New report: NSW police violence and corruption

Issue 

Dale Mills

Police in NSW commit unlawful violent acts and cover up for each other, according to the recently published Operation Whistler report.

Operation Whistler was an investigation by the NSW Police Integrity Commission focussed on the arrest in Wagga Wagga on February 6, 2003, of Allan Frederick Hathaway by Senior Constable Christopher John Jackson and other police officers. The report, released just before Christmas, was not reported in the Sydney Morning Herald until December 26, ensuring the least possible public attention.

Hathaway was chased by a police officer for traffic violations and was then assaulted, resulting in a fractured cheek, jaw, lower arm and finger. The victim spent several weeks in hospital following surgery and still needs medical treatment some three years after the attack.

The investigation was initiated by the commission when Hathaway was taken to court for the alleged traffic and other offences, including possession of a knife, breaking and entering, assaulting police and resisting arrest. The presiding magistrate said that it was clear that the police officers "had given untruthful evidence, that Hathaway could not have received the injuries he did in the manner which was described by police in evidence, and that a knife found at the scene was almost certainly planted there by a NSW police officer".

Hathaway had allegedly been spotted driving an unregistered car and chased by police, who then followed him into a house where he tried to hide underneath a bed. While under the bed, Jackson sprayed Hathaway with pepper spray then laid into him with a baton across his arms, face and legs.

The report stated: "The Commission is of the opinion that Hathaway's injuries ... were caused by Jackson. Specifically, that the injuries were caused by blows from Jackson's baton and that the use of force by Jackson was excessive. The Commission is also of the opinion that there is no credible evidence that suggests that Hathaway did, or said, anything in the bedroom to justify the injuries that were inflicted upon him."

Cover-up

Not only was Hathaway viciously assaulted, police who arrived at the scene afterwards attempted to cover it up.

The senior police officer involved was Inspector Murphy. As the bedroom was splattered with blood, Murphy should have declared a "critical incident" and isolated the room. This would have resulted in the documentation of blood stains and a way of substantiating the victim's (or police officer's) version of events.

Rather than preserving evidence that could have incriminated one of his officers, Murphy arranged, within an hour of arriving at the scene, for a commercial cleaning company to remove the blood. Murphy said he made that decision, in part, because he was worried about the amount of blood on the floor damaging the carpet.

Was Murphy incompetent or corruptly trying to protect a violent fellow officer? The report concluded, "... the evidence gives rise to the compelling inference that Murphy did not immediately declare the matter to be a critical incident because he was more concerned to conceal misconduct on the part of Jackson".

Planting evidence

To further cover their tracks, an identified police officer wanted to portray the (now badly beaten) Hathaway as more than a person possibly guilty of traffic violations. It would be better if he was a dangerous criminal — carrying a knife perhaps? When the commercial cleaners found a knife while cleaning up the blood, the police alleged it belonged to Hathaway, who was by then being transported to hospital.

The suggestion that Hathaway had carried a knife was, however, rejected by both the Magistrates' Court and the Police Integrity Commission. The report stated: "The Commission is satisfied that Hathaway did not arm himself with a knife ... the Commission is of the opinion that one of the officers who attended at the property on 6 February 2003 planted the knife in the bedroom."

His violent beating by the police was not the end of Hathaway's troubles. When he eventually attended court, the initial brief of evidence to his defence lawyer did not include his custody records, medical reports or the "critical incident investigation" file and was, extraordinarily, completely silent on the beating he had received. When the defence lawyer demanded to see these materials, the police opposed the application.

The court would have none of this and directed the police to produce the materials. One medical report, until then a secret, had contents consistent with Hathaway's version of events. Another report, prepared by forensic scientists, also secret until the court ordered it be produced, showed that there was no DNA connection between Hathaway and the knife.

But it gets worse. The decision about what materials to disclose in Hathaway's case, was not made by the Wagga police prosecution but by the NSW police's Subpoena Section in Sydney. When challenged over withholding material from the police prosecution brief, the police officer concerned said she didn't properly understand the rules relating to disclosure. This, according to the commission, was "difficult to understand".

The report recommended that criminal charges be brought against Jackson for assault, and in relation to false evidence he gave at Wagga Wagga Local Court and to the Police Integrity Commission. Charges against Murphy were also recommended, for perverting the course of justice. As of January 7, police media releases have not mentioned whether any charges have been laid.

The full report can be downloaded at <http://www.pic.nsw.gov.au/PDF_files/Whistler.pdf>.

From Green Left Weekly, January 25, 2006.
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