Legal loophole led barrister to question police practice
A CONTROVERSIAL inquiry into the treatment of an Aboriginal man in the Ballina watchhouse has revealed a legal loophole could be encouraging the cross-contamination of evidence in NSW Police ranks.
Lismore-based Senior Constable Gregory Ryan told the Police Integrity Commission this week it was accepted practice for officers to be provided with a colleague's statement before they made their own "to refresh their memory".
But disturbing similarities in mistaken evidence given by four officers about their struggle with 23-year-old Corey Barker, led the prominent barrister heading the inquiry to question whether the practice should be allowed.
Constable Luke Mewing, Senior Constable Ryan Eckersley, Senior Constable Mark Woolven and Constable Lee Walmsley all said in their original statements that they had seen Mr Barker punch Senior Constable Hill in the face.
All have since admitted, in one way or another, that they didn't actually witness the alleged assault.
The commission was told sections in Const Walmsley's statement were even "word perfect, punctuation perfect" with Const Mewing's statement.
Counsel assisting the commission Stephen Rushton suggested to Sen Const Ryan that in particular, the "supply of officer Hill's statement to...officer Mewing, created real doubts about the veracity of his statement and subsequently his evidence".
Sen Const Ryan replied, "in that case, yes".
He agreed that if a civilian witness was given the statement of another witness before completing theirs, it would be considered cross-contamination but he would not accept police officers fell into the same category.
He explained civilian witnesses were "a completely different kettle of fish" as they could be separated so their evidence wasn't contaminated but it was "unavoidable" for police to be separated when they were investigating incidents.
When it was police evidence could be similarly tainted, Sen Const Ryan said again it was "accepted practice" but was unsure "whether that taints their memory or not".
Mr Rushton pointed out that in cases where police had viewed each other's evidence, they were required to make note of it in their statement.
Asked why none of the police officers involved in the prosecution of Corey Barker had made that qualification, Sen Const Ryan said.
"I really don't know - it's obviously something that's been overlooked by the police that were creating those statements."
Cross-contamination of evidence will be just one of the issues the commissioner will examine once the hearing is over.
Corey Barker will return to the stand today.