A police officer has received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to illegally accessing and using information from a police database.
Senior Constable Neil Punchard was apparently joking around when he committed the crime of accessing the Queensland Police Service database in 2014 without authority and providing the new address of a domestic violence victim to the woman’s abusive former partner, who was the officer’s ‘mate’.
The act was so humorous to the officer that he quipped: “Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol. She will flip.”
His ‘mate’ was a man convicted of domestic violence offences, and would later threaten to kill his former partner (who is only known as *Julie) as well as strap bombs to their two children and blow them up as “martyrs”.
Now, nearly five years later, Officer Punchard, who pleaded guilty to nine counts of computer hacking, has been sentenced to two months in prison, wholly suspended for 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.
The case highlight’s the misuse of the state’s QPrime database, which a recent investigation found has been systemically accessed by officers without authorisation.
Mr Punchard’s penalty is believed to be the first prison term (albeit a suspended one) handed out for illegal use of police databases, which has been described as a “systemic problem” in Queensland
And while the victim *Julie says she is grateful he has finally been convicted, for her it is little comfort. She is still in the middle of a long and drawn out battle with the Queensland Police Service, seeking compensation over Mr Punchard’s actions, for having to move her family to safety after he divulged her address to her abusive ex-partner.
Both the Queensland Police Service (QPS) and the Queensland state government have been under sustained public pressure to act on this particular case since details of the conduct first emerged in the media. Neither has, despite the increasingly embarrassing evidence that has been published in the media.
Text messages as evidence
In 2016, Julie discovered text messages sent by Mr Punchard on a phone that had been used by her former husband and returned to her.
In the messages, after giving his friend Julie’s address, he also offered him protection, saying: “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.”
In a separate message he wrote: “I have completed an email draft to send to the bitch that will hopefully make her shit herself, so I want to go over it with you before I send it to you,” he said in another message.
Proceedings for privacy breach
The victim, Julie, has been seeking compensation through Queensland’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) since last year, on the basis that her privacy was breached and she was forced into hiding as a result. QCAT ruled in her favour earlier this year, but she is still awaiting a decision on how much compensation she will be awarded.
At the QCAT hearing, Officer Punchard invoked his privilege against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions. He was eventually charged by police with computer hacking offences. After his attempt to have the charges thrown out failed, he pleaded guilty.
It’s also understood that a separate inquiry by the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) is underway, investigating allegations that emerged during the QCAT trial that a car belonging to Julie’s abuser was transferred into Neil Punchard’s name at around the time he accessed and leaked the victim’s details.
Officer Punchard’s future with the Queensland Police force remains unclear. He may face renewed disciplinary action from the Queensland Police Service because of the criminal conviction. It is unclear yet if he will be sacked. He remains employed but has been stood down from active duty since being charged.