Report finds ‘systemic failures’ in anti-corruption body’s coercive examination of witnesses
A Victoria Police officer tried to kill herself twice while being “coercively examined” during a police misconduct investigation, a Victorian Inspectorate report has concluded.
- The Inspectorate found IBAC failed to give sufficient regard to the health and wellbeing of witnesses
- The Police Association says the report provides important scrutiny of the anti-corruption body’s operations, which are largely secret
- IBAC says it takes the welfare of witnesses seriously and has taken action to improve its processes
An investigation into the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission found “systemic failures” in the organisation’s interview processes and mental health policies.
In its report, tabled in State Parliament, the Inspectorate made 10 recommendations, including that IBAC use qualified staff to look after the welfare of witnesses during investigations.
“Victoria’s integrity agencies have significant coercive powers to compel witnesses to provide evidence,” Inspector Eamonn Moran QC said.
“With those powers comes responsibility.”
The Inspectorate, which has oversight over IBAC and other integrity agencies, started its investigation after receiving four complaints in 2016.
In one instance, an officer tried to take her own life twice shortly after an interview was adjourned at IBAC.
The officer was not sleeping due to stress and had recently attended a funeral of a close family member.
Despite this, IBAC failed to ask about the welfare of the witness, which would have uncovered the officer was suffering from fatigue and stress, the report said.
Instead, IBAC relied on draft notes that concluded the witness may be “abrasive” during the interview process.
After the woman’s second suicide attempt, IBAC called officers from Victoria Police’s Professional Standards Command for assistance, instead of a doctor or ambulance.
IBAC doubted officer’s suicidal thoughts were genuine
In a separate incident, a witness was summoned to attend IBAC on the same day she had an appointment to see her GP to discuss voluntary admission for inpatient psychiatric services.
The officer had expressed suicidal ideation on two occasions and a psychologist found she was at risk of self-harm.
These facts were known within IBAC, the report found, but some within the organisation assumed the officer was seeing a GP to avoid work, while others assumed her suicidal thoughts were “not genuine”.
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The officer’s mental state was significantly impaired and her requests for a lawyer were ignored twice, the report said.
“No matter who the witness is, or why they are being investigated, integrity agencies must demonstrate a regard for their welfare,” Mr Moran said.
Mr Moran told ABC Radio Melbourne the recommendations did not provide a simple option for witnesses to opt out of the interview process.
“It’s not a case of allowing people just to, as I say, bypass the system and make a claim,” he said.
“There will be proper and thorough assessment processes.”
The report also recommends IBAC ensure witnesses are advised they can leave the premises during an adjournment.
It also calls for IBAC staff to undergo mental health awareness training.
Report shines light on IBAC’s operations: police association
IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich QC said the health and safety of the people involved in its examinations was “always of the utmost priority”.
“As with any investigative agency, IBAC recognises that our operations can place people under pressure,” Mr Redlich said.
“Clearly this is especially so when they are persons of interest in alleged serious corruption or police misconduct who are faced with having to acknowledge wrongdoing.
“IBAC enables witnesses to seek and receive medical, counselling or other support, and over almost six years of operation, has taken action to strengthen these processes.”
Victorian Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt said the Inspectorate’s report provided “important” insight into the anti-corruption body’s operations.
“IBAC largely conducts its business in secret… it’s important that there are effective measures of oversight, just as there are for our members when they conduct their roles,” he said.
“We should expect that when police are interviewed for any reason, that their health and safety or wellbeing is regarded, irrespective of the reasons for that interview or inquiry.”