Saturday, August 28, 2010

Queensland Police boss to face public grilling by watchdog

CRIME and Misconduct Commission boss Martin Moynihan will interrogate Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson at historic public hearings next month. Mr Atkinson - under fire from the CMC over issues including the Palm Island death-in-custody case - is expected to be among the witnesses at the hearings into alleged serious misconduct by Gold Coast police.

The hearings, to be presided over by Mr Moynihan, are the last stage of the CMC's Operation Tesco probe into allegations of police wrongdoing on the Gold Coast. Tesco has investigated claims of police associating with criminals, taking drugs, accepting free drinks at nightclubs and misusing confidential information.

Dozens of Gold Coast police have appeared at secret CMC hearings where they were forced to testify under threat of jail for contempt. Three Gold Coast police officers have been stood down over the Tesco allegations and at least one is facing criminal charges.

The CMC stressed the public hearings were not aimed at unearthing new evidence of misconduct but would look at "big picture" issues stemming from the Tesco investigation. "The hearing won't gather further evidence of alleged police misconduct on the Gold Coast - its intention is to look into systemic issues identified by evidence already gathered," the CMC's Assistant Commissioner (Misconduct), Warren Strange, said.

Despite conflict between Mr Moynihan and Mr Atkinson over the Palm Island case, and the Police Commissioner accepting a shorter contract extension to sidestep CMC approval, a commission spokeswoman denied the state's top two crimefighters were at loggerheads. She said the CMC and Queensland Police Service were working co-operatively on reforms aimed at stamping out police misconduct and corruption.

Mr Strange said Operation Tesco was "a clear example of close collaboration between the CMC and the QPS". Eight police inspectors were seconded to the CMC to help with the Tesco probe.

Mr Strange said the CMC and QPS had consulted over "strong, decisive" reforms announced this week by Mr Atkinson ahead of the Operation Tesco report which is not expected until early next year.

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday defended allegations Mr Atkinson failed to move quickly on the Gold Coast allegations that were first raised almost two years ago. "The allegations surfaced 18 months ago," Ms Bligh said. "I don't think you can act on those allegations until you've investigated them or until you're satisfied that there's evidence that warrants action," Ms Bligh said.

She said Mr Atkinson had her "full support" and that his willingness to "stamp out" misconduct was a sign of the times. "Frankly, 30 years ago (misconduct) would have been allowed to thrive," she said. "This is a sign of a very rigorous and accountable modern police service."

They include a review of police recruiting standards which Mr Atkinson admitted had slipped, revised polices on police associating with criminals and receiving freebies, the appointment of more senior officers to supervise Gold Coast police and a beefed-up Ethical Standards Command.

About 20 witnesses, including Mr Atkinson and other senior police and independent experts, are expected to give evidence at the CMC hearings being held from September 20.

Mr Strange said the hearings would ``complement new policing strategies and assist the QPS in ongoing efforts to improve management of identified risks``. ``It's clear that major change needed to happen and we have supported the QPS move to implement necessary reform,'' he said. ``Our hearing will assist this process.``



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