NSW detectives investigating the historical rape allegation against former attorney-general Christian Porter were denied permission to travel to South Australia to interview the complainant by the state’s police Deputy Commissioner David Hudson.
This was despite the trip having been recommended for approval by the head of the NSW Police Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad.
Four Corners can reveal Deputy Commissioner David Hudson declined to approve the trip during the March 2020 COVID restrictions, citing “insufficient detail … to justify why this travel cannot be deferred.”
The revelation is included in a new cache of documents provided by NSW Police (NSWP) to the state’s parliament, in response to an ‘order for papers’ in relation to Strike Force Wyndarra, which was set up to investigate the allegation.
The documents contain previously undisclosed details of the actions of NSW Police and their South Australian counterparts during the investigation.
Christian Porter has strenuously denied the allegation and is currently suing the ABC for defamation.
The woman, who had a history of mental illness, took her own life in June last year, the day after she told police “she no longer felt able to proceed with the report [to police]”.
Two days before she took her own life, NSW police emailed her to discuss her availability and for a “victim welfare check and travel status update”.
Interview process handled between SA and NSW police over several months
The documents show the complainant first contacted SA Police in November 2019, “seeking information on the process involved in reporting a sexual assault”.
She did not want to make a formal statement at this stage but indicated “she may decide to make a formal report to NSWP at a later stage”.
SAPOL forwarded the initial information to NSW Police because the alleged incident had occurred in Sydney, one evening during an elite debating competition in 1988.
SAPOL advised, “should the [alleged] victim decide to formally report the matter, that they would again contact the NSWPF to commence an investigation”.
Over the following months, SAPOL met or spoke with the complainant several times and continued to provide “victim support”.
Sexual assault support services:
- 1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
- Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
In February 2020, the complainant contacted SAPOL again to tell them she was now ready to make a statement. At the time, the woman was in Sydney to discuss the allegation with her lawyer and “had decided she wanted to meet with NSWPF to formally report the matter”.
The meeting occurred on February 27 at Kings Cross police station.
Detective Senior Constable Samantha Meredith, a detective with Sex Crimes Squad, subsequently summarised the meeting in a report to her superiors.
“During this meeting [name redacted] was provided with the opportunity to return to Sydney at a later date to complete the statement or have investigators travel to SA to complete the statement,” she wrote.
“[She] advised she would prefer investigators travel to SA so she could have a support person available whilst making her statement.”
Application for travel denied over ‘insufficient detail’ to justify trip during COVID travel restrictions
The documents reveal that on March 10, 2020, a detective from the Sex Crimes Squad submitted a request to travel to SA to interview the complainant.
In the travel application, marked Sensitive: Law Enforcement, Senior Constable Meredith set out the background to the investigation.
“In March 2020, the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad established SF WYNDARRA to investigate historical sexual assault offences [allegedly] committed upon [name redacted] by ‘CP’ in January 1988.”
Senior Constable Meredith noted: ”’CP’ has a significant media profile within the Australian community.”
Senior Constable Meredith advised her superiors: “A statement is required from [name redacted] to commence the investigation.”
Senior Constable Meredith’s request to travel to SA was supported for approval by her team leader on March 10. On the same day, it was recommended for approval by the head of the investigation teams in the Sex Crimes Squad, Chief Inspector Michael Haddow.
In a hand-written notation on the travel request, Detective Chief Inspector Haddow wrote, all in upper case:
“SUPPORTED. THIS MATTER INVOLVES A VERY HIGH-PROFILE POI [person of interest] AND A DETAILED STATEMENT IS REQUIRED. THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES RELATING TO THIS VICTIM THAT IN MY VIEW REQUIRES 2 X INVESTIGATORS PRESENT.”
The travel request was then forwarded up the chain of command and approved by the Commander of the Sex Crimes Squad, Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec, also on March 10.
Two days later, the Commander of the State Crime Command added his approval to the travel application. This was despite new travel restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, stating that interstate travel would only be approved if it was deemed to be an “operational necessity”.
The Commander signed off on the travel request with the words: “Recommended for approval. (Operational travel.)”
However, when the request arrived on the desk of Deputy Commissioner David Hudson, he declined to approve it citing policies on COVID travel restrictions.
Deputy Commissioner Hudson wrote: “Insufficient detail provided by SCC to justify why this travel cannot be deferred in accordance with Commissioner’s direction and Government policy … restricting travel to operational necessity.”
The documents were produced in response to a motion moved by the Greens in the NSW parliament.
“Despite support from three senior police in the sex crime squad and from the head of the State Crime Command, the travel request was denied by a Deputy Police Commissioner because he didn’t think it was essential,” Greens MP David Shoebridge said.
“This decision is deeply troubling because I can’t imagine something more important or essential for the NSW Police than investigating an alleged sexual assault,” Mr Shoebridge said.
“The lack of reasoning is even harder to understand given the travel application made it clear that the person of interest in the investigation had a ‘very high profile’.”
Complainant wanted ‘to commence her statement as soon as possible’
After their travel request was denied, the NSW detectives contacted Mr Porter’s accuser on 15 March 2020, to inform her they “would not be travelling to SA as planned to commence her statement.”
“During this conversation, the complainant expressed her desire to commence her statement as soon as possible by telephone call or a Skype video call,” according to a subsequent report from one of the detectives.
The detectives arranged another teleconference with the woman, which was held on April 2, 2020, “to discuss her request to commence her statement by other methods.” The detectives advised the woman during this call that her statement would not at this stage be commenced by phone or video call, for “various reasons”.
The reasons for this decision are redacted in the documents provided to the NSW parliament. During this conversation, they also discussed the possibility of having SA detectives obtain the woman’s statement and collect the notes and diaries that she wished to provide to NSW investigators.
The NSWP team leader on the case, Detective Sergeant Laura Beacroft, later emailed her colleagues to say the situation would be reviewed in a month’s time and if travel restrictions were still in place “we will look at alternatives”.
Three weeks later, on April 20, Detective Sergeant Beacroft emailed South Australian Police to request their assistance in taking a statement from the complainant.
Sergeant Beacroft noted the woman was “very keen” to proceed and said NSWP would provide SA detectives with a template and guide so they could take the statement. However, when NSWP contacted the woman to arrange for SAPOL to take her statement, “she reportedly told them she was ‘happy to wait’.”
The documents quote a member of the Sex Crimes Squad explaining to SAPOL: “While she was initially very keen to commence her statement ASAP [as soon as possible], she is now quite understanding of the current travel restrictions and is now happy to wait until these are eased and we are able to travel to SA again to obtain her statement.”
In another email, the same detective noted that the complainant was “currently doing well” and “happy to hold off and re-assess again in another four weeks”.
Greens MP Mr Shoebridge has described the NSWP decision not to persist with having SAPOL take the woman’s statement as disturbing.
“NSW Police knew that the complainant spoke highly of South Australia police who had previously supported her and they initially requested South Australian police to assist in taking a statement,” he said.
“What we see from these documents is that NSW Police made two separate decisions to delay taking a statement, neither of which appears to have had a valid basis.”
Woman’s mental health declines
The cache of documents includes a ‘Major Investigation Progress Report’ on Strike Force Wyndarra filed on May 4, 2020, by the officer in charge of the case, Detective Senior Constable Scott Bernasconi.
The report summarised the terms of reference of the strike force: “To investigate the allegations of historical sexual assault [allegedly] committed upon [name redacted] by ‘CP’ in January 1988.”
It noted, “investigators have remained in contact with [the complainant] regarding her ongoing welfare” and would “revisit options as to the best course of action.” Under the sub-heading ‘Future directions’, it noted: “* Victim statement to be obtained.”
NSW detectives continued to stay in contact with the woman throughout this period.
On the afternoon of 22 June 2020, Senior Constable Bernasconi emailed the complainant again, “seeking her availability for a follow-up phone call in the coming days” for the purpose of a “victim welfare check and travel status update”.
By this time, the woman – who had a history of mental illness – had become seriously depressed.
On June 23, she told police “she no longer felt able to proceed with the report”.
On June 24, the woman took her own life at her home in Adelaide.
Following her death in June last year, NSW Police closed their investigation into her allegation against Christian Porter. On 20 August 2020, Detective Sergeant Laura Beacroft submitted a Post Operational Assessment of the case.
Most of the detail in her five-page report has been redacted in the version provided to the NSW parliament.
NSW Police has been contacted for comment.