22 Sep 2008

Dunedin police play down critical authority report

3:16 pm on 22 September 2008

Police in Dunedin do not believe that a critical report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority reflects badly on their other investigations.

The authority's report criticised several senior Dunedin officers for errors in their handling of the case of a man suspected of defrauding the Accident Compensation Corporation.

The authority found that a conflict of interest between an officer and his private investigator father-in-law was not handled well.

But Acting Southern District Commander, Superintendent Malcolm Burgess, says the report is specific to one case only and does not reflect adversely on other cases worked on by the officers involved, such as inquiries into murder allegations against David Bain.

Mr Burgess says searches by and large are conducted efficiently, professionally and in accordance with the law.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority urged police to improve their handling of conflicts of interest, privacy and conduct while carrying out searches.

Bruce Van Essen's home in Fairfield was searched in September 2006 at the request of ACC.

In seeking the search warrant from Dunedin District Court, Constable Andrew Henderson relied on information from Peter Gibbons, an ACC private investigator and his father-in-law.

In the report, Justice Goddard says Mr Henderson either should have been properly supervised or should not have been dealing with his father-in-law at all.

The report concludes the search warrant lacked any clear description of offences Mr Van Essen was supposed to have committed, and may not have stood up in court had it been challenged.

Though no evidence of illegality or misconduct was found on the part of police, the report says such behaviour runs the risk of undermining public trust and confidence in police.

ACC has declined to comment.

Mr Van Essen has indicated he will probably seek compensation over the matter, but is refusing to elaborate. He says he is pleased the authority has upheld many of his complaints.

Statutory independence call

Meanwhile, New Zealand First law and order spokesperson Ron Mark has called for the Independent Police Conduct Authority to be given statutory independence.

The authority, a Crown entity set up to replace the Police Complaints Authority, investigates allegations of police misconduct.

Mr Mark welcomes the establishment of the authority and other moves to separate the complaints process from police, but believes more can be done.

He says there is a perception among some people the authority is not as independent as it could be and that the public's confidence in the body is hamstrung by that assessment.

Mr Mark says the authority should be made an Officer of Parliament like the Ombudsman.