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Thursday, 07 February 2013

The unfounded slurs on the Victoria Police Fraud and Extortion Squad have sinister overtones

I've been troubled by the number and intensity of false allegations of misconduct and malicious behaviour made against Victoria Police by Craig Thomson and his lawyer for a few days now.   It doesn't make any sense when you view it through the lens of what is logically in Craig Thomson's interests.   Think about it, the coppers have the trump cards, if you were in Craig's shoes would you be out there getting stuck into them at every turn?  It's not going to help in the court house, so why is it happening?

I hope I am wrong, but I sense some disturbing, sinister portents.  

Craig Thomson was investigated and charged by members of the Victoria Police Fraud and Extortion Squad.

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard is being investigated for serious criminal offences by the same squad of police in relation to The AWU Scandal.

Back to Craig.  At every point of contact with the media this year, Craig Thomson and his lawyer have each made serious allegations against the Victoria Police Fraud Squad.

Thomson was arrested by the police authority with power of arrest in NSW, the NSW Police.   NSW Police were responsible for executing the warrant, processing Mr Thomson, holding him, bringing him before the NSW Court and then arranging for the return of the warrant once bail conditions were set.

So read this account of the day from Mr Thomson, who spent  precisely no time in the custody of Victoria Police.    The timing of the arrest was decided by NSW Police quite properly for operational reasons.   Victoria Police had no operational role.

This article from The Australian newspaper captures Mr Thomson's key messages - you can choose from dozens of other media appearances where Thomson's key messages are the same.

FORMER Labor federal MP Craig Thomson maintains Victorian police deliberately set out to make a spectacle of his arrest on fraud charges.

Mr Thomson, who now sits as an independent in Parliament, was last week arrested by NSW police executing a Victorian warrant at his electorate office at Tuggerah on the NSW central coast.

The arrest was captured by television cameras and caused a sensation in political circles.

NSW fraud squad chief, Detective Superintendent Colin Dyson, admitted on Monday he had erred in saying Mr Thomson had refused when asked to surrender prior to his arrest.

''The NSW police were misled by the Victorian police,'' Mr Thomson told ABC Radio today.

 ''The truth of the matter is they could have sent a summons to my solicitor and we would have been there tomorrow in Melbourne just the same.

''(It) was deliberately designed to create a spectacle. That's what they went out to achieve. It was unnecessary and hurtful and humiliating.''

'I have done nothing wrong'

MP Craig Thomson denies any wrongdoing as he faces charges of 150 counts of fraud.

Mr Thomson told Fairfax his arrest and court restrictions placed on him not to approach prostitutes were about whipping up his case.

''I think the condition is about sensationalising this case,'' he said, adding that he had never used a prostitute.

When asked if the condition was a police concoction, he said: ''Absolutely.''

Thomson arrest a circus: lawyer

Craig Thomson's lawyer Chris McCardle slams the police and media over the handling of his client's arrest.

''What a preposterous bail condition to have there.

''... They've picked out something that they believe will make this even more sensational and it's a ridiculous bail condition and if I'd had my wits about me a little bit more when that bail condition was put I would have objected to it.''

He said some of the 150 charges against him were for amounts smaller than $20 and other charges were double-ups.

''I think the police were after a big number. The police were after the spectacular arrest in terms of this,'' he said.

The MP said two rounds of strip searching by police was ''certainly not routine''.

''You take off an item at a time and turn around until you have nothing on,'' he said.

''So that was both distressing and humiliating.

''(I feel) both angry and humiliated, which I think at least the latter was the intention of the strip search. There is no other possible explanation for it.''

He said he was not sure whether political interference in his case from the Coalition had played any role in events.

Mr Thomson has consistently denied allegations he misused member funds to pay for prostitutes, air travel, entertainment and cash withdrawals when he was national secretary of the Health Services Union (HSU).

Mr Thomson also said he was committed to seeing out his term in his seat of Dobell but had not made any further commitments.

While his arrest had damaged the federal government, Mr Thomson believed Labor could win the September 14 election based on its policies.

Mr Thomson's wife will accompany him when he faces Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday over the 149 charges.

ENDS

I have dealt with the officers of this squad.   They are dead straight policemen, interested in the law and breaches of the law.   They abhor media coverage.   I have never heard a single political comment from any officer of the squad.

There were apparently sound reasons for Mr Thomson's arrest, a process that includes fingerprinting.

I would imagine that police have evidence to lead at court from the witnesses (the escort agencies) with whom Mr Thomson has been ordered not to communicate.   Both of those elements of Mr Thomson's matter are unremarkable.

None of Mr Thomson's allegations about police actions or motivations is true.   If he had any genuine observations of police misbehaviour the police internal affairs, or ethics and integrity division would be falling over themselves to investigate it.   But there is no such factual complaint, just the constant, inaccurate smearing at every turn.  And it is combined with the vague allusions to the involvement of the Coalition, reported faithfully without comment by much of the media.

Compare Mr Thomson's recent discovery of how badly the Victoria Police do everything, with his analysis of the behaviour of the same police traipsing through his house with a search warrant last year.  Mr Thomson praised the police then for their professionalism - the date was 24 October, 2012.

What's changed?  The police behaviour?   The police members on the job?  No, none of those factors have changed.

What has changed in the interim is that Julia Gillard is now a person of interest in a major union-related fraud that is being investigated by the same squad of police as investigated and charged Thomson.

This "cheat-sheet" was leaked to me in 2011, just after my interview with Craig Thomson and  one of our readers has sent me in a second copy more recently.   It's a copy of the briefing to Labor members of parliament provided by the PM's media team and it provides the talking points in answer to the day's possible questions.

Download Thomson cheat sheet

The Prime Minister's office confirmed last week that the PM and her staff are aware that she is the subject of a police investigation by the Victoria Police.  The Prime Minister has a large staff, including John McTernan and other spin doctors.   Just a week or so ago the Prime Minister's office blocked an FOI application by Hedley Thomas for any papers prepared at taxpayer expense in the management of this growing AWU issue for the PM.  The official answer from the PM's office - there are none.

I hope the practice of releasing those 'cheat-sheet" for media comments has ceased.

The unfounded slurs against the conduct of the Victoria Police Fraud Squad have to stop.   Its investigators should be left to their jobs unhindered by false allegations.   Any move on the part of any federal politician or his or her lawyer to improperly attack the motivations or operations of a state police force which is engaged in investigating the conduct of Federal parliamentarians would represent a grave danger to the heart of our system of government - and justice.

 



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Where it Started

Gillard & the AWU scandal

Interview with Bob Kernohan