A domestic violence victim who went into hiding with her children after a Queensland Police Officer unlawfully accessed the Police Service’s QPrime database to get her address, and then gave it to his friend, the woman’s abusive-partner, has won her case in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT).

It has been a ‘gruelling’ time for the woman, known as ‘Julie’ (not her real name), as endured years of fear before fighting for compensation from the Queensland Police Service (QPS).

The QCAT heard uncontested evidence that Officer Neil Punchard, a Senior Constable with the QPS at the time, illegally accessed the database on several occasions, leaked the woman’s address to his friend and then joked about it, saying via text message, “Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol. She will flip.”

It found the QPS legally responsible for the officer’s conduct.

QPS breached privacy principles

In her ruling, the QCAT’s Susan Gallagher found that the QPS was liable for breaching two of the State’s information privacy principles.

“The evidence before me is the QPS had no systemic auditing procedures of access to the QPRIME system – even for at risk groups such as domestic violence victims.

“It simply relied on a complaint or an incident to highlight a breach. The system of auditing after the fact allows for circumstances where catastrophic events involving (Julie) and the safety of her family could have occurred.”

Long battle for compensation

Julie launched her breach of privacy case last year in a bid to win compensation for the cost of relocating her family. While QPS did not dispute that the leak occurred, it argued that it was not responsible for the actions of a rogue officer, regardless of his conduct.

However, the QCAT found the Service was indeed responsible due to its failure to properly control access to the database and the use of information in it.

“In my view, said Ms Gallager, “… the QPS allowed the use of this information for a purpose other than the purpose for which it was obtained.”

Officer faces nine criminal charges

Neil Punchard has been charged with nine computer hacking offences, which are currently before the courts.

He refused to answer questions when he gave evidence at the QCAT, citing his privilege against self-incrimination.

However, a range of additional information came to light during the QCAT hearings, including evidence that a car belonging to Julie’s ex-partner had been transferred into Punchard’s name, which has raised suspicions about corruption.

He is now also under investigation by the Crime and Corruption Commission over those events.

Battle not over for victim

But while the tribunal has ruled in Julie’s favour, her battle is not over.

The amount of compensation is yet to be determined, and the tribunal is seeking submissions to help it make a decision on the amount to be awarded to Julie. The maximum award is $100,000.

Julie’s concern is that the QPS will appeal the decision. And while she has represented herself throughout the QCAT hearings, the QPS had the benefit of a legal team including a barrister.

The legal costs and any award will, as usual, be paid by the taxpayer.