AM - Friday, 14 January , 2005  08:21:03

PIC investigates NSW rural police misconduct

Reporter: Nick McKenzie

ELEANOR HALL: The New South Wales Police Force is again being investigated over allegations of corruption and brutality, but this time it's country police who are under scrutiny.

For the first time since its establishment, the Police Integrity Commission will conduct public hearings outside Sydney, into the alleged use of improper force by police in Wagga Wagga, in south-west NSW.

And according to one former senior police officer who served in the region, the inquiry is long overdue.

This report from Nick McKenzie.

NICK MCKENZIE: The NSW Police Integrity Commission, or PIC, turned its attention to Wagga Wagga in March last year, after a court case in the town. It involved the arrest for driving offences of local man, Alan Hathaway, an arrest that left him with severe injuries.

He was so injured in fact, that he ended up in hospital for more than a month, with portions of his eye socket and jaw smashed, his arm broken in three places and damage to his lower body.

According to Magistrate Bill Pearce, who presided over the case, police were lucky they didn't kill Hathaway. "This man had been smashed to a pulp," he told the court at the time "there was blood everywhere. There was a bloodbath."

Magistrate Bill Pearce also accused the police of lying in court and planting a knife at the scene of the arrest and said their behaviour was simply the product of too much power for too long.

As a result of the Magistrate's findings, the PIC established Operation Whistler and last night the Commission announced that for the first time since its creation eight years ago, it will take its powers outside of Sydney and hold a five-day public hearing in Wagga Wagga next month.

That hearing will examine the conduct of the officers involved as well as an earlier police internal investigation into the Hathaway arrest, which largely cleared them of any wrongdoing.

Significantly, the hearing will not be restricted to the Hathaway matter. In a statement to AM, the PIC says it's probing other incidents involving improper use of force by local police.

Senior police who've worked in the region and who spoke to AM say the hearing is long overdue.

Four years ago, former Superintendent Peter Nunan served for a year as Local Area Commander in a township also in south-west NSW.

PETER NUNAN: Some sections of the region quite clearly were looked after by former senior police in that area, and those police who were doing the right thing were never rewarded, but those… there are some who did the wrong thing and were given the appropriate rewards, as in they were looked after.

NICK MCKENZIE: Former Superintendent Nunan says he left his position in the town after battling what he says was a policing culture that fostered corruption and cover-up. He left the force on medical grounds in 2003 and last year was awarded a Commissioner's Certificate, recognising his commitment to ethical practice.

He says internal investigation of misconduct in the region was often inadequate, and cites a case of police brutality allegedly involving two local officers.

PETER NUNAN: Two officers stopped the car with some Aboriginal youths in it. The Aboriginal youths were assaulted with batons, damage was caused to the car by the police officers' batons.

Now, instead of doing the right thing by the other police and taking the wrongdoers on, one of the wrongdoers was looked after and transferred to a place that suited him and the investigation failed.

NICK MCKENZIE: What do you hope the PIC inquiry in Wagga Wagga will achieve?

PETER NUNAN: There's no doubt in my mind that the PIC will identify where the poor culture is and there's no doubt they'll find it down there at Wagga Wagga because of the fact they're going there and they're going there for a particular reason. I dare say it will be to set an example to the rest of the State that not only do things happen in the city, but things do happen in the country.

ELEANOR HALL: Former Superintendent Peter Nunan in that report by Nick McKenzie.

A spokesman for NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney has told AM that he has full confidence in the Police Integrity Commission and that police will fully cooperate during the hearings in Wagga.

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