Whistle-blowers in Fear of Witch-hunts

Jeremy Pierce & Greg Stolz| 17 February, 2012 | The Courier Mail

A culture of fear among police whistle-blowers has emerged as Queensland’s top cop vowed to hunt the source of an alleged police bashing video.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson has pledged a “full, thorough and exhaustive” investigation into the alleged bashing of 21-year-old chef Noa Begic in the bowels of the Surfers Paradise police station. Mr Begic had his hands cuffed behind his back when officers were seen kneeing and punching him.

But Mr Atkinson has also flagged an inquiry into how The Courier Mail obtained the CCTV footage of Mr Begic’s bashing before breaking the story on Wednesday.

The pursuit follows news that Constable Bree Sonter was asked to explain her role in blowing the whistle on former colleague Benjamin Price, who was jailed after he assaulted prisoners.

The Courier Mail understands that Constable Sonter, labelled “heroic” by the Crime and Misconduct Commission when she was the only officer to report Price, was under investigation for why she did not allegedly alert authorities earlier about his behaviour.

The Price court case and subsequent stories in The Courier Mail raised questions about how slowly police reacted to the initial report.

Operation Tesco, a 2010 CMC inquiry into Gold Coast police misconduct, heard how a Burleigh Heads CIB whistle-blower was given a can of dog food as a “secret Santa” gift by a colleague.

The present, handed out at an office Christmas party, was given after he was suspected of “dogging” a workmate over disciplinary matters.

Last November, an inspector from the Ethical Standards Command, the internal affairs division which investigates allegations of police misconduct, was stood down after he left a can of dog food on a colleague’s desk allegedly to reprimand him for being a “snitch”.

Mr Atkinson said he did not believe the release of the Surfers Paradise video was a “whistle-blower act” as an internal investigation into the incident was already underway.

“There’s nothing there that is exposing or uncovering anything,” he said.

But leading criminal lawyer Bill Potts said police would not have taken the case as seriously without the media exposure.

“But for brave whistle-blowers and journalists revealing these sorts of things, this type of behaviour would not be exposed in the significant way it has been,” Mr Potts said.

Queensland Civil Liberties Council vice-president Terry O’Gorman said Mr Atkinson should be more concerned with the behaviour in the video than in how it went public.

“Rather than conducting a witch-hunt into haw a video embarrassing the QPS was leaked to the media, Mr Atkinson should be conducting his own inquiry into Gold Coast Police Command, who apparently did nothing about the video or the police involved in the alleged bashing until the video was publicly released,” Mr Potts said.

Click here to read the Courier Mail article.