NSW police never started investigating Christian Porter rape allegation, internal review reveals

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

New South Wales police acknowledged they “never had the opportunity to commence the investigation” into an allegation of rape by Christian Porter, conceding the “investigation or lack thereof was not successful”, an internal review document seen by Guardian Australia has revealed.

Porter’s accuser withdrew her complaint and took her own life in June 2020, without police having taken a witness statement from her. The police assessment of the investigation into her claims, which was first produced in a more redacted form to the NSW parliament, concludes that, as a result, an alleged victim of “childhood sexual abuse” had died “without having her wish of the person of interest being held to account”.

The same document also reveals that police asked to close the investigation on the same day they received a dossier which included a statement by the woman detailing her allegations sent to police by her friends.

The woman accused the former attorney general of raping her in January 1988 when she was 16 and he was 17. Porter strenuously denies the allegation, confirming he knew the woman but denying having any sexual contact with her. Porter commenced defamation proceedings against the ABC after it reported the allegations against an unnamed “senior minister” in March 2021, but discontinued the claim after the ABC agreed to publish a statement indicating it did not intend to suggest Porter was guilty of the alleged offence.

Porter resigned from the Morrison government ministry on Sunday after revealing last week that some of his legal fees were paid by anonymous donors.

On Sunday Scott Morrison described the resignation as “appropriate”, citing the ministerial standards’ requirement to be free from perceived conflicts. Porter insisted his disclosure was within the rules, but said the issue had become a distraction for the government.

The woman first approached South Australian police in November 2019 asking about the process of making a complaint.

On 27 February 2020 she first met NSW police while passing through Sydney, but did not give a full statement. After she returned to Adelaide, NSW police applied on 10 March 2020 to travel to take her statement there, but were rejected.

On 2 April, she agreed in a teleconference to wait until NSW police were able to travel rather than give the statement remotely or to South Australian police.

On 23 June 2020 the alleged victim told NSW police she wanted to cease reporting the matter, citing personal reasons. She took her life on 24 June.

The latest information comes from a document originally tabled in the NSW parliament. At the time parts of the document were redacted but after a complaint from Greens MLC David Shoebridge about unnecessary censorship of its findings, further parts have now been revealed by NSW police.

They go into the operation of Strike Force Wyndarra that was set up by NSW police to investigate the allegations levelled against Porter by the woman. Specifically they detail the conclusion of an internal review after the strike force was wound up with no result.

In a statement in March 2021, NSW police said that, as result of the woman’s death, there was “insufficient admissible evidence” to proceed with an investigation.

But friends of the complainant point to the fact that NSW police had by 2 July been sent the dossier, including a signed and dated statement from the complainant that they claim may have been admissible.

The phrase “insufficient admissible evidence” is not contained in the post-operational review.

The police had set out that their investigation strategy was to include taking a victim statement and further witness and corroborative statements.

But the review explained that “investigators from the child abuse and sex crimes squad never had the opportunity to commence the investigation into the historical abuse of [redacted] due to her passing by suicide”.

“Unfortunately, due to the impact of Covid-19 on the operational management of this investigation, her statement never commenced.”

The documents show on the same day they received the dossier (2 July) a detective sergeant requested that Strike Force Wyndarra be cancelled. They were advised to complete a post-operational assessment and close the strike force.

At a NSW legal affairs estimates hearing on 1 September, Shoebridge asked the NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, whether the claim of insufficient admissible evidence was misleading. Fuller took the questions on notice, citing a need to read the review.

Shoebridge also queried whether it was an “unusual practice, to shut down a strike force about an alleged sexual assault on the same day that police received a vast amount of additional fresh material signed by the alleged victim”.

Fuller said this would “all depend … on whether the police knew that that information was forthcoming or it was not forthcoming” and took the question on notice.

In response to Guardian Australia questions on these points, NSW police said they had nothing further to add beyond their existing “comprehensive statements” on Wyndarra and the review document itself.

In a statement on Sunday Porter said he had only recently seen a “copy of the only signed document that the person who made and subsequently withdrew the complaint ever made”.

“Many parts of that 88-page document are such that any reasonable person would conclude that they show an allegation that lacks credibility; was based on repressed memory (which has been completely rejected by courts as unreliable and dangerous); which relied on diaries said to be drafted in 1990/91 but which were actually words composed in 2019; and, was written by someone who was, sadly, very unwell.”

Porter did not respond to Guardian Australia’s inquiries about the contention that a signed, dated statement from the woman could have been admissible.

In April, Guardian Australia revealed that NSW police passed up an offer by South Australian police to take a statement from the woman.

NSW police detectives made an application on 10 March 2020 to travel to Adelaide, but the move was rejected on 13 March 2020 by the deputy commissioner of investigations and counter-terrorism who claimed there was “insufficient detail … to justify why this travel cannot be deferred”.

The post-operational review supported this decision, claiming it “proved to be the correct decision with the airport at Adelaide succumbing to a Covid-19 cluster”, citing a cluster that was detected weeks later on 30 March.

“This Covid-19 cluster would have directly impacted the investigators travelling to South Australia by potentially exposing them to Covid-19,” it claimed.

Earlier answers to questions on notice reveal that on 1 April 2020 the alleged victim asked to commence her statement as soon as possible by telephone or a Skype video call.

The new documents include an email sent on 2 April 2020 with talking points to prepare to speak to the alleged victim explaining police wanted to hold off from taking a statement in part because the complainant’s support person also needed to provide a statement. Elsewhere, they cite the desire for the primary investigators to be present to support her.

The 2 April email stated that investigators would reassess the situation in a month and consider alternatives. “One such alternative will be having SAPOL take the statement from [redacted] (only if she applies unnecessary pressure).”

In earlier evidence, the NSW police claimed a “joint decision” was made against this course, but the documents reveal the police advised the alleged victim on 2 April “her statement would not at this stage be commenced by phone / video call”.

“[Name redacted] was understanding of investigators’ position.”

The post-operational assessment concluded: “Ultimately it is a sad outcome that the victim took her life, however that is absolutely no reflection on the investigators involved – they were outstanding in all of their dealings with the victim.”

Efforts by the Greens in federal parliament to use the Senate to set up an inquiry into Porter’s fitness to be a minister have been consistently blocked by the Coalition and One Nation.

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