Saturday, March 2, 2013

Officer who failed to issue alert on sinking boat set to be demoted

A POLICE officer who failed to alert authorities that a boat was sinking in the Torres Strait before five people died is likely to be demoted, after a successful Crime and Misconduct Commission appeal.

A girl, four, and four other people drowned when the Malu Sara went down on the way from Saibai to Badu Island in October 2005.

Thursday Island Sergeant Warren Flegg was told the vessel was taking on water but did not tell rescue authorities that the boat was in distress until hours later.

After a disciplinary hearing an Assistant Commissioner found Sgt Flegg should be demoted to Senior Constable for two years, but suspended the order, subject to him completing training.

In February last year a Queensland Civil and Administrative Appeal Tribunal senior member dismissed the CMC's appeal against that decision, finding that the sanction was appropriate.

But the CMC brought a fresh appeal, on the basis that a reasonable tribunal would have found the sanction "unreasonable or plainly unjust". The Commission no longer asked for Sgt Flegg to be dismissed.

On February 20 QCAT appeal tribunal members Justice Alan Wilson and Dr Bridget Cullen said a suspended sentence did not reflect the seriousness of Sgt Flegg's misconduct and it was "surprising".

"His failure to pass on critical information as soon as practicable was a very serious omission, particularly when he was a trained search and rescue co-ordinator," Justice Wilson said.   "The failure to discharge that duty persisted for some hours, compounding its seriousness."

Justice Wilson said in his view Sgt Flegg should be demoted to Senior Constable for two years from a date to be decided and be allowed to apply for a sergeant's position only after two years, under certain conditions.