Victoria police suspends officer over leak of photographs of Laidley taken in police station. The response highlights the uneven and generally inadequate state of privacy protections even if the results head in the right direction.

May 4, 2020 |

It appears that occasionally the Victoria Police can respond quickly and appropriately to privacy breaches. The ABC reports that a senior constable who took the photographs of Dean Laidley while in custody and being processed has been suspended and is likely to be charged with an offence under the Victoria Police Act 2013.  Deputy Commissioner Patton did not identify what provision of the Act the senior constable might be charged under but it may be under one of section 226227 or 228.     

The ABC Report provides:

Victoria Police has suspended an officer over an “appalling” privacy breach after he allegedly shared unauthorised images of former AFL coach Dean Laidley in custody inside a police station.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said it was expected the officer would also be hit with criminal charges over the incident.

The photos were taken of former North Melbourne AFL coach Dean Laidley, who was remanded in custody over the weekend on allegations of stalking as well as other charges.

The 53-year-old from Moonee Ponds was arrested on Saturday night after an incident outside a St Kilda home about 9:00pm.

The 1996 North Melbourne premiership player faced Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Sunday.

The father of three did not apply for bail and remained in custody on Sunday evening.

Deputy Commissioner Patton said a male senior constable had been suspended with pay for allegedly taking the photos, which could constitute a breach of the Victoria Police Act for the unauthorised disclosure of information.

“It is expected he will be charged in due course,” Deputy Commissioner Patton said.

“He will also be subject to internal disciplinary action.”

Deputy Commissioner Patton said the criminal charge allows for penalties of up to two years in jail or close to $40,000 in fines, while the internal investigation could result in the officer being fined, demoted or sacked.

He said he was “appalled” that a Victoria Police officer had taken the photos.

“It’s not an authorised photograph and should not have been taken,” he said.

“It’s unacceptable conduct.

At a press conference this afternoon, Deputy Commissioner Patton said the senior constable had only recently been interviewed and it was still unclear exactly how many officers were involved.

He said he believed the photograph was shared on WhatsApp but it was unclear how the photos came to be on social media.

“It could be around six [people] that have had the photograph disseminated to them,” he said.

“We’ll continue that investigation. It is early days yet.”

Victoria Police apologises for ‘appalling’ breach of privacy

He said it was not clear whether the people who received the photos on WhatsApp were police members or civilians.

“That’s why we’re interrogating his phones,” he said.

“The investigation will explore who has committed any criminal offence in terms of forwarding or accessing information.

“If other [Victoria Police] members have, if you like, disseminated unauthorised information then they will potentially be facing exactly the same charges as this senior constable is.”

Deputy Commissioner Patton also apologised on behalf of the police force.

“The photograph has been taken inside a custody area, I understand, inside a police station,” he said.

“It’s not an authorised photograph and should not have been taken.

“Clearly we have let down that person who those photos were taken of. We’ve breached their privacy and I do apologise on behalf of Victoria Police.”

He said it was “one of the most appalling breaches” by an officer that he could remember.

“I cannot recall a breach of someone’s privacy like this, an individual when they’re in custody,” he said.

“It’s unlawful and criminal conduct and that’s the way we’re treating it.”

A police spokeswoman earlier said the Professional Standards Command had begun a “thorough investigation” into the photos and would be “looking at all aspects of the matter”.

“This is one of the most significant breaches of a person’s privacy and Victoria Police will not tolerate this sort of behaviour,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

The matter has also been referred to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), Deputy Commissioner Patton said.

Lawyer ‘outraged’ over photos of client

Mr Laidley’s lawyer Dee Giannopolous wrote about the images on Sunday night, saying on Twitter she was “outraged” pictures of her client were allegedly “taken by some police officer, on the sly, when in custody in interview”.

The director of the legal firm, Bill Doogue, described the apparent leak as “disgraceful”.

“Taking photos unlawfully and sharing them. And these were sneaky photos while in [a] police interview in [a] police station by a police officer,” he said.

“Police should investigate and those involved pull [the images] down immediately.”

Mr Laidley played for the West Coast Eagles from 1987 to 1992 and North Melbourne between 1993 and 1997.

He was the senior coach at North Melbourne from 2003 to 2009 before holding assistant coaching roles at Port Adelaide, St Kilda and Carlton.

He finished his last AFL coaching role at the end of the 2015 season.

He is due to face court again on May 11.

The Age  covered the story, without the pictures in question, in Appalling’: Police officer suspended over leaked images of Dean Laidley and highlighted the speed of distribution of these pictures, to the point that the Police Minister was sent copies.  The News Limited followed the low road and covered the suspension with another run of the photographs in question. 

The senior constable who allegedly took the photographs is in serious trouble professionally as well as possibly criminally, as might be his colleagues who received then passed on the photographs to third parties, including the Herald Sun and the Australian.  There are broad and draconian powers in the Victoria Police Act which can be applied.  There is no civil claims that Laidley can bring under the Victoria Police Act.   The options for someone like Laidley are limited.  A complaint can be made under the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014 but if the matter does not resolve at mediation history shows that an applicant is rarely successful in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. 

Despite numerous Royal Commissions and other inquiries, most recently the ACCC’s Digital Platform Inquiry, which have called for the introduction of a statutory tort for serious invasions of privacy nothing has been done at a State or Commonwealth level.  The Federal Government’s response to the ACCC’s recommendation for a statutory tort for invasion of privacy was non committal and evasive.  That is in stark contrast with its open agreement to many of the other recommendations.  State Governments are not off the hook.  A state government could legislate a statutory tort for invasion of privacy without any legal problems.  Both the Victorian and New South Wales Law Reform Commissions have both made those recommendations for their respective states.  State Governments, initially Labor but later Coalition have refused to legislate.  That is a failure of public policy.  

Where things stand is that privacy protections at a state and Federal level are largely paternalistic, relying on a regulator or police to take some action, if the regulator or police officers so choose.  If there is no action , or inadequate action, as is often the case with regulators like the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, individuals are left with the option of issuing proceedings claiming misuse of personal information and torts which can be used, though often not easily and sometimes not at all.  

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