Parliamentary ICAC inquiry fires salvo at SA Police ‘noncompliance’

The state’s top cop is on a collision course with a parliamentary inquiry, which has handed down a series of recommendations for fundamental changes to the way police and ICAC investigations are conducted.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has been blasted for his responses to a select committee investigating “damage, harm or adverse outcomes resulting from ICAC investigations”, with a report tabled in parliament late yesterday claiming he and other SAPOL witnesses “frustrated the committee’s mandate to conduct this inquiry” by refusing to cooperate.

The inquiry – chaired by SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo, whose recent ICAC reforms were controversially raced through parliament – makes several further recommendations, including taxpayer-funded “compensation, reimbursement of legal costs and other expenses” should be paid to the subjects of failed ICAC investigations and prosecutions.

“The Committee is also of the view that compensation may be considered by the Independent Inspector for other individuals and their families who suffered adverse outcomes from failed ICAC investigations and prosecutions since its inception in 2012,” the report says.

That includes the family of former police chief superintendent Doug Barr, who took his life in 2019 having awaited draft findings of a “maladministration or misconduct” inquiry for more than three months.

“Ultimately no formal findings of maladministration against Chief Superintendent Barr were made,” the committee report says.

His widow Debbie revealed this year that their family home was raided by police and property seized while her husband was in hospital on the day of his suicide attempt, from which he did not recover.

The committee recommends that “the circumstances surrounding the search and seizure of items from the Barr family home should be investigated by the Office of Public Integrity”.

The Barr case centred around “a complaint to the OPI alleging corrupt processes undertaken by a number of senior police officers as part of a SAPOL recruitment project that aimed to recruit upward of 313 sworn police officers in 2016”, however the DPP “did not recommend prosecuting charges of corruption”.

“Further investigation was undertaken in 2018 regarding whether the same facts satisfied the criteria of misconduct and maladministration,” the report said, with Barr “one of the 27 witnesses examined by the ICAC”.

The Committee report criticised Commissioner Stevens after his September appearance before parliament, saying it was “concerned” at a written answer he had provided to questions on notice about whether – and when – he was aware of the Barr investigation.

Stevens told the inquiry: “SAPOL received a written report from the ICAC in December 2020 in relation to the ‘Recruit 313’ program, including information relative to Chief Superintendent Barr.”

“However on the same day former [ICAC Commissioner Bruce] Lander provided evidence and tabled a letter dated 15 August 2018 [advising] Commissioner Stevens that the corruption investigation in regard to Chief Superintendent Barr was concluded but that he was opening a wider maladministration and misconduct investigation in regard to the Recruit 313 program,” the committee report states.

“It is inexplicable to the Committee why the Police Commissioner would evade answering this question candidly, creating further concern that the Committee’s mandate to conduct this inquiry was frustrated by many of the SAPOL witnesses.”

The report says Stevens and other SAPOL witnesses declined to answer questions on other matters, on legal advice – in Stevens’ case from Frances Nelson QC – that the questions were “outside the scope” of the inquiry.

Other SAPOL witnesses declined to front citing health issues.

Stevens himself, in his evidence to the inquiry in September, blasted the committee, saying it was “ironic” that it was itself the cause of reputational harm.

The committee report highlights police “noncompliance”, saying “the decision by witnesses not to provide evidence to the Committee has constrained the Committee and its ability to consider fully all issues within its terms of reference”.

It has asked for a report to be made to parliament’s Upper House “to consider its view that the actions or inaction of any witnesses were unsatisfactory in terms of the committee discharging the functions assigned by the Legislative Council”.

It also recommended the formulation of a “publication protocol and exoneration protocol for ICAC”, mandating that people against whom cases did not hold up should have that fact detailed in a public statement by the ICAC.

The report recommends “a judicial inquiry is established appointing an interstate retired judicial officer or similar and assisting counsel to inquire into the handling of police complaints and compliance” in relation to specific cases reviewed and more generally, and a review of the use of general search warrants and approval processes for covert operations.

The report has also urged banning joint operations between ICAC and SAPOL where police officers are the subject of those investigations, and “recommends parliament consider the appropriateness of SAPOL investigating its own members for misconduct, maladministration and disciplinary matters”.

Media coverage of ICAC cases and public statements by the Commissioner in relation to investigations were also highlighted as causes of reputational harm and mental distress.

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