1 Dec 2020

SIS ‘questionable’ for not reporting sex abuse to police - Inspector-General

1:16 pm on 1 December 2020

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service behaved in a "questionable" way by deciding not to inform police it knew a serious crime was being committed, an investigation by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has found.

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Photo: RNZ/Vinay Ranchod

The finding comes after RNZ revealed, in September, that a former SIS agent went to the Inspector-General after being haunted by the memory of what he found during a covert operation in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The former officer said he had entered a house and found evidence a man was sexually abusing his daughter.

He took numerous photos that showed sexual abuse was occurring and told his supervisor that the crimes should be reported to police. The supervisor rebuffed him, he said.

The abuse continued for years after the former spy documented it.

The man who was targeted in the covert operation was later convicted for horrific sex crimes, including rape, and jailed.

A public report released by Inspector-General Brendan Horsley today said at the time, there was no specific SIS policy and no clear direction in the NZSIS Act giving guidance on whether and in what circumstances the agency should pass on information to police.

The report, however, said it would have been "proper" for the SIS to consider informing police.

"As a result of my inquiry I am satisfied that NZSIS did not inform the Police of what it had learned. There is no record of its having done so," the report stated.

There was no evidence the SIS had considered whether to inform police of the abuse either, the report stated.

"I take the view that at the relevant time it would have been proper for the Service to at least consider passing information to Police that might have assisted in preventing or detecting serious crime," Horsley said in the report.

But the Inspector-General stopped short of finding the SIS acted improperly.

"At a distance of some decades, with the limited information available, I do not find myself in a position to reach a firm conclusion that the Service acted improperly by not informing the Police of what it learned in this instance... The information was not passed on. I find that questionable, but in the absence of any recorded reasoning and considering all the circumstances I cannot be sure it lacked a proper foundation."

He pointed out that "what is reasonable for an intelligence agency in such circumstances is not necessarily what is reasonable for an ordinary person".

Records indicated the SIS "did not perceive the full scale and nature of the crimes of which the offender was later convicted," the report stated.

The SIS had also ordered an internal review and found other agencies, including police, knew of allegations of the offending.

The SIS now had a standard operating procedure on reporting criminal activity to police and this had been reviewed and updated, the report stated.

In September, Minister responsible for SIS Andrew Little told RNZ he was "extraordinarily disappointed that the moral framework under which various people would have been operating at the time meant they didn't refer it to the police.

"It's certainly a serious breach of a moral duty. If anybody was aware that there was an ongoing, serious criminal offence taking place, that ought to have been referred to the police."

Little said the SIS would handle it differently today.

"If a service member, in carrying out their covert duties, came across criminal activity of that nature, my strong expectation is that that would be a matter that would be reported to the police."