27 Feb 2020

IPCA backs investigation of sexual assault allegation involving friend of officer

1:08 pm on 27 February 2020

The police watchdog has found an investigation of a sexual assault allegation involving a friend of a senior police officer was not compromised, and police judgement was sound.

Palmerston North police station

Palmerston North Police Station Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

The case relates to a complaint a woman made at her local station in March 2017, alleging her boss had sexually assaulted her in a van in Palmerston North after a Christmas function.

At the time, she noted her boss was friends with a senior officer at the station, and was assured he would have no part in the investigation.

After a year-long investigation, no charges were laid.

In August 2018, the woman who made the allegations saw the police officer's name on a case file and asked for the case to be reviewed.

A report released by the Independent Police Conduct Authority today found the decision-making was sound, and there was no conflict of interest on the part of any officer involved in the investigation.

The Authority's report notes the senior officer's name was recorded as having "checked" a job sheet in the investigation file.

The officer who completed this job sheet told the Authority that the conflicted officer was his supervisor, which is why his name appeared on the form.

The authority found that the conflicted officer "did not actually check the job sheet".

According to officer involved, supervisors hardly ever actually check job sheets, "and the noting of 'Checked by' at the bottom of the form is largely meaningless," the Authority found.

The detective inspectors who made the final decision to not press charges confirmed they were aware of the senior officer's conflict of interest. They said he was not involved at any stage and none of them discussed the case with him.

"The Police's decision not to prosecute was made after appropriate enquiries, and a robust discussion by experienced officers in respect of evidential sufficiency," Authority chair Judge Colin Doherty said.

"The Authority has reviewed the evidence in this case and, while it is finely balanced, cannot conclude that Police came to the wrong decision. Nor did it find a conflict of interest on the part of any officer involved in the investigation," Judge Doherty said.

The Authority also found that, police breached policy by not following up with a formal letter outlining the reasons for that decision.

Central District Commander Superintendent Chris de Wattignar said the detective in charge travelled from Palmerston North to Waikato to meet with the complainant and explain the decision not to proceed with a prosecution.

He acknowledged that this meeting should have been followed up with a formal letter.

Superintendent Chris de Wattignar said police conducted a thorough investigation before deciding not to press charges.

"At the time the sexual assault complaint was reported to police, we were also alerted to a potential conflict of interest on the part of a senior officer at Palmerston North station, due to a friendship with the alleged offender in this matter."

"We took immediate steps to ensure that officer would not be involved in the investigation in any way."

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