Sydney Police Officer Accused of ‘Vile, Cowardly and Intolerable’ Conduct

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A Sydney police officer has been charged under the Criminal Code Act 1995 after allegedly threatening a public official in a phone call to Federal Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

Ms Hanson-Young says the threats made by the officer were about her 11-year old daughter, and took to twitter to report:

“I am shocked & horrified as any mum would be to find out the man responsible for an abusive vile threat to my daughter is allegedly a police officer.

“There needs to be a warning that anyone making such vile threats against a child will be held to account.

“I am thankful to the AFP for doing their jobs investigating and bringing the matter to court. No one should have to put up with this.”

The 56-year old Senior Constable was charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend after an internal investigation followed by a police raid on his home in South-West Sydney.

He has been stood down from active duties and will face court next month.

The charge

Section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act prescribes a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment for any person who “uses a carriage service… in a way (whether by the method of use or the content of a communication, or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.”

A ‘carriage service’ is defined as a service for carrying communications by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy, which includes telephone calls, text messages and transmissions over the internet.

To establish the charge, the prosecution will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the officer, rather than another person, who made the alleged telephone calls and that the contents of that call would be regarded by a reasonable person as either menacing, harassing or offensive.

Section 138.2 of the Act defines ‘menaces’ as including:

  • a threat (whether express or implied) of conduct that is detrimental or unpleasant to another person; or
  • a general threat of detrimental or unpleasant conduct that is implied because of the status, office or position of the maker of the threat.

The section further states that a threat against an individual is not menacing unless it would be likely to cause:

  • the individual to act unwillingly, and the maker is aware of the vulnerability of the individual; or
  • a person of normal stability and courage to act unwillingly.

Section 473.4 states that the matters relevant when determining whether the use of a carriage services was ‘offensive’ include:

  • the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults; and
  • the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the material; and
  • the general character of the material (including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character).

The Act does not contain a definition of ‘harass’, and its meaning is therefore left to the courts to determine.

The context of the charge

The alleged threat in the present case was said to have been made in the context of Ms Hanson-Young’s Senate debate with fellow Senator David Leyonhjelm in June.

During discussions about relaxing prohibitions against women carrying pepper spray and mace, Mr Leyonhjelm told Ms Hanson-Young to “stop shagging men”.

Mr Leyonjelm claims the statement was made in response to Ms Hanson-Young saying words to the effect of “all men are rapists” – a claim she strongly denies

The Senate subsequently passed a censure motion making it clear that Mr Leyonhjelm was responsible for “humiliating and intimidating a fellow senator” and “inflaming the situation” by publishing further “derogatory, defamatory and sexist” comments on social media.

It further rebuked Mr Leyonjelm for refusing to apologise and “failing to uphold the dignity” of the Senate.

Ms Hanson-Young commenced defamation proceedings for the “considerable harm” by the published commenced.

Last month, she offered to settle the case if Senator Leyonhjelm paid her $75,000 and issued an apology, but that offer was refused.

Ms Hanson-Young says she has been threatened on numerous occasions for speaking-up about women’s rights and speaking-out against the treatment of members of the Greens by officers of the NSW Police Force.

Previous events

A six-month inquiry by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) title Operation Colchester found in 2016 that several NSW police officers subjected the Greens member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, to a tirade of racist and sexist slurs.

The probe was prompted by a Fairfax Media investigation which revealed how officers from Sydney City Local Area Command, Kings Cross, Bankstown, Cabramatta – including officers in senior management position – had engaged in a campaign to attack Ms Leong while shielding their identities through social media pseudonyms.

The first instance occurred after Ms Leong introduced a bill in the NSW lower house aimed at ending the use of sniffer dogs in public places without a warrant. Hours later, a Facebook user sent a public message, under a fake name, which read:

“It was a clear mistake when your father spotted your mother across a crowded swamp and dragged her back to his hut to make you.”

A number of comments to this and other posts were made by several NSW police officers, who later celebrated their conduct with statements such as, “Ha! Top Shelf!” and “She is still copping a smashing – love it!”

Ms Leong recently explained that she had not been advised of the findings of an internal review into 10 NSW police officers, a review that was completed in December last year.

She has had to lodge a Freedom of Information request to find answers about the police officers who engaged in the conduct.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission says it is, “unlikely to publish any public report into this matter”, once again raising concerns about the lack of police accountability in our state.

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Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes is a lawyer with a passion for social justice who advocates criminal law reform, and a member of the content team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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