Failings hid police misconduct: IPCA
Multiple failings by Southern District police let the criminal conduct of two officers go undiscovered after a car crash involving a police officer and a 17-year-old, an Independent Police Conduct Authority report has found.
However, the authority found no evidence of a conspiracy among the officers overseeing the investigation into the crash in Alexandra nine years ago.
The authority today released the results of its independent investigation into the police handling of the crash investigation and its aftermath.
The crash on a country road on July 14, 2005, involved an unmarked police ute driven by Senior Constable Neil Ford and a Honda car driven by Shane Cribb.
Constable Dairne Cassidy was appointed to investigate the crash.
Cribb was subsequently charged with careless driving causing injury. He was convicted in March 2006.
Since January 2006, the authority has received letters alleging that police unfairly and unjustly attached the blame for the crash to Cribb.
This was allegedly done either to pervert the course of justice to protect a fellow officer, or through an incompetent investigation that lacked thoroughness.
After a retrial was ordered in 2008 on the basis of new evidence, police decided not to offer any evidence and Cribb's conviction was overturned.
The police subsequently made investigations that resulted in Ford being convicted of perjury and Cassidy being convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice. Both officers have since left the police.
In releasing today's report IPCA chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said the authority's investigation found multiple failings by the police.
These included a lack of adequate supervision and leadership, and a failure to critically examine evidence and remedy deficiencies identified during the investigation.
Police also failed to address concerns about the crash investigation in a timely manner.
"These inactions resulted in police not uncovering the truth about the crash for over two years, causing much undue stress to Mr Cribb and his supporters," Judge Carruthers said.
"Furthermore, the mishandling of the crash investigation also greatly damaged the reputation of Southern District police.
"The investigation also considered allegations of a police 'coverup'.
"However the authority has not found any evidence that there was a conspiracy among the police officers overseeing the crash investigation."
The authority noted that the conduct of the officers involved in the case predated the Code of Conduct procedure introduced by police after the enactment of the Policing Act 2008.
The former 12-month time limit on instituting disciplinary proceedings therefore applied and consequently the authority made no recommendations for further action against the officers concerned.
The authority also noted that since the incident police had improved their supervision and peer-review processes.
In concluding its investigation the authority found that police individual and collective failures in addressing concerns about the crash investigation caused unacceptable and unjustified delays.
The authority said it had contributed to the delay and had recently changed its processes to ensure that it completed investigations more quickly than it had done in the past.
Southern District commander Superintendent Andrew Coster said police acknowledged failure at several levels in the way the crash was initially managed and during the investigations that followed, which led to the wrongful conviction of Cribb.
"The police failures led to serious consequences for Mr Cribb, who was wrongly blamed and then convicted for causing the crash," Coster said.
"Police let Mr Cribb down badly, and to go some way to resolving this, we have apologised to him and provided compensation.
"Police accept that without the persistence of those members of the public who supported Mr Cribb, police would not have reinvestigated the case to uncover the truth about how the crash occurred.
"We also acknowledge that a number of poor decisions were made and that there was inadequate supervision and leadership in relation to this event. This was further compounded by an unacceptable lack of action over time.
"It goes without saying that staff involved could have done many things better, and lessons have been learnt since then."
Many changes in local policing had occurred since the crash, he said.
"Police staff in the community where this incident occurred have worked hard to repair and strengthen relationships," Coster said.
"Today, nine years later, we have many excellent and dedicated staff based in Alexandra who serve their community every day with professionalism and integrity."
- Fairfax Media