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IPCA findings on complaint by Bruce Van Essen

MEDIA RELEASE: Embargoed for release 5pm, Sunday 21 September

IPCA findings on complaint by Bruce Van Essen

The Independent Police Conduct Authority is recommending that Police tighten policies on conduct of searches and on conflicts of interest after finding fault with their September 2006 search of the home of Dunedin man Bruce Van Essen.

'Police did not properly manage an apparent conflict of interest in this case,' said Authority Chair Justice Lowell Goddard. 'Nor did the search warrant application meet an acceptable professional standard.'

The search was carried out at the request of ACC. The police officer who sought the search warrant from Dunedin District Court, Constable Andrew Henderson, relied on information provided by ACC private investigator Peter Gibbons, his father in law.

Justice Goddard said Constable Henderson either should not have been put in the position of dealing with his father in law, or his work should have been properly supervised.

While the Authority had not found evidence of illegality or misconduct on the part of police, 'the risk with any apparent conflict of interest is that, if it is not properly managed, it will undermine public trust and confidence in police work'.

She said the search warrant lacked any clear description of offences Mr Van Essen was supposed to have committed, and provided no documentary evidence of any offence. Its legality could have been challenged in court if Mr Van Essen had been charged.

'Searching someone's home, even with justification, cuts across their usual expectation of privacy. Applications for search warrants should therefore meet a high standard, as should police actions in conducting searches.'

The Authority also raised concerns about supervision of ACC investigators during the search, and about whether police took sufficient steps to protect the privacy of ACC beneficiaries whose personal information was stored on computers seized during the search.

She said the Authority had made several recommendations aimed at improving police policies in relation to conflicts of interest, conduct of searches, privacy and other matters.

ENDS

BACKGROUND

Key findings

Police did not properly manage an apparent conflict of interest.

Police applied for the search warrant without clearly spelling out the alleged offence and without providing documentary evidence.

The search warrant application did not meet an acceptable professional standard.

ACC investigators may not have been under 'close control and supervision' of police throughout the search.

It is not clear that police protected the private details of other ACC beneficiaries when ACC inspected Mr Van Essen's computers.

The Authority's functions and powers

Under the Independent Police Conduct Authority Act 1988, the Authority's functions include investigating complaints alleging police misconduct or neglect of duty, and investigating complaints about police practice, policy or procedure affecting a complainant.

The Authority's powers relate to police. It has no power to investigate or make findings about ACC.

Under the Act, the Commissioner must notify the Authority of what action is being taken to give effect to recommendations, or reasons for departing from or not implementing any recommendation.

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