The Victorian Supreme Court heard evidence of; telephone intercept leaks, perversion of the course of justice, undermining murder investigations, questionable investigative methods, factional power plays, secret government deals and weapons of ridicule, during the former top brass Christine Nixon and ex police union chief, Paul Mullet’s decade long police power battle.
The Court was informed about “..a storm brewing in the Police Association”, which saw former VicPol top cop Ms Nixon, facing off against the Paul Mullett status quo.
The Court heard that Ms Nixon firmly denied her involvement in categorizing the serious misconduct allegations against Police Association Chief, Paul Mullett.
Ms Nixon recalled that two Victoria Police superintendents conducted the investigation, into misconduct allegations against Mr Mullett.
She also recalled how at the time police associations around Australia, condemned VicPol Force Commands interference into the police unions operations.
During the period in question, Ms Nixon received a letter from Slater and Gordon lawyers, requesting that she stay out of Police Associations affairs.
The court was told that after taking advise from police Internal Affairs department, that Ms Nixon came to the view to suspend Mr Mullett from his police duties. Due to the reasonable belief that Mr Mullett had committed a range of offenses. Inclusive of breaches of the telephone interception legislation, perversion of the course of justice, in addition to breaches of the OPI telephone interception, in relation to the Police Regulation Act (1958).
This was despite Ms Nixon admitting that Mr Mullet denied leaking to former controversial police officer, Peter Lalor.
Ms Nixon detailed to the Court that former Police Association President and Senior Sargent Ms Janet Mitchell revealed to her at the police academy, that she was having a “tough time”, at the Police union.
Evidence related to questionable emails critical of Janet Mitchell, which stemmed from Kit Walker, a.k.a. “the phantom, the ghosts who walks”, were investigated, by OPI and VicPol.
Internal police affairs determined that these emails allegedly originated from questionable police officer Peter Lalor. For reasons which are yet to be explained there appeared to be insufficient evidence to charge Mr Lalor.
Ms Nixon denied allegations that she was disquieted about being politically manipulated, with destabilization and collusion attempts, as well as being totally blindsided by secret deals between Mr Mullett and the former Victorian Bracks government.
She responded that the Police Association had a right to participate in that secret pay deals and so they did.
Ms Nixon claimed that she wasn’t humiliated by being undermined. Further commenting that the police unions activities were part of the cut and thrust of the political process.
It was suggested Ms Nixon was educated in real politic. Responding that she handled herself that way, to get what she wanted. She agreed that she was resilient and had a keen political antenna. Stating that her:
“time in NSW [police] working closely with politicians…she understands the issues around them, she studied politics and understood politics”.
Ms Nixon informed the Court that she prepared for instituting change in the police culture, by referring to a 1960’s style book titled “Rules for radicals”.
After being questioned about that the ridicule the police union subjected her to, Ms Nixon replied that;
“Ridicule is a mans weapon”.
She further elaborated that ridiculing people was a damaging thing to do. So she decided that when she was ridiculed, that she
“wouldn’t take it on board…its just a tactic people used on occasion, for their audience… or to make a point”.
In reference to the relationship between herself and Mr Mullet, Ms Nixon declared that they shared;
“a strong robust relation, with a strong union representation”.
Assistant Commissioner of Ethical Standards, Luke Cornelius was questioned at length about the OPI investigation into Mr Mullett and others.
He advised the Supreme Court that senior members of Victoria Police had been involved in leaking information about Operation Briars.
Operation Briars was an investigation conducted into the murder of Shane Chartres-Abbott. The investigation had identified that police officers had assisted individuals to carry out that murder.
Mr Cornelius gave evidence that he was;
“flabbergasted”, “shocked and deeply disappointed to [learn about the] compromise a high profile and sensitive investigation”.
The Court was apprised that former Assistant Commissioner Noel Ashby and ex Media Director Stephen Linnell, were sharing secret information, to at least one other person of interest.
Mr Cornelius recalled that Ms Nixon was concerned at the time about “protecting the public confidence” in Victoria Police and preventing further compromise to Operation Briars.
The secret OPI investigation was compromised, when one of four senior police leaked secret intelligence to The Age journalist, Nick McKenzie.
Mr Cornelius formed the view at the time that there was a reasonable belief that Mr Ashby, Mr Mullett and Mr Linnell had indeed engaged in criminal conduct. And it was appropriate that VicPol would take preliminary action against the men.
Both Mr Ashby and Mr Linnell resigned the day after the conclusion of their OPI evidence.
After the public OPI hearings, VicPol Force Command had a reasonable belief that Mr Mullett had committed two criminal offenses and issued him with a suspension notice.
These offenses included breaching the Telephone (Interception and Access) Act (1979) and breaching the confidentiality requirements related to the conduct of the OPI hearings.
Ms Nixon’s decisions to sign Mr Mullett’s suspension notice was described by Mr Cornelius as “very much a captains call”.
In Mr Mullett’s defense the Court was advised that he strongly asserted that this had nothing to do with leaking information about Operation Briars, suggesting that his phone conversations were in respect to the Kit Walker [police abuse of power and misuse of police email systems] issue.
At the time of the investigations Mr Mullett bitterly complained about his belief that he was being surveilled and his issues with his telephone intercepts, directly related to the Kit Walker investigation.
Mr Cornelius revealed to the Court the nature of the bullying allegations that had been allegedly engaged in by Mr Mullett, as described to him by certain complainants; as;
“fist banging”, “physical restraint”, being “rude to people”, and the “creation of the apprehension of the application of physical force”.
Former Deputy Commissioner Wayne Taylor’s long standing and distinguished police career was divulged during the legal proceedings. This career included him being awarded the National Police medal.
Mr Taylor’s position during the Mullett investigation was to assess the evidence and to sign the police charge sheets. He recalled that there was no investigative complainant, as the investigator was an OPI “Own Motion” investigation.
During questioning Mr Taylor appeared nervous, when recalling his time viewing the OPI’s Telephone Intercept material and transcripts.
Mr Taylor admitted to the Court that he did not recall seeing any warrants for the Telephone Intercept material.
Mr Taylor elaborated to the Court that in relation to the OPI investigation, he reviewed the OPI’s significant volume of evidence, that was contained in a large room full of folders, comprised of phone transcripts and other documents.
Appearing visibly distressed Mr Taylor described the OPI investigation as;
“a unique task, that he never had seen done before and [which has] never been done since”.
The hearing is presided over by Justice Terry Forrest.
The saga continues….
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