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Police To Treat Political Complaints Differently

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, March 8 NZPA - Police will treat politically sensitive allegations differently in future after complaints about how they handled investigations into how a journalist received former National Party leader Don Brash's emails.

Dr Brash resigned as party leader in November 2006, the same month a book by journalist Nicky Hager was published.

The Hollow Men, based on 475 emails to and from Dr Brash and other political figures, documented the goings-on behind the scenes in the lead-up to the last election and traced the influence of a number right wing organisations and individuals on Dr Brash's rise.

Hager has consistently said the emails were leaked, not stolen.

Police today released two reports into their 2006-2007 investigation. One evaluated how the initial investigation was done after Dr Brash complained in April 2009 that Wellington police had shown political bias, did not keep him in the loop and held a "cavalier" attitude. He also complained to the Independent Police Complaints Authority (IPCA).

The second report details the police re-investigation of the original complaint and confirmed the initial findings after interviewing 199 people including IT, security, messengers, cleaners and contractors. The inquiry found the emails were taken over an extended period of time, that security was lax on the floor where Dr Brash worked and that he printed out email correspondence and left it in a tray to be shredded.

Auckland Region Assistant Commissioner Steve Shortland, who oversaw the investigations, said while there was no evidence of political bias, police failed to keep Dr Brash up to date with progress and there was an unacceptable 13 month delay in providing him the final investigation report, dated January 24, 2008.

Once police were sure there was no national security issue around the parliamentary server, the probe was no longer treated with urgency.

"The investigation took the view that overthrow of Don Brash was a political act that did not disclose criminal activity," Mr Shortland wrote.

Guidelines would be developed into how complaints of a political nature were handled in future.

"My suggestion is that these types of complaints should be evaluated, assigned and monitored by a police national headquarters-led monitoring group rather than districts being allowed to action independently."

He also said Official Information Act requests about the investigation were handled too slowly and those processes should also be improved.

Dr Brash today said he doubted the culprit would ever be found but was pleased with the re-investigation police carried out and the fact they interviewed all potential subjects, some for the first time.

"The original police investigation of the breach of security around my parliamentary office lacked urgency, and gave every appearance of being treated as a matter of no consequence," Dr Brash said.

"...Even though their inquiries have failed to identify the source of the leak, I certainly appreciate the effort they have put into this second investigation."

The re-investigation report by Detective Inspector Karyn Malthus found electronic hacking of the parliamentary server was highly unlikely; that the documents were obtained over an extended period of time and were not a one-off event; that there was no evidence to suggest Hager had committed any crime; and there was not enough evidence to apply for a search warrant for his property.

The report said Dr Brash regularly printed documents out, sometimes took them home, and when he was finished with papers put them in a tray for shredding, It said that both Dr Brash and a staff member kept copies of documents and emails in his office and they sometimes left computers unattended while logged on; that papers were not shredded regularly and shredding bins were not locked. It said access to the floor and offices as well as computer access security were lax at that time.

The report said Dr Brash may have used an auto forward function on his email accounts which duplicated his emails to a non-secure network over the internet.

It said "a concerted effort in obtaining the emails was undertaken" and it could have been done using the auto forward; by taking papers meant for shredding or electronically downloading contents from computers.

Speech notes for October 2003 meeting a fax sent from Timaru to Dr Brash did not go through the parliamentary computer system. The fax could have been put in the shredding pile. Police had interviewed most people of interest.

Large parts of the report around security at Parliament and staff names were blacked out. One telling comment from Axon service delivery manager Deborah Clarke was that MPs wanted all the security in the world but weren't willing to follow processes to achieve that and did things like giving their passwords to executive assistants.

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