The judge heading the New South Wales inquiry into historical LGBTIQ hate crimes has furiously dismissed “offensive” assertions from NSW Police at a fresh round of hearings in Sydney.
The landmark inquiry, headed by Supreme Court Justice John Sackar, is examining dozens of deaths in NSW between 1970 and 2010 after a months-long review of unsolved homicides in that period.
And on Monday (December 5), the inquiry started a new round of hearings in Sydney, calling NSW Police witnesses to give evidence.
But the hearings started this week with former prosecutor Mark Tedeschi KC, acting for NSW Police, over police resources and the inquiry going beyond its terms of reference.
NSW Police claimed “approximately 12 [unsolved homicide team] investigations and reviews” were paused while “the relevant officers assist in the context of this inquiry” as a result of the “considerable resources” needed.
The force provided over 220 boxes of archived material and 77,000 digital files to the inquiry, NSW Police said.
‘If it’s intended to put pressure on, it’s not going to work’
But Justice Sackar furiosuly rejected the claims on Monday. He said police accusing the inquiry of “either wittingly or even unwittingly… interrupting the proper police work in relation to unsolved homicides” is “frankly unacceptable”.
Police had twice accused the inquiry of interrupting police inquiries or resolving crimes, he said.
“That is rejected. Both of [the accusations] are inappropriately made and should not have been made,” Sackar said.
NSW Police could not accuse the inquiry of impeding investigations when they had failed to ask for more time to comply with requests, he said.
The force had also not provided “evidence that people are being distracted from their day-to-day police operations,” he said.
“If in truth, the resources of the NSW Police were so slim, or unappreciated in terms of the quantum, you should have come to me sooner. You should have asked for time,” he said.
“If it’s intended to put pressure on this commission, it’s not going to work. If it’s intended to be offensive, it worked, because it is offensive.”
The judge rejected that his issuing of summonses “has distracted police from police work which they would otherwise be undertaking.”
If police did not appreciate that they would be “one of the principal, if not the principal, repositories of information [about the deaths], then they did not read the terms of reference”, Sackar said.
He was “happy to dismiss the allegation as a misguided and misconceived assertion by someone who may well have entirely underestimated the resources the NSW Police need to perform the task”.
Row over scrutiny of adequacy and metholodology of police’s own inquiry
NSW Police also argued examining the adequacy and methodology of a major 2018 report into historical gay hate crimes is not relevant to an inquiry into unsolved deaths.
That 2018 report, by NSW Police Strike Force Parrabell, examined 88 deaths between 1976 and 2000 potentially involved “gay hate bias”.
Its report had classified around 23 deaths as unsolved anti-LGBTQI hate crime deaths.
But this figure was controversial, with peak LGBTIQ+ group ACON expressing reservations at the time about Parabell’s classification of deaths.
Tedeschi (pictured below, left), representing NSW Police, argued scrutinising the creation of Parrabell and its methodology fell outside the inquiry’s terms of reference.
He told Justice John Sackar (below, inset) those terms meant the inquiry was “to avoid unnecessary duplications” and to only regard the previous inquiries, not “review the adequacy”.
“It’s clear from the terms of reference this inquiry isn’t meant to be a recitation or analysis or assessment of past events,” Tedeschi said.
“It’s an opportunity for the future to elicit those cases in which further admissible evidence could lead to possible prosecutions.”
Justice Sackar rejects NSW Police claims
However Justice Sackar also rejected this, telling the inquiry the terms of reference specifically direct the inquiry to have regard to the findings of Strike Force Parrabell.
“It cannot be that in my role as investigator, I am required to accept the findings of a report without ascertaining the extent to which I am satisfied by those findings,” he said.
“I am necessarily required to examine the previous investigations of [NSW Police] and consider the extent to which gay hate bias was recognised to be a relevant causal factor in the death of particular individuals.
“It further follows that I am required to examine the means and the methodologies by which [NSW Police] arrived at its conclusions with respect to the existence (or non-existence) of gay hate bias in these specific cases.”
Assistant Commissioner Anthony Crandell addresses inquiry
On Tuesday, Assistant Commissioner Anthony Crandell was the first police witness to address the inquiry.
Crandell previously served as the NSW Police’s spokesperson for gender and sexuality. In the role, he was a high-profile community liaison.
Crandell headed Strike Force Parrabell. In the Parabell report, NSW Police acknowledged both its own “and society’s acceptance of gay bashings and shocking violence directed towards gay men, and the LGBTIQ community” over a 24 year period.
But Crandell told the inquiry it was hard to separate “investigative incompetence from bias” in police responses to the deaths.
It was also “difficult to attribute any deliberate bias” towards individual investigators.
Crandell noted written records from ACON on at least 20 bashings of gay men each day in previous years. He also acknowledged the number of assaults reported to police were far fewer.
Crandell also said “fear associated with anti-gay attitudes of officers” led to victims not reporting the crimes to NSW Police. He said he believes “elements” of that community mistrust in police linger today.
He told the inquiry the reasons behind the prevalence of assaults included an “inherent lack of consequences and accountability”.
“Perpetrators were given a kind of social licence to continue inflicting violence upon members of the gay community,” he added.
The inquiry continues, with other NSW Police members addressing the public hearing in Sydney this week.
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