The South Australian Police Commissioner must resign his post unless he agrees to co-operate – truthfully – with investigations into his conduct.
That’s the opinion of experienced barrister, Michael Fuller, who has been assisting former Broken Hill boy, Ian Lawton, through a dreadful maze of alleged police corruption in South Australia.
In the Legislative Council on Wednesday, SA Best MLC, Frank Pangallo, and Greens MLC, Tammy Franks, crucified Grant Stevens, the SA Commissioner of Police, for obstructing a parliamentary inquiry by refusing to answer questions and not being truthful when he did.
The laundry list of Commissioner Stevens’ alleged dodgy behaviours includes:
Refusing to answer questions about why a police corruption complaint by former Broken Hill man, Ian Lawton, had been terminated at every level of the SA investigative branch
Failing to explain why a police officer’s home was raided by police while the officer himself was dying in hospital from a suicide attempt, AND
Not disclosing to the Inquiry that his step-daughter applied for a SA Police exam and had her paper “edited” by an SA Police employee to improve her chances.
As Barrier Truth reported two weeks ago, Commissioner Stevens appeared before the Select Committee on Damage, Harm or Adverse Outcomes Resulting from ICAC Investigations on November 16. Sensationally, he refused point blank to answer any questions at all about why Ian
Lawton’s allegations of “corrupt conduct” had been dismissed out of hand by everyone from the South Australian Police to ICAC. As Frank Pangallo said in Parliament on Wednesday: “Something about this does not ring true.”
But Greens MLC Tammy Franks went even further, accusing the Police Commissioner of lying to the Inquiry through omission.
“He did not honestly present to our committee,” said Ms Franks. “It is inexplicable to the committee why the current police commissioner would evade answering … candidly, creating further concerns. Indeed, it was the committee’s mandate to conduct this inquiry, but it was frustrated not just by Commissioner Stevens but by many SAPOL witnesses”.
Ms Franks noted that Commissioner Stevens appeared at the Inquiry and declined to answer questions on the advice of a well-paid barrister rather than the lawyer on the payroll of the SA Police.
“Never once, to our committee, did he say why he needed not just senior counsel of SAPOL but Frances Nelson QC to give him legal advice to present to our committee,” she said.
A hint may be provided by Grant Stevens’ close proximity to certain matters before the inquiry – namely, the investigation into “Recruit 313”, a program designed to recruit 313 further officers into the SA police force, Ms Franks spilling the beans to Parliament on Wednesday about the Commissioner’s potential conflict of interest.
“It was quite clear to me, as a member of this committee, that the Commissioner had a distinct conflict of interest, that the Recruit 313 investigation involved his family member, that his family member had misspelt some of the words and had had another police officer look out for his family member by attempting to correct the spelling,” Ms Franks revealed.
“That process of Recruit 313 required an ATAR of 70, and that is why the literacy and numeracy test was so vital. That process also was done through TAFE. TAFE SA provided the provisions for this testing. There was a fee attached to the testing that was waived for members’ children and for boyfriends of children of senior brass of SAPOL. Those conflicts of interest were never disclosed to our committee — when you go to the point of having the fees waived for the kids of top brass when, goodness knows, they can afford to pay the $140 or so that it costs for the literacy and numeracy test, while countless South Australian young adults will struggle to scrape together that amount to do this test to get into the force.
“Not once did [Commissioner Stevens] indicate that he had known of this for years, and it would be unsurprising, given it involved one of his family members.”
But that appears to be the least of the Commissioner’s concerns.
In 2019, Chief Superintendent Doug Barr, who’d been with SA police for 43 years, took his own life while under pressure from an ICAC investigation that ultimately found he was not at fault.
Doug Barr was not even dead when police raided he and wife Debbie’s home.
“Unannounced, and without her knowledge, SAPOL entered and conducted a search of her empty house, seizing many personal items and stripping Chief Superintendent Barr’s uniform of the decorations he had received for his years of service to SAPOL,” Frank Pangallo told Parliament. “This all took place while she was on the way to hospital in an ambulance with her dying husband. She only discovered it because they viewed security footage that SAPOL was unaware of.”
Commissioner Stevens – the head of police – claimed no prior knowledge of this raid. Nor did Bruce Lander, then head of ICAC. Nobody knows nuthin’.
“The committee experienced hostile behaviour from several SAPOL witnesses, including personal attacks on my integrity as presiding member by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Stevens, and the former ICAC, Mr Bruce Lander QC,” Frank Pangallo told Parliament on Wednesday.
“It was vehemently put by both Mr Lander and Mr Stevens that I had demonstrated a perception of apprehended bias and that I should recuse myself. I make no apology for probing uncooperative and reluctant witnesses with robust questions. If I have ticked off some sacred cows, well so be it.
“It is my view that various SAPOL officers were disrespectful of the committee, and therefore to this parliament, in their refusal to answer questions when they knew the answers; take questions on notice only to not provide answers; and failure to disclose many requested documents.
The committee recommends that a report be made to the Legislative Council to consider … that the actions or inaction of any witnesses were unsatisfactory in terms of the committee discharging the functions of the Legislative Council.”
“The Police Commissioner has to either talk or go,” says retired barrister, Michael Fuller, who has been assisting Ian Lawton with his case.
“If you can’t trust the Commissioner of police, you can’t trust the upper echelons of the police force.”