Victoria Police have made a confidential payment to former AFL Player and Coach Dani Laidley after sharing photos of her arrest and interview to social media.
The payment comes almost two years after images of Ms Laidley (who underwent gender change therapy in 2020) were shared by police officers in a closed group, together with highly offensive comments, before making there way to the public domain.
Duty of care
Ms Laidley’s legal team argued that police officers breached their duty of care while Ms Laidley was in custody after being arrested for stalking or intimidation with intent to cause fear or physical or mental harm, which is an offence under section 13 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
She ultimately pleaded guilty to the charge and, in November 2020, received an 18-month good behaviour bond.
Photos of her were shared in a police WhatsApp group, before finding their way into the public domain.
Ms Laidley later commenced civil proceedings against Victoria Police in the state’s Supreme Court, seeking “aggravated and exemplary damages” for being “brought into public ridicule and contempt”.
In documents tendered to the court, Ms Laidley’s lawyers submitted that:
“Those officers intended, or knew, or ought to have known, that the natural and probable result would be the republication of the first and second photographs and the words in the press, on radio and television, and on the internet. [Ms Laidley] has been injured in her feelings, credit and reputation [and] has been brought into public ridicule and contempt and has suffered, and continues to suffer, loss and damage.”
The was subsequently setttled, although the quantum and terms of that settlement are protected by a non-disclosure agreements – which means Victorian taxpayers, who will foot the bill for the misconduct of the officers, are not currently aware of how much that misconduct has cost them.
Victoria Police had launched an internal investigation into the behaviour, which was undertaken by the state’s Professional Standards Command.
As a result, dozens of officers faced internal disciplinary action – with at least six being ordered to pay up to $3000 compensation to Ms Laidley, from their own personal funds.
Three officers were charged with criminal offences.
Detective Leading Senior Constable Murray Gentner was charged with six offences including misconduct in public office as well as accessing and disclosing police information without a reasonable excuse.
The charges related to the leaking of Ms Laidley’s official arrest photo and another picture of her being interviewed by police.
In his comments accompany the images shared on WhatsApp, Detective Leading Senior Constable Murray Gentner described Ms Laidley as a ‘full blown tranny’ and ‘dressing like a tranny’.
All of the charges against the senior constable were dismissed in court earlier this month, with the magistrate ruling that:
“… the disclosure did not impede crime prevention, detection, pursuit of offenders or the like. On that basis, I find that the prosecution has not established a legal duty existed not to disclose the information in those circumstances.”
It has been reported that Detective Leading Senior Constable Gentner admitted that he accessed the photo and sharing it to the WhatsApp group, but he considered it to be private and did not believe he had done anything wrong.
He also told investigators that he would still access a photo of Ms Laidley “100 times out of 100”, although he expressed regret after the event because of the “shit storm” that followed.
The other two officers facing charges, Senior Constable Reid and Constable David Hall will proceed to court later this year.
Senior Constable Shane Reid, who is charged with two counts of unauthorised disclosure of police information, which in Victoria carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and/or up to a $43,000 fine, has pleaded not guilty and is defending the charges.
It has been reported that he has left the police force and wants to pursue a career as a teacher.
Loss of public trust
The case is yet another example of police officers acting unprofessionally, offensively and potentially unlawfully – despite that illegality not reaching the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt in the mind of the presiding magistrate in the case of Detective Leading Senior Constable Murray Gentner.
Such acts can not only be costly for Australian taxpayers, they can further erode public trust and confidence in powerful institutions such as police forces which wield enormous power over the population, often seemingly with impunity.