Documents produced to the NSW Greens show that NSW Police routinely shredded all the documents they received during the Police’s five years involvement with a key body of the Catholic Church which was set up to deal with sex abuse cases.
See David on ABC New Breakfast this morning here.
As reported in ABC lateline.
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: New South Wales police have admitted shredding all documents of the force’s involvement with a key Catholic Church body set up to deal with sex abuse cases.
The sex crimes squad officer on the church body destroyed all her documents after each meeting.
The top level group established by the church’s bishops met monthly with the senior policewoman for at least three hours, over many years.
After being contacted by LateLine, the New South Wales police minister, mike Gallacher has now demanded an urgent briefing from his police commissioner.
And the former director of public prosecutions in New South Wales has described the police actions as “destroying evidence.” Suzie Smith reports.
SUZIE SMITH, REPORTER: The internal church body was known as the professional standards resource group. Set up by Catholic bishops, the expert panel was created to advise the church on specific cases of child sexual abuse involving clergy and others.
PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS OFFICE: The resource group meets monthly for approximately three to three and a half hours and offers the director a range of important advice covering the response to and management of specific cases.
SUZIE SMITH: On February 27 this year, NSW police told Lateline all the information provided by the church to that officer was anonymous, in other words no-one was named and that included priest under suspicion. Tonight Lateline has obtained internal police documents through an FOI application lodged by NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge. They reveal the now inspector Beth Cullen shredded all documents and records of those monthly deliberations over a five year period from 1998 to 2003.
NOTICE OF DECISION: Detective Acting Superintendent Linda Howlett from the Sex Crimes Squad had advised these documents concerning the PSRG meetings were confidential and maintained by the Professional Standards Office of the Catholic Church. Inspector Beth Cullen, the NSW Police representative on the PSRG shredded hard copies of meeting material after each meeting. Furthermore Inspector Cullen did not keep any documentation in relation to her work on the PSRG.
DAVID SHOEBRIDGE, NSW GREENS MLC: We need all of the documents produced and in the absence of there being any other documents, we need the police to explain to the public how it was they went about destroying these records of crimes but also, going forward, we need to stop this culture of treating the church like a special and protected institution. No police officer should be involved in internal church investigations about crimes. When there’s a crime, it should be investigated by the police.
SUZIE SMITH: Former Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, also has serious concerns.
NICHOLAS COWDERY, FORMER HEAD NSW DPP: It’s quite extraordinary because my experience has always been that official police action is backed up by documents, backed up by records, by reports, by all of the relevant material assembled during the official police activity so for someone involved in such activity to shred documents like this, I think is quite unusual and indeed extraordinary.
SUZIE SMITH: Nick Cowdery says had shredding could raise suspicions that evidence was destroyed.
SUZIE SMITH: Would there be any circumstances in which it would be necessary to shred documents for police being seconded to an internal church body? Can you think of where it would be necessary?
NICHOLAS COWDERY: No, I can’t, except to destroy evidence, which is really what it amounts to, evidence of what happened. So that the person who was involved can’t refer back to that documentary evidence, so that that person’s superiors can’t have access to contemporaneous record that was made or preparatory documents, documents that might have been provided by way of briefing before the meetings occurred. All of that is gone and, you know, I’ve sat on numerous committees and bodies with serving police officers who are there by reason of their position in the police force and they’ll always make comprehensive notes of what is going on, they prepare reports for their superiors, they have records that they can refer back to if there is any uncertainty or confusion about what might have happened or what might have been said. It’s to protect the officer as well as the institution.
SUZIE SMITH: The former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions says the church meetings were discussing potential crimes and the Police Commissioner must explain why all evidence of that held by police was shredded.
NICHOLAS COWDERY: Yes, I think it is important and I’ll tell you why. It’s the case of the employer, if you like, making a decision about what to do with an employee. That employee, having been discovered to have committed serious criminal offences in some cases. Now it may be that the employer wanted to take action short of criminal prosecution but the employer in that case would have to be held accountable for that decision and for that conduct as well because otherwise you might get the situation where the senior people making the decision in relation to the priests and others might be guilty of the offence of concealing a serious offence, deliberately covering up a particular offence. If there was a possibility of that happening, I guess one of the ways of making prosecution for that offence more difficult would be to remove any evidence of what was discussed at the meetings.
SUZIE SMITH: The director of the professional standards office, Michael Salmon, has told Lateline the Catholic Church is the only body who holds the minutes of those meetings. He says, however, all the briefing papers have been destroyed. He says he won’t be releasing those documents unless he gets a special request from the Federal Royal Commission or the special commission of inquiry in NSW.
STATEMENT FROM MICHAEL SALMON: I understand that the members of the group had decided that confidential and sensitive briefing papers would be returned to the Professional Standards office following meetings. This continues to be the practice. I am not aware of members personally shredding briefing documents but I assume from time to time they may have done so if unable to return them promptly to the Professional Standards Office. Briefing papers from members of the group returned to the PSO are not retained as they do not form part of the formal record of meetings.
SUZIE SMITH: Tonight, the NSW Police Minister, Mike Gallacher, has asked the commissioner of police for an urgent briefing.
STATEMENT FROM MIKE GALLACHER’S OFFICE: This office has written to the NSW Police Force seeking information in relation to these substantive matters.
STATEMENT FROM NSW POLICE: The circumstances surrounding the appointment of representatives from the NSW police force to the Catholic Church’s NSW professional standards resource group and the manner in which that group operated will be considered by the special commission of inquiry.
SUZIE SMITH: Greens MP David Shoebridge has now sent his FOI documents to the Royal Commission and the special commission of inquiry in NSW. Suzie Smith, Lateline.
TONY JONES: And the full statements from the NSW police minister and police force will soon be on our web page.
STATEMENT FROM THE OFFICE OF MICHAEL GALLACHER, NSW POLICE MINISTER
In light of the issues raised today, this office has written to the NSW Police Force seeking information in relation to these substantive matters.
As this relates to a period between 1998 to 2003 we await a response from the NSW Police Force.
STATEMENT FROM NSW POLICE FORCE
Original documentation concerning the meetings was confidential and maintained by the NSW Professional Standards Office of the Catholic Church.
The only material that was shredded were copies of that original documentation which had been circulated to members of the Church’s NSW Professional Standards Resource Group prior to each meeting.
The circumstances surrounding the appointment of representatives from the NSW Police Force to the Catholic Church’s NSW Professional Standards Resource Group and the manner in which that group operated will be considered by the Special Commission of Inquiry.
NSW Police Force will continue to provide full cooperation and assistance to this Inquiry.
The Inquiry is resuming public hearings next week for a period of four weeks.
Do you have a comment or a story idea? Get in touch with the Lateline team by clicking here.