Police Officer Who Endangered Domestic Violence Victim Appeals Sentence

by Sonia Hickey

The Queensland Police Officer who leaked a domestic violence victim’s contact information to her former abusive partner has appealed his sentence.

The case involving Queensland police officer Neil Punchard and domestic violence victim Julie (not her real name) has dominated both media headlines and political debate in Queensland over the past several years, but is no closer to resolution.

The story so far

If you haven’t been following the story, in 2014, Neil Punchard, who was at the time an active serving officer with the Queensland Police Force, accessed Julie’s confidential contact information without authorisation, from the QPS database, QPrime. He then gave it to her former abusive partner, a man who had previously threatened to blow up their children.

Officer Punchard and the man were apparently friends, and it’s been alleged that Punchard joked in a text that Julie would “flip out” after discovering she had been tracked down.

Neil Punchard was eventually charged, and after being unsuccessful in his attempts to have the charges dismissed, then pleaded guilty to nine counts of computer hacking.

He was given a suspended sentence of 18 months; which means he’s ‘in the clear’ as long as he doesn’t commit another crime in the next year and a half.

Many considered the sentence lenient under the circumstances, given that Julie feared for her life and had to relocate her family, and also considering the number of offences and the significant breach of trust. Julie went through a lengthy battle to receive compensation from the Queensland Police Force as a result.

In Queensland, the use a ‘restricted computer’ without the consent of the computer’s ‘controller’ is punishable by a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.

The maximum penalty increases to five years in prison where the person causes or intends to cause detriment or damage, or gains or intends to gain a benefit, from the conduct, or ten years where he or she gains a benefit of more than $5,000 or intends to commit an indictable offence.

Punchard is appealing the ‘severity of the sentence’

Neil Punchard is now appealing the severity of that sentence. It’s understood that the move is so he can keep his job with the Queensland Police. His lawyers are arguing that he should have received a fine and had no conviction recorded.

A judge is expected to make a decision on the case in the coming weeks.

Julie’s ‘sham’ settlement from QPS

In the meantime, the victim, who won her breach of privacy case against the Queensland Police Force over the information leaked by Punchard and was awarded a financial settlement by the Queensland Administrative and Civil Tribunal (QCAT) is still trying to reach an agreement with the QPS.

Under increasing backlash and both political and public pressure, and after being denied leave to appeal the QCAT  finding, the Queensland Police Service released a statement last year saying it would “attempt to resolve the issue of compensation as soon as possible.”

However, Julie has been asked to sign a broad liability clause as part of the financial settlement which indemnifies the state from “all actions, proceedings, claims or demands whatsoever as a result of, or arising out of, or in connection with, whether directly or indirectly, the allegations in and the facts and circumstances giving rise to the complaint.”

While the exact legal wording has not been released and is likely to be subject to confidentiality, it’s understood the broad nature of the clause means that Julie could be liable for any future action brought by third-parties, including police officers and other people whose details were accessed by Neil Punchard. And it could also make her liable for any wrongful dismissal case brought against the police by Neil Punchard.

Punchard’s future with QPS remains undecided

The Queensland Police Commissioner, Katarina Carroll, has also been under significant pressure from the general public, politicians and senior officers within the QPS to sack Neil Punchard. However, it has been reported that Ms Carrol is delaying any decision regarding Neil Punchard’s future until after his sentencing appeal is decided, out of concern for potential  legal ramifications.

IT’s also understood that the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) is currently investigating Neil Punchard in relation to information that emerged during Julie’s QCAT trial, about a Hyundai Sonata which belonged to Julie’s former abusive partner, but was transferred to the officer in question in 2015.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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