A DECORATED former Hunter police boss, who was medically discharged in 2017, has been denied access to information that led to a strike force being established to investigate "sensitive" misconduct complaints against him.
Craig Rae, who was the commander of Port Stephens and Lake Macquarie local area commands, was discharged from the NSW Police Force in January 2017 due to a psychological injury suffered on duty.
Before his medical retirement, Mr Rae - a former detective superintendent who was awarded the Australian Police Medal in 2014 for leadership and tackling domestic violence - was the subject of a police strike force investigation into confidential complaints made against him.
Mr Rae claims he suffered psychological harm caused by "unjustified complaints", which were "maliciously motivated" and resulted in two investigations and the establishment of Strike Force Blumenthal.
"My motivation for seeking access to the documents in question is to consider whether I have any legal recourse for what I believe were unfounded complaints made as retribution for managerial actions which were taken by me in my role as Commander at Port Stephens LAC [Local Area Command], and whether the three managerial findings made against me were justified," Mr Rae said.
According to a NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) decision handed down this week, the first investigation comprised 46 witness statements from "complainants, witnesses and alleged victims".
The tribunal heard that the second investigation did not involve any new complainants.
Last year Mr Rae lodged a freedom of information request seeking "all documents, records and electronic recordings" in relation to the complaints to determine if he could lodge a claim for personal injury against the Police Force.
At the time he left the force, Mr Rae was earning $200,000 a year as the boss of Port Stephens LAC and his lawyer submitted, that because he remains under treatment by a psychiatrist and psychologist, an award for damages would likely be "well in excess of $1 million".
After the initial Government Information (Public Access) application was rejected on the grounds that it was an unreasonable diversion of police resources, Mr Rae requested an internal review that was also unsuccessful.
He then lodged an application for NCAT to review the decision and a mediation session was held in December last year. The Police Force redetermined the application in January granting access to some documents and denying access to others.
A further review application was lodged with the tribunal and Senior Member Malcolm Gracie upheld the Police Force decision this week. He ruled the public interest considerations against disclosure outweighed the public interest considerations of releasing the documents.
The Police Force argued that information about the investigation into alleged police misconduct should not be disclosed because it was confidential.
Chief Inspector Marc Holgate, Professional Standards Manager, of the Professional Standards Command, argued that there was an overriding public interest against disclosure because the information was prohibited by secrecy laws.
He went further to say that releasing confidential information would impact that Police Force's ability to investigate allegations of misconduct against officers.
Mr Rae argued the right to "procedural fairness", trumped the need for "confidentiality".
The tribunal heard that Mr Rae was provided with 46 statements during the first investigation and that the second investigation focused on "additional inquiries" as part of the Police Force's "procedural fairness obligations" to Mr Rae.
Senior Member Gracie agreed to a non-publication order on information that would identify police involved in the investigation, including an undercover officer.
"Although the results of the investigation have been advised to the applicant [Mr Rae], information relating to the conduct of the investigation has not been conveyed to him," he said. "The evidence of Chief Inspector Holgate is to the effect that disclosure is likely to prejudice future investigations. He deposed that the disclosure of such information may cause those conducting or involved in an investigative process to be less willing to participate in such a process in the future."
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