One of the lead investigators into the death of 17-year-old Aboriginal boy Mark Haines engaged in unrelated fraudulent practices while he was the chief detective at Tamworth Police Station, the ABC can reveal.
Mark Haines was found dead on railway tracks outside Tamworth in 1988. The coroner returned an open finding and no-one was ever arrested or charged in connection with the death.
Mark Edward Clyde Ferguson, a detective sergeant at Tamworth Police Station, was one of several police officers who worked on Mr Haines’s case during the crucial early months in 1988.
The ABC’s Blood on the Tracks podcast, that examined the mysterious circumstances surrounding Mr Haines’s death, detailed a number of shortcomings in the initial police investigation.
The Coroner’s Court that inquired into Mr Haines’s death heard that Oxley Local Area Command officers lost crucial evidence and failed to conduct forensic tests on a car that was found 1.5 kilometres from Mr Haines’s body.
These failings have led Mr Haines’s family to believe the 1988 police investigation did not adequately investigate Mr Haines’s death as a potential homicide. The case remains unsolved 30 years on.
Documents obtained via a Freedom of Information request show that in the years following Mr Haines’s death the Wood Royal Commission heard evidence that the senior investigator on the case, Mr Ferguson, submitted false travel claims and provided misleading statements in police reporting documents to conceal the false claims. None of those incidents related to or were connected with the investigation into Mr Haines’ death.
No criminal conviction was ever laid against Mr Ferguson and the commission made no findings concerning him directly, but he was removed as the chief detective at Tamworth Police Station, had six departmental charges substantiated against him for making false claims and was required to pay a fine. The incident was also recorded on Mr Ferguson’s permanent police record.
Uncle ‘in disbelief … it’s a kick in the guts’
Donald Craigie, the uncle of Mr Haines, said he was shocked to hear a lead detective involved with his nephew’s case had engaged in dishonest practices, albeit unrelated to his nephew’s investigation. He said it gave rise to further questions about the adequacy of the investigation.
“I’m in disbelief, knowing now that this man has been involved in questionable behaviour … it’s a kick in the guts,” he said.
Mr Craigie is now calling for a public inquiry into the historical actions of the Oxley Local Area Command, the police district that includes Tamworth Police Station.
“I want a public inquiry into the past operations of the Oxley Local Area command,” he said.
“How can we have any trust in the work they [the police] did back then when we hear that they were caught doing dodgy things? We need a fresh start, we need to find out how many mistakes they made.”
Donald ‘Duck’ Craigie has spent the last 30 years trying to piece together what happened to his nephew that night. (ABC News)
Mr Ferguson left the NSW Police Force in the late 1990s and was admitted to practice law in June 1999. He has since had a prominent career as a lawyer at the Newcastle office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Mr Ferguson declined to provide comment to the ABC.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said Mr Ferguson had been working for the DPP in Tamworth but retired in June of this year.
New South Wales Legislative Council member and Greens MP David Shoebridge called for action to ensure the current investigation into Mr Haines’s case was not handled by police officers involved in the original investigation.
“Justice needs to both be done, and be seen to be done, and Mark’s family have been let down on both fronts,” he said.
“There’s a reason I continue to push to have the investigation taken entirely out of the hands of local police and given to State Crime Command, and it’s because there are so many conflicts of interest in this case.”
Mr Shoebridge has asked the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to make a public statement outlining who has been involved in Mr Haines’ case.
“We need a clear, unambiguous statement from the DPP that sets out who has dealt with the case and what protections are in place to ensure that no-one who worked as a police officer in Tamworth at the time of Mark’s death has come anywhere near the matter,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Constable ‘covered up car accident’
Mr Ferguson was one of a number of Tamworth police officers summonsed to the Wood Royal Commission, which ran from 1995 to 1997, to investigate allegations of corruption against members of the New South Wales Police Force.
In one case, a senior constable from Tamworth Police Station, Geoffrey Shephard, who did not work on the Mark Haines case, was convicted for knowingly supplying false information to the commission after he had covered up a car accident.
Mr Shephard initially claimed he had been chasing a suspect vehicle while on duty, but was instead found to have crashed a police car into a boulder while heavily intoxicated.
He was not subjected to a breath test and the Wood Royal Commission heard he was taken by his colleagues, including Mr Ferguson, to a private practitioner for treatment, rather than a public hospital.
Mr Ferguson told the royal commission he did not form the view Mr Shephard was intoxicated.
The royal commission found that fraudulent practices within the NSW police force were “well entrenched and tolerated by senior staff”, and that officers engaged in this type of behaviour showed an “absence of personal probity”.