Commissioner biased against cop who stole fridge, court finds

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart.A Supreme Court judge has found Queensland’s top cop acted with bias in downgrading the duties of a regional senior sergeant who stole from charity and was accused of smuggling 20 slabs of beer into a dry Aboriginal community.

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart has been embroiled in a long-running legal stoush with one-time Rockhampton Deputy District Officer, Senior Sergeant Bryan Kennedy, who he sacked on three counts of misconduct on February 16, 2011 when he was deputy commissioner.

That misconduct included allegations Senior Sergeant Kennedy ordered officers to deliver 20 cartons of beer to a dry Aboriginal community while he was officer-in-charge of the remote Doomadgee police station in 2007 and that he stole a fridge donated to a Mount Isa youth organisation in 2008, for use in his own home.

Mr Stewart also found Senior Sergeant Kennedy had engaged in a third instance of misconduct when he allowed a woman to wear his uniform and carry his loaded gun to a Christmas party when he was stationed at Doomadgee.

Senior Sergeant Kennedy appealed Mr Stewart’s decision in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, where only the finding of misconduct in relation to the theft of the fridge was upheld.

While lawyers for Mr Stewart argued Senior Sergeant Kennedy should be dismissed from the Queensland Police Service over the theft, the tribunal instead imposed a suspension of six months.

Mr Stewart unsuccessfully appealed the ruling.

Upon Senior Sergeant Kennedy’s return to the force, and under the instruction of Mr Stewart, he was relegated to a desk job, as communications room supervisor at the Rockhampton call centre.

Though his salary remained unchanged, the appointment was a deliberate one whereby his work would be highly supervised and he would be more accountable than in his previous role as deputy district officer.

Unhappy with his relegated role, Senior Sergeant Kennedy took it to the Review Commissioner, and finally to the Supreme Court of Queensland, accusing Mr Stewart of bias in appointing him to the supervised desk role.

On Friday, Justice Jean Dalton ruled in Senior Sergeant Kennedy’s favour, finding Mr Stewart’s repeated publicly aired views that the officer did not have the integrity to remain a member of the police force impacted his decision and constituted bias.

“Commissioner Stewart had made it clear in the press that he had no confidence in the applicant (Kennedy) and that if it were up to him, the applicant would have no place in the police force,” Justice Dalton said.

“The subject matter of the Review Commissioner’s recommendation in this case was the placement of an officer in a role deemed suitable because it provided supervision, and thus risk mitigation, in circumstances where the officer’s responsibility, honesty and willingness to abide by the law had been called into question. All these were matters about which Commissioner Stewart had firm views.

“A fair minded observer might well have apprehended that Commissioner Stewart might not bring an impartial mind to bear in performing the task.

“It seems to me he ought not to have performed the task but delegated it to somebody who could consider the matter with an independent mind.”

Justice Dalton said the decision where Senior Sergeant Kennedy was to be stationed should be undertaken again.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Mr Stewart declined to comment on what course of action would now be taken.

“The Queensland Police Service is considering the decision and the comments made by Her Honour Justice Dalton and it would be inappropriate to comment further,” the statement read.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said Mr Stewart had exercised “a clear error in judgement”.

The union funded Senior Sergeant Kennedy’s legal proceedings.

“A finding of apprehended bias against a senior government official’s decision making is of real and serious concern – it should not happen,” he said.

Mr Leavers said the decision about where Senior Sergeant Kennedy would be stationed should now go to an independent officer.

“This is yet to be resolved but at a very minimum this matter will be referred back to an officer that we hope does not have a personal, vested and biased interest in the matter as has been found,” Mr Leavers said.

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