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Queensland detective disciplined over mishandling of gang rape investigation

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 14/01/2021 20:42:04 Exclusive by Josh Robertson
a person standing in front of a body of water: 'Eve' has told the ABC she is "beyond fed up" at the latest twist in the saga, the lack of information from police. (ABC News: Lucas Hill) © Provided by ABC News'Eve' has told the ABC she is "beyond fed up" at the latest twist in the saga, the lack of information from police. (ABC News: Lucas Hill)

A detective who mishandled a 25-year-old gang rape investigation in which key evidence was destroyed has been disciplined by the Queensland Police Service (QPS).

But police have refused to detail their actions against Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Fenelon, prompting the alleged rape victim's lawyers to call for intervention by the police watchdog, Queensland's Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC).

The alleged victim Eve (not her real name) reported brutal assaults on her 21st birthday in Brisbane in 1995 but police took almost a quarter of a century to lay charges.

An internal police report in 2019 found Senior Sergeant Fenelon spent only three days on the original investigation and allowed exhibits, including the alleged victim's dress and underwear and a roll of film, to go missing and a rape kit to be destroyed.

Last month, Deputy Police Commissioner Steve Gollschewski wrote to Eve's lawyers to say the matter had been "finalised and disciplinary action taken".

He said he could not reveal any more information "including findings and reasons on liability or sanction . due to confidentiality and privacy".

Eve's lawyers responded that under the Crime and Corruption Act, police had to give her details of their actions in response to her complaint, the outcome of the investigation including findings on liability, and the disciplinary action taken.

"Any confidentiality and privacy considerations can operate only in respect to and to the benefit of our client," the lawyers said.

The lawyers have asked the CCC to "direct the QPS to release its findings and provide details of the findings and disciplinary action taken".

The CCC agrees police should be releasing more information, but has told the lawyers it cannot force the QPS to do so, although it would "raise this issue at the next formal QPS-CCC joint meeting".

"We agree the [Act] requires and gives QPS the legislative power to disclose details of the actual sanction imposed . and why this action was appropriate in the given circumstances," the CCC told the lawyers this week.

"An objective reading of [Mr Gollschewski's] letter indicates it is only partially compliant with the requirements of [the Act], as it is not addressing the reasons for the action that was taken."

'Beyond fed up'

In 2016, Eve's complaints were dismissed by the internal police investigation unit - the Ethical Standards Command (ESC) - in which Senior Sergeant Fenelon had a senior role.

In 2019, senior police were forced to sideline ESC and hand the internal investigation to an outside detective.

That year, police finally laid charges against Eve's alleged attackers after the ABC reported officers had revealed that key evidence had been destroyed or lost.

The CCC had told Eve that "under the Act, the QPS is responsible for providing you with the outcome of the matter and the reasons for coming to their decision".

Eve told the ABC she was "beyond fed up" at the latest twist in the saga, the lack of information from police.

"Not only is it unreasonable, it's legally incorrect," Eve said.

Medal an 'administrative error'

In October 2019, Senior Sergeant Fenelon was stripped of a meritorious service medal he was awarded for work, including training sex crimes investigators.

Police said the medal was an "administrative error" because officers under investigation were ineligible.

The incident prompted a political skirmish between then-Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington and the Queensland Police Union (QPU).

Findings in the internal report include that Senior Sergeant Fenelon never lodged Eve's dress or underwear as evidence, that other exhibits went missing, procedures were not followed to make sure they were contained, and there were no further investigations beyond the first few days.

A number of swabs from the rape kit and fingernail samples held by Queensland Health were destroyed several years later and photographs taken on the night were not archived.

Sanctions against officers can range from a caution or reprimand to pay cuts, demotion and dismissal.

Senior Sergeant Fenelon remains with police but is nearing retirement.

'One of the finest police officers'

Despite the disciplinary finding, QPU president Ian Leavers, who worked with the veteran detective in the 1990s, said he was "one of the finest police officers" in the state.

"Without a doubt, I would have Detective Senior Sergeant Fenelon head any investigation as I know he is a professional, thorough and diligent officer," he said.

Mr Leavers said it was an "absurd suggestion that any person's internal employment and disciplinary file outcomes should be released to a third party, whether they be a lawyer or a complainant, let alone a police officer's".

QPU vice-president Shane Prior, who criticised Ms Frecklington for publicly intervening in support of Eve, said it was "a sad indictment on society and a frightening situation for all police that any police officer . can, at any time, be subjected to these types of complaints that can effectively end their careers".

"All police I speak to stand in full support of Detective Senior Sergeant Fenelon," Mr Prior said.

A QPS spokeswoman said it was "unable to comment on specific investigations".

"As standard practice, following the finalisation of complaints made against officers, outcome advice is provided to the concerned party," the spokeswoman said.

"Throughout the discipline process, the service maintains regular contact with the [CCC] and legal representatives.

"This may include responding to requests for investigation or disciplinary information."

A CCC spokesman said it was "not appropriate for the CCC to comment specifically on this matter".

"However, generally speaking, the CCC considers the QPS should provide complainants with as much information as possible, so they understand how their complaint has been dealt with and the outcome, and the reasons why the outcome was reached," the spokesman said.

"The CCC considers this approach, amongst other things, helps to promote and maintain public confidence in the QPS and confidence in how the QPS deals with police misconduct or corrupt conduct involving their officers."

14. tammikuuta 2021 22:42:04 Categories: ABC NEWS

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