Police refuse to reveal any details of Dowie text inquiry

A police investigation into an alleged crime committed by a Member of Parliament is newsworthy – especially when the complainant or claimed victim is also an MP.

It’s common with major newsworthy crimes for the police to issue statements and have media conferences, with some outline and details of the investigation being made public.

But with investigations involving politicians they often if not always seem to prefer secrecy. There is no obvious reason for this, apart perhaps from protecting politicians from media mayhem.

David Fisher at NX Herald has used the OIA to seek information about an inquiry: Sarah Dowie and the text message inquiry – what the police won’t tell you

Police headquarters has pulled down the shutters on the investigation into the text message sent from National MP Sarah Dowie’s to Jami-Lee Ross.

Even basic details such as the date on which the complaint was laid and the part of the country where the investigating officer is based have been kept secret by police.

It came months after the end of their extra-marital relationship and included the words: “You deserve to die.”

Ross has previously said he did not make the complaint, which was received through the Crimestoppers freephone number.

Ross, 33, revealed the investigation just before his return to Parliament this year. It was a move which led to Dowie being named as one of the women with whom he had an extra-marital relationship while National MP for Botany.

Ross was obviously aware of the complaint and the means of making the complaint. It hasn’t been revealed whether this was due to contact with the police, or contact with the complainant.

Dowie said she was not aware of the complaint and had bot been contacted by the police.

Police headquarters had refused to make comment on the investigation, leading to the NZ Herald seeking specifics through the Official Information Act.

The sort of information sought was intended to place a context around the police inquiry involving a sitting MP – an unusual occurrence in any Parliamentary term.

Details sought included the date Crimestoppers took the complaint, when it was passed to police and where in the country the investigation had been assigned.

Other details included the rank of the officer leading the investigation, whether he or she worked in a specialised police area and the amount of time spent carrying out the inquiry.

Detective Inspector David Kirby, manager of the National Criminal Investigations Group, said: “The investigation is still ongoing and whilst the investigation is ongoing police is not in a position to go into specific details of the complaint.”

Kirby quoted the section of the Act relied on to refuse providing the information, which says OIA requests can be knocked back if doing otherwise would “prejudice the maintenance of the law, including the prevention, investigation, and detection of offences, and the right to a fair trial”.

Other areas police ruled out were the date on which Ross had been told there was an investigation, whether he had been interviewed – if at all – and whether Cabinet ministers had been told of the inquiry.

if the police had not been in contact with Ross when he revealed the complaint had been made it would indicate that Ross knew via the complainant. He has not said he had no connection to the complaint, just that he had not made the complaint himself.

It has prompted a former senior police officer to ask: “Why would this investigation be treated any differently to any other investigation?”

The blanket withholding of basic information, commonly released by police, was at odds with normal practice, said a former detective, who would not be named.

Do politicians get special treatment from the police? That’s how it appears. If so, why?

A basic tenet of our system is ‘open justice’. This sort of statement is comment in court judgments:

The starting point is the principle of open justice and the right of the media to report on decisions of court as reflected in s 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. The principle in favour of open justice should only be departed from in circumstances where the interests of justice so require, and only to the extent necessary to serve those interests.

See Erceg v Erceg [2016] NZSC 135, [2017] 1 NZLR 310 at [2]

New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990:

Freedom of expression

14. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.

But that is often balanced against the right to a fair trial, and this was given as a reason by the police for secrecy in this case. Claiming a right to a fair trial is a common grounds for seeking name suppression,  but in this case the names of both alleged offender and claimed victim are already known – because the claimed victim Ross revealed it to media.

So Ross chose to go public for political PR purposes, but despite this the police are refusing to give out any information or context, as seems common with inquiries involving politicians.

The difference in this case is a politician claims to be the victim and has already publicised the inquiry. This is an unusual situation.

Politicians are usually subject to more scrutiny than the general public, but not when the police are involved.

National MP confesses to leak, warns life at risk

RNZ are reporting that a National MP has sent a text to Simon Bridges and to the Speaker Trevor Mallard, confessing to leaking Bridges’ expenses information just days before it was due to be released publicly.

They also say the MP has asked for the leak inquiry to be called off, and that exposure could put their lives at risk.

I don’t think there’s any way this can be kept quiet – obviously this news makes it impossible, but Bridges couldn’t have kept the text secret,

RNZ Exclusive: Text plea to call off Bridges expense leak inquiry

A person claiming to be the National Party leaker has sent an anonymous text to Opposition leader Simon Bridges pleading for the inquiry to be called off, RNZ has learned.

Sources have told RNZ Mr Bridges and the Speaker Trevor Mallard both received an anonymous text message last week from a person claiming to be responsible for leaking the information to Newshub.

The author of the text warned they suffered from mental health problems in the past and said being exposed publicly could push them over the edge and put their life at risk.

The text, which RNZ has not seen, detailed a number of conversations and pieces of information from National caucus meetings over a period of weeks in an attempt to prove the author was a National MP.

In the message, the author said they had leaked the expenses because they disagreed with Mr Bridges’ leadership style, describing him as “arrogant”, and wanted him to be held to account for his spending of taxpayers’ money.

Bridges had said he was confident the leaker was not a National MP, but his caucus was the most likely source, as it was only them and Parliamentary Services that had the information at that stage (it is now public).

I don’t see how the offending MP can avoid exposure, nor can they avoid having to resign.

But it gets more strange – who leaked the text?

RNZ was approached by a person with details of the text message this week.

They said they were speaking out as they were worried for the safety of the text’s author and the potential impact of the investigation.

The source said they were concerned Mr Bridges and Mr Mallard were not taking the text message seriously because the inquiry was still pressing ahead.

Mr Mallard has the formal authority to put a halt to the inquiry but if Mr Bridges really wanted it stopped he could influence that decision.

RNZ has since verified the existence of the text and its contents with another source.

It was baffling as to why the expenses were leaked just a few days before they would have been made public anyway.

It is curious why Bridges and the Speaker treated the leak with so much concern and immediate action in moving towards an inquiry.

Why was the text kept secret? Is it that the identity of the MP is not known, and the threat of risk to their well being kept it hushed?

There will be more on this no doubt.

UPDATE: The text was sent from an anonymous number LAST WEEK. The identity of the MP is unknown (by RNZ).

I don’t think Bridges could call off the inquiry that has just had a former solicitor-general appointed to lead it – actually RNZ have just said that Mallard appointed someone to lead the inquiry after receiving the text message.