The Queensland police officer who leaked the personal details of a domestic violence victim has declined to answer questions about his actions at a tribunal hearing, invoking his privilege against self-incrimination.
The tribunal accepts as fact that senior constable Neil Punchard accessed the personal details of a woman, known as Julie, and sent them to her violent former husband.
Julie is seeking compensation for breach of privacy in the Queensland civil and administrative tribunal (QCAT).
Punchard was disciplined but not suspended, sacked or charged with a criminal offence for leaking Julie’s details. He had never spoken publicly about the 2014 incident until called to appear as a witness at the tribunal on Friday.
He asserted his right not to answer questions six times.
In a prepared statement he said: “I’m aware that having been involved in these proceedings and seeing material posted online by the applicant and people associated with the applicant they are advocating for me to be criminally charged in relation to access of the police computer system known as Qprime … my alleged release of information from Qprime about the applicant, and my alleged possession of a motor vehicle which may have been property of the applicant’s former partner.
“I have been informed by my solicitor that he made inquiries earlier this week with the [Queensland police service] and a complaint has been made against me which is being investigated by the crime and corruption commission [CCC]. I have been informed the complaint directly relates to the allegations I mentioned earlier [and] I wish to advise the tribunal at the outset that I am claiming self-incrimination privilege under the QCAT act … and I decline to answer any questions which may touch those allegations.”
Punchard was asked whether he understood about breaches of privacy, the rules of access to the Qprime system, and the rules around the disclosure of information. He declined to answer each question.
The tribunal accepts as fact that a breach of Julie’s privacy occurred. An individual cannot be held liable under the relevant act. Police argue they should not be held responsible for the actions of an individual officer.
The tribunal is attempting to determine whether police were vicariously liable for the breach.
The police employee who designed the “owner” of the Qprime data system, Nicole Doogan, told the tribunal it was capable of restricting access to details for vulnerable groups, such as domestic violence victims, but that no steps had ever been taken to do so.
“It seemed this particular police officer was able to fairly readily access the system for his own purposes and didn’t need any other level of access,” Gardiner said.
Julie said she was forced to go into hiding after Punchard sent her address to her former husband, who has been convicted of domestic violence. He accessed her address from the police QPrime database and sent it to her former husband, who has been convicted of domestic violence and faces another charge of breaching a domestic violence order.
Punchard sent text messages to Julie’s former husband joking about the matter.
“Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol. She will flip,” Punchard wrote in one message that was later sent to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
She is seeking compensation, including for having to relocate her family.
“I wanted to openly tell you how disgraceful and damaging your decisions have been to my family and I,” Julie wrote in an open letter about the information breach.
“The impact of the decision to fight me just because you have the resources and power to do so is not only morally and ethically wrong, it is an abuse of position, a waste of the public purse, and does not meet the community expectations.
“I was raised to have great respect for the men and women that serve in our police service, and that idealistic view of what I thought all police were has been shattered.
“This is not a story about one rotten apple, one rogue officer. That very concept alone is a deliberate minimisation concept. It’s about the rotten apple that spread and affected many other apples in the barrel.
“What has happened to me has not been able to go on without many people enabling the decisions.”
The Queensland shadow attorney general, David Janetski, said it was “hard to believe the lengths that this government has gone to cover-up for their own failures in this case”.
“[The government] breached this poor domestic violence victim’s privacy by leaking her details to her violent former husband and they should compensate her for that,” he said. “Now they are trying to flex their muscle against her in any compensation claim in QCAT. The police officer involved may have been disciplined, but that doesn’t bring the matter to an end.”
Gardiner has asked for additional submissions and reserved her decision.