On 30 December 2008, attorney Andrea Turner was travelling on a CityRail train for a bit of a summer holiday bushwalk when she encountered an outrageous abuse of authority at the hands of the NSW Police, which the officers involved subsequently- and quite clumsily- tried to cover up.
The Sydney Morning Herald ran the following story about the event and the $40,000 taxpayer-funded payout Ms Turner received as a result:
Compensation for lawyer after wrongful arrest
October 6, 2009
After unjust arrest … when Andrea Turner lodged a
complaint, police records were falsified, the judge
found. Photo: Peter Rae
A LAWYER has won $40,000 in compensation after NSW police wrongfully arrested her and then falsified official documents, alleging she had committed a terrorist act.
Andrea Turner, 57, was arrested on December 30 last year when a senior constable mistakenly believed Ms Turner had taken a photograph of her conducting a routine patrol of a train with a junior colleague.
Ms Turner, a practising criminal lawyer, had been on her way to a bushwalk in the Royal National Park.
None of the police officers involved has been reprimanded over the incident and there has been no internal investigation.
”Don’t take my photo. If you take my photo I will put you on your arse so fast it will not be funny,” the junior officer had said.
The other told Ms Turner: ”You’re obviously a bloke.”
Ms Turner was asked for identification and when she refused, was told to get off the train at the next station or be ”dragged off”.
The senior constable told her she was being arrested for taking a photograph of an officer in the execution of her duty.
Ms Turner denied taking a photograph and pointed out it was not an offence to do so. As was her legal right, she again declined to provide identification.
She was then detained for 30 minutes in front of a crowd of onlookers at Kogarah station.
Ms Turner successfully sued the state of NSW for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment in the District Court, telling the Herald: ”How could I have backed down when I tell my own clients, ‘That is thuggery, that is unlawful behaviour and you can’t let them get away with it’?”
The state had admitted liability for the incident, but did not accept it should pay aggravated or exemplary damages.
Awarding Ms Turner $20,000 in aggravated and exemplary damages, Judge Anthony Garling found she had displayed no signs of aggression during her arrest and there was no suggestion that the officers had needed to use force.
Yet three police officers were called in as back-up before she was escorted off the platform. Another five – including two detectives – also arrived on the scene.
Despite several phone calls to their superiors, none of them knew which offence, if any, Ms Turner had committed.
”It was an unjust arrest, it was a wrong arrest,” Judge Garling said.
Without explanation, Ms Turner was freed without charge.
But what happened next was even more serious, with Ms Turner falsely accused of a ”terrorist act”, Judge Garling found.
Police had decided not to pursue the matter or formally record the incident in the police COPS system. But later the same day Ms Turner called the police station to complain about her treatment.
”The police officer then decided to lessen whatever complaint could be made against her by falsifying a public record, that is, by alleging that the plaintiff committed an offence which is related to railway property, not to photographing the police officer,” Judge Garling said.
The senior constable had written in the falsified COPS entry: ”It should be noted that at the time of dealing with the person of interest police were unaware of the exact offence. It is an offence to take photos on railway property under the new terrorism laws.”
The judge said: ”This lady was sitting on a train going for a bushwalk when the police mistakenly did what they did. In no way could [it] be suggested that it related to terrorism.” He criticised the police force for not removing or amending the falsified COPS entry or apologising to Ms Turner.
In a statement NSW Police said it would treat the judge’s comments seriously. ”The matter will be investigated and any issues identified as a result of that investigation will be addressed.”
Now, what’s missing from Bellinda Kontominas’ story? I’ll give you a clue. There are 5 “w’s” that comprise any proper news story- who, what, when, where and why. The pivotal ‘who’ in this tale of abuses of authority, the law, the public interest and the interests of the people of NSW to be well served by those entrusted with enforcing our laws, are the police officers. These two officers abused their authority by needlessly if not fraudulently detaining Ms Turner, simply because they wanted to punish her for lawful behaviour that they didn’t like, in particular, Ms Turner’s lawful resistance to being bullied by police officers.
Punishment isn’t the job of the police service and falsifying records to attempt to cover their own asses after the fact is absolutely a crime. The public purse is $40,000 poorer (at least) as a result of the unlawful acts of these two corrupt cops.
This is all fairly heinous stuff for police officers- possibly perversion of the course of justice, among other offences. The officers involved haven’t yet been charged with any offences nor are on trial for the same, meaning the SMH is not subject to sub judice restrictions on publishing particulars related to the matters.
So, why didn’t Bellinda Kontominas publish the names of these officers and the location of the local command to which they’re assigned? The public certainly has a right to know this information which is completely basic and core to the story. I dropped a note to the SMH and asked:
RE: “Compensation for lawyer after wrongful arrest” at http://www.smh.com.au/national/compensation-for-lawyer-after-wrongful-arrest-20091005-gjfk.html
Despite the serious and proven accusations against police, this story omits the number 1 ‘W’ of the vital 5 ‘W’s necessary for any news story- ‘who.’
Why did writer Bellinda Kontominas omit the names of the senior and junior constables involved as well as the location of the local command to which they were assigned?
Will SMH amend the online story to include the pertinent missing data? If not, why not?
Have SMH journos been threatened with similar intimidatory action by NSW Police if this data is published?
Ms Kontominas responds:
From: Bellinda Kontominas
Sent: Friday, 9 October 2009 10:42 AM
Subject: Compensation for lawyer after wrongful arrest
In response to the query about Andrea Turner’s unlawful arrest, I made the decision not to publish the names of individual police officers involved in the case because I felt the story was about the police force as a whole.
The names were read in open court so there was nothing to stop me publishing them. Nor did the police pressure me in any way to omit the names.
I simply didn’t think naming the officers would add anything to the story.
This quite simply has to be the most astonishing response I’ve ever heard from a journalist.
Dear Ms Kontominas,
You have got to be kidding me. I honestly can’t believe that you, as a journalist, are attempting to justify withholding information from the public. Your job primarily entails conveyance of information to the public, not concealing it.
Your employer has fought tooth and nail over the years to obtain information on the behalf of the public’s right to know, with FOI requests and even lawsuits against the government.
Naming the officers absolutely goes to the public’s right to know. Identifying officers implicated not just in abuse of authority but falsification of public records is information the public most certainly should know. Being named and shamed also may give other officers pause for thought when considering such thuggery and officialised bastardry in the future.
In all seriousness, these officers have breached their obligation to the police service, to uphold the law and protect the people of NSW. Not only would disclosure of the officers names serve the public interest, it without question would ‘add something to the story.’ In fact, it would lead to a whole new story, about lawless police officers who remain on the force despite perverting the course of justice.
Kindly reconsider your news judgment on this issue.
Let’s see if she does.
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