A domestic violence victim whose privacy was breached by the Queensland police service has rejected the state’s “sham” and “vindictive” settlement offer, which includes a clause that could make her personally liable for any payout given to the rogue cop who leaked her address.
Last year Julie* won a breach of privacy case in the Queensland civil and administrative tribunal (QCAT), which made scathing findings about police data practices and ruled them liable for the breach.
The officer who sent Julie’s details to her violent former husband, Neil Punchard, was last year convicted of nine counts of computer hacking and given a suspended sentence.
Police fought the breach of privacy case, in an attempt to deny Julie compensation, for almost two years in QCAT.
After being denied leave to appeal the finding, and facing increased public and political backlash over its treatment of Julie, the police service released a statement last year saying it would not appeal further and would now “attempt to resolve the outstanding issue of compensation as soon as possible”.
Guardian Australia can reveal those discussions are on the verge of breaking down over police demands that Julie sign an extremely broad liability clause, indemnifying the state from “all actions, proceedings, claims or demands whatsoever as a result of or arising out of or in connection with, whether directly or indirectly, the allegations in and the facts and circumstances giving rise to the complaint”.
Julie, who remains self-represented in her negotiations with the state, has sought legal advice in relation to the impact of the clause. She has been told it would make her liable for any action brought by third parties, including police officers and other people whose details were accessed by Punchard.
Julie has also been advised that signing the clause could also make her liable for any wrongful dismissal case brought against the police by Punchard, who is appealing his sentence in an apparent attempt to keep his job.
The police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, is under significant public pressure to sack Punchard, and senior police believe it is not tenable for him to ever again wear the uniform. But Carroll has delayed any decision until after the appeal, amid concern about the legal ramifications.
It is notoriously difficult to dismiss an officer under Queensland’s remedial police disciplinary regime.
Julie told Guardian Australia she would not sign any clause that was so broadly-worded, especially when a claim by Punchard was possible.
Julie said police had initially told her they would be asking for her to sign a “standard release”. She said that comment was misleading and, given she was self-represented, described the tactic as “sharp practice”.
“This is about police breaching my privacy, but this settlement offer puts me at risk of a future claim by a third party” she said. “I think it’s a sham settlement offer. It’s vindictive and not genuine.”
The police service said in a statement that it was working its insurer and the state government’s legal arm, Crown Law, to resolve the proceedings.
“Any such processes are undertaken between the parties on an express confidential … basis.
“Accordingly, the QPS is not at liberty and it would be improper to make any comment or otherwise discuss any matters relating to any proposed settlement of the proceedings.”