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OPI probe into senior officer

June 3rd, 2011 Australia

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The Victorian police force is embroiled in yet more controversy today. Victoria’s police corruption watchdog the Office of Police Integrity has confirmed it’s investigating a high ranking Victoria Police officer currently on leave, believed to be departing deputy commissioner Sir Ken Jones.

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EMILY BOURKE: The Victorian police force is embroiled in yet more controversy today.

Victoria’s police corruption watchdog the Office of Police Integrity has confirmed it’s investigating a high ranking Victoria police officer currently on leave. It’s believed to be the departing Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones.

Sir Ken left the force last month amid claims his relationship with the embattled Chief Commissioner Simon Overland had become unworkable.

This morning The Age newspaper suggested that the OPI was tapping Sir Ken’s phones and bugging his house at the behest of Simon Overland.

But the OPI has rejected those claims. The OPI’s director Michael Strong says he’s satisfied every step taken in this investigation has been taken in good faith and on appropriate grounds.

And the state’s former Special Investigations Monitor appointed to watch the watchdog says the OPI has to satisfy either a Supreme Court judge or a federal judicial officer before it can tap someone’s phone.

Liz Hobday has this report.

LIZ HOBDAY: While the OPI has confirmed the investigation is underway it’s hit out at newspaper reports this morning that Sir Ken was under electronic surveillance.

In a statement the OPI’s director Michael Strong says he will neither confirm nor deny whether any particular investigative methodology has been used because this in itself could be unlawful.

And he says the revelations published this morning will compromise the investigation.

Until recently David Jones was Victoria’s special investigations monitor, the watchdog set up by the Victorian Government to keep an eye on the Office of Police Integrity.

The former County Court judge says there are stringent guidelines which must be followed before the OPI can begin tapping someone’s phone or bugging their home.

DAVID JONES: The legislation sets out when a warrant to intercept may be applied for. It can relate to a particular service or it can relate to services held by a particular person.

An application has to be made to a federal judicial officer supported by appropriate affidavit material and the federal judicial officer decides whether or not a warrant should be granted.

LIZ HOBDAY: He says the decision has to be made independently.

DAVID JONES: The judicial officer has a responsibility under the legislation to consider the material and make a decision as to whether a warrant ought to issue and if so on what terms. So that’s why judicial officers are in that position to ensure that you know there is an external person.

LIZ HOBDAY: Greg Davies from the Police Association says the unconfirmed reports that electronic surveillance was used to monitor Sir Ken and those close to him are extraordinary.

And he told ABC local radio in Melbourne they’re all the more reason for a royal commission examining senior command over the last five years.

GREG DAVIES: Well if we’ve got to wait six or maybe 12 months, how long is this sort of outrageous conduct going to be countenanced? The Government need to do something about this.

LIZ HOBDAY: The Police Association has been one of Simon Overland’s most strident critics and is taking industrial action over a wage dispute with the State Government.

Retired assistant commissioner Noel Ashby was a contender for the top job when Simon Overland was appointed.

Perjury charges against him were dropped last year after he was accused of lying to secret Office of Police Integrity hearings.

Noel Ashby blames factions within the police force.

NOEL ASHBY: There is certainly unhealthy factions that existed at the time. And anyone that seems to have had some substantial knowledge and experience in a community policing agency rather than in a national policing environment which the AFP operate, has had some issues with Simon Overland and with his group of supporters.

LIZ HOBDAY: Former Purana detective inspector Jim O’Brien says Simon Overland is not being treated fairly.

But he says the police force has become increasingly political over the last two decades.

JIM O’BRIEN: Well I think it’s just been the nature of policing and the way policing has moved down that political path. And that’s not just generic to Victoria of course. That’s national and international unfortunately.

LIZ HOBDAY: The key players in the deepening crisis have gone to ground this morning. Chief Commissioner Simon Overland won’t comment, the Premier won’t comment and his Police Minister is on personal leave.

The OPI says its investigation is of high public interest and it hopes to report to the Parliament by mid August.

EMILY BOURKE: Liz Hobday.