It is now likely Punchard will face further disciplinary action by the QPS. (AAP: Glenn Hunt)
Queensland police officer Senior Constable Neil Punchard has been sentenced to two months’ jail, wholly suspended for 18 months, for leaking the personal details of a domestic violence complainant to her former partner.
- Senior Constable Neil Punchard pleaded guilty to all nine counts
- Punchard had been childhood friends with the man he shared the information with
- The prosecutor said Punchard had become thoroughly involved in what was “a very acrimonious separation”
Senior Constable Punchard was stood down from official duty in December 2018 after being charged with nine counts of computer hacking.
Punchard accessed confidential police databases, including Q-PRIME, on nine occasions over a year, and passed on the woman’s residential address to her ex-husband, who is now subject to a Domestic Violence Order (DVO).
Punchard today pleaded guilty to all nine counts, after initially trying to have the case thrown out in September.
The woman told the ABC after the sentence was handed down that media reporting was instrumental in her case.
Senior Constable Neil Punchard was stood down from official duty in December 2018. (Queensland Police Service)
“If it wasn’t for the media I believe I would have been dead,” she said.
“It’s been a long three-year uphill battle fighting for justice. I now understand why so many women die of domestic violence.”
The woman was pregnant with her third child with her current husband at the time the information was shared.
In a victim impact statement submitted to the court, the woman said she and her children were still living in fear.
“Words cannot describe the hurt, stress and deep anxieties that I suffer on a daily basis because of a police officer in a job expected to protect me, did the exact opposite,” she wrote in the statement.
“The fact it was no accident, instead deliberate, and it was calculating, has made it all the more painful — no matter what I do, I cannot feel safe.
“We have had to relocate homes twice because of the privacy breach and not a day goes by when we are not all still looking over our shoulder.
The woman had initially made a complaint to Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) in June 2016, when the matter was referred to the Police Ethical Standards Command.
A decision was made at the time not to charge Punchard.
Two years later when Punchard was eventually charged, he was stood down from his role, however still worked with the Queensland Police Service (QPS) with limited duties.
‘Complete breach of trust’
Prosecutor Angus Edwards told the court Punchard, who was 47 at the time, had been a police officer for over a decade.
He said Punchard was childhood friends with the man he shared the information with, and knew “intrinsically” that he should not have been accessing the systems to assist the man.
“His offending was a complete breach of trust … his job is to protect the Queensland community and he did the exact opposite of that,” Mr Edwards told the court.
The court heard the ex-partner of the woman was not under any DVO at the time, but Punchard was well aware the pair were going through an “acrimonious” break-up.
“He took a risk with [her] safety under those circumstances,” Mr Edwards told the court.
In a victim impact statement submitted to the court, the woman said she and her children were still living in fear. (ABC News)
Mr Edwards told the hearing there were “identifying” text messages between Punchard and his friend about the situation, where he was telling him what to write, provided family law advice, and spoke about the woman in derogatory terms, including “F*** the b**** over legally”, “Make her shit herself” and “I know you’re screaming inside to let loose on her”.
The prosecutor said it was in that context Punchard provided the address of the woman to his friend, later telling him to say he found it out through Freedom of Information (FOI).
The court heard Punchard wrote: “She will be pissed … tell her you got it from his [her husband’s] name not hers, even better just tell her that you know where she lives and leave it at that lol, she will flip. Don’t tell her how.
“Just send her an email saying: ‘I won’t ask you your address any more as I know where you are now … if you won’t comply with court orders, I will have to take matters into my own hands’ — she will f***ing explode. Lmao.”
‘Taking the law into his own hands’
Mr Edwards said Punchard had become thoroughly involved in what was, “a very acrimonious separation, where he himself was inflaming the situation”.
In discussing his sentencing, Punchard’s defence lawyer argued the woman’s ex-husband already knew her street address, but was only asking Punchard for her unit number, to send her family law documents.
The magistrate responded: “He [Punchard] revealed the address of a woman in relation to a dispute he only had one version of, and under circumstances where the emails that he sent, indicated that he thought and was happy to assist [the friend] in taking the law into his own hands”.
A conviction was recorded, with his defence saying Punchard would now likely be subject to further disciplinary action by the QPS.