officer passed her address along to her ex-husband, Punchard’s childhood friend.

Punchard pleaded guilty in the Brisbane Magistrates Court in 2019 to nine counts of using a restricted computer without consent, gaining the benefit of knowledge, in 2013 and 2014.

He received two-month jail sentence, wholly suspended for 18 months, with a conviction recorded, but remained a serving police officer, on full-pay “administrative duties” at the time but was later suspended on full pay.

A back-and-forth lengthy court process ensued, with Senior Constable Punchard first winning an appeal against the jail sentence in 2020 with District Court Judge Craig Chowdhury instead re-sentencing the officer to 140 hours of community service with no conviction recorded.

On August 13 this year, the Court of Appeal allowed an appeal by the Commissioner of Police and set aside Judge Chowdhury’s orders.

The appeal court heard that Punchard had already completed the 140 hours of community service, but the appeal court judges said that fact “did not cause such an injustice” to the officer to be an impediment to their orders that would effectively reinstate the Magistrate’s sentence.

Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll has been under pressure by both the victim and members of the community to sack Punchard and has previously said she would consider his suitability to remain employed by QPS after the appeal process was finalised.

An online petition calling for Punchard’s dismissal from the police service has reached 67,352 signatures to date.

The woman filed a breach of privacy case against the QPS in Brisbane’s Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) in 2018.

Her complaint about the privacy breach was passed around between the QPS, the Crime and Corruption Commission, Ethical Standards Command and politicians for years, before QPS “substantiated” the complaint.

The QPS always denied the agency was liable for breaching the woman’s privacy.

Access to QPrime was tightened by the QPS in 2016, with members of the public now even prevented from accessing their own files.

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