The uncertain status of whether a Queensland Police Officer will be dismissed, despite pleading guilty to leaking the information of an alleged domestic violence victim to her former partner, has sparked outrage.
Senior Constable Neil Punchard accessed confidential police databases on nine occasions and supplied the address of the woman to her former ex-husband who was subject to a domestic violence order.
He was charged with nine counts of computer hacking in 2014, with the investigation revived in 2018, leading to sentencing in October 2019.
Following his plea of guilty to all nine counts, Punchard was sentenced to two months’ jail, wholly suspended for 18 months.
He has recently appealed the sentence, with Judge Craig Chowdhury allowing the appeal and re-sentencing him to 140 hours of community service for two of the counts.
He was convicted yet will not be further punished for the other seven counts.
The convictions will not be recorded which means that he will not possess a criminal record despite being found guilty for those other offences.
Punchard is currently stood down on full pay, with Judge Craig Chowdhury taking the impact of a conviction into account during sentencing, noting that a conviction would lead to dismissal.
“It remains, however, a relevant consideration for me in assessing the impact that the recording of a conviction will have on the appellant’s economic and social wellbeing, and his chances of finding employment,” explained Judge Craig Chowdhury.
At this stage, the decision whether Punchard will face further disciplinary action or dismissal has been deferred until the conclusion of the appeal process, as stated by Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll.
“He should have experienced an immediate dismissal once there was evidence that he had taken confidential information and put a woman at risk – regardless of the outcome for her, and regardless of whether the man was an abuser or not, the fact he could have been is the point.” stated Dr Karen William of Doctors Against Violence Towards Women (DAVTW).
“I do not see how the community can feel safe with someone like him as someone who is supposed to enforce the law, when he himself cannot follow the law.” she continued.
The victim of the information leak had discovered the incident after finding text messages on a phone she owned, from Senior Constable Punchard to her ex-husband.
They included statements such us:
“…just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol. She will flip.”
“F*** the b**** over legally”, “Make her shit herself”, and “I know you’re screaming inside to let loose on her”
“Just send her an email saying: ‘I won’t ask you your address any more as I know where you are now … if you won’t comply with court orders, I will have to take matters into my own hands’ — she will f***ing explode. Lmao.”
“The police will contact you if they want to speak to you … then you give them my name. That is your get-out-of-jail-free card,
The ex-husband, and acquaintance of Punchard, later threatened to murder his former wife, and strap bombs to their children.
“It’s quite obvious that this could have led to the death of this woman and her kids. We see every single week stories of woman and kids who have been killed by a violent partner.” said Dr Magaret McShane of DAVTW.
“Even without knowledge that the ex-husband was an abuser, there were red flags that this police officer should have been aware of – a pregnant woman leaving a relationship is extremely high risk. We know that the highest risk of domestic violence is when a woman leaves her partner.” explained Dr Karen Williams.
DAVTW have started a petition on Change.org in order to bring awareness to the issue and call for the dismissal of Punchard, with its response growing increasingly closer to its 50,000-signature goal.
DAVTW is a group of over 800 doctors, who were “concerned that the profession wasn’t standing up for what was essentially a health issue, due to domestic violence having a significant impact on woman’s mortality,” explained Dr Williams.
The petition is addressed to Premier of Queensland Anastasia Palaszczuk, Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll, Queensland Attorney General Yvette D’Ath, Hon. Mark Ryan Minister for Police and Corrective Services, and Hon. Dianne Farmer Minister for Child Safety.
“I have patients every day that have experienced domestic violence and I regularly hear stories about how they’re afraid to tell anyone, especially the police, so the fact that this police officer has been found guilty, has admitted to this crime, and is still a police officer is appalling and an absolute indictment on the system.” said Dr McShane.
“It sends a message that even when system is aware of these corrupt behaviours, they aren’t going to do anything, the police officers and the perpetrators are somewhat put above those of the victims.” she continued.
Despite one in six Australian women experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous cohabiting partner, only 16% will report her assault to police.
“Police attitudes plays a big part of that ..that there is often a dismissive response, inadequate response or no response at all.” explained Dr Williams, even revealing her personal experience with these attitudes during times when she has had to take her patients to police stations, and was met with such a response.