24 February 2011
An investigation of the way Police dealt with a request to release a file regarding Auckland broadcaster Tony Veitch has found a number of errors, in a case that has wider public interest implications.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has released the report of an extensive investigation into the decision by Police to release information about six assault charges which had been dismissed by the Court, and without first honouring an undertaking to consult over the release.
On 18 August 2008 Mr Veitch was arrested and charged with six counts of male assaults female and one of injuring with reckless disregard. On 16 April 2009, following lengthy discussions between the Crown and defence counsel Stuart Grieve QC, Mr Veitch pleaded guilty in the Auckland District Court to the charge of injuring Kristin Dunne-Powell with reckless disregard for her safety and was fined $10,000, placed under supervision for nine months and ordered to complete 300 hours of community work.
In relation to the six charges of male assaults female, the Crown offered no evidence and they were dismissed.
However, on 20 May 2009, without first having consulted with Mr Grieve, Police released a bundle of 358 documents from the investigation file to news media, following a request made under the Official Information Act (OIA). This documentation included statements containing allegations relating to the six charges which the Crown had elected not to proceed with and thus had not been proven in Court.
Mr Veitch’s complaint is that, had there been any indication that Police intended releasing information to the news media about charges which were not substantiated in Court, he would have proceeded to defend all of Ms Dunne-Powell’s allegations.
The Authority has found no precedent in which documents of the type released in this case, following a decision by Police not to proceed with charges and their dismissal by a Court, have subsequently been publicly released by Police to the news media.
The issues have implications beyond their personal and professional effect on Mr Veitch and raise questions of public importance around personal information held by Police. The Authority consulted the Ombudsmen during its investigation.
In its report, the Authority made a number of findings and one recommendation:
• The officer overseeing the case intended to consult appropriately with Mr Veitch and Mr Grieve prior to the release of information. The Authority accepts that the officer only omitted to do so because of the work pressures he was under. He has apologised for his omission.
• The release of personal information by Police containing untested factual allegations and a summary of facts that did not form part of the charge to which Mr Veitch pleaded guilty, but related to charges that the Crown elected not to proceed with and which were subsequently dismissed by a Court, was unjustified and undesirable.
• The lack of clearly defined ownership of the processes, including assurance and signoff of the information requests, was undesirable.
• While Police have a duty to properly inform the public about investigations and other law enforcement activities, Police do not have a public interest role to “balance” media debate or discussion. That is not consistent with the role of Police in the administration of justice.
• In a situation where Police are required to apply the principles of section 9(2)(a) of the OIA in responding to a request, the factors Police consider when weighing public interest and privacy interests should be recorded and independently reviewed. In this case they were not, which is undesirable.
• The Authority notes that Police have carried out a review of procedures for dealing with OIA requests and Privacy Act requests and have already made a number of changes to policy and procedure.
• The Authority recommends that Police consider making a public apology to Mr Veitch, the wording of which should be consulted and agreed beforehand with Mr Veitch and Mr Stuart Grieve QC.