Australia

Police officer admits handing over abuse victim's details to her ex

Neil Punchard arrives in court in Brisbane, Australia Image copyright AAP
Image caption Neil Punchard, pictured at Brisbane Magistrates Court, used the police database to find details

An Australian police officer who "laughed" as he handed over the details of a domestic violence victim to her abusive partner has avoided jail.

Neil Punchard accessed the police database to give the woman's address to her ex-partner, a childhood friend of the senior constable, five years ago.

He then sent a text message saying: "Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol."

On Monday, he pleaded guilty to nine counts of computer hacking.

A judge at the magistrates court in Brisbane sentenced him to two months in prison, suspended.

The court case is the result of years of campaigning by the victim, who says she has lived in a constant state of fear since discovering the messages in 2016.

"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 a victim impact statement which was read out to the court, according to ABC News.

"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."

The woman, who has not been named, was in the middle of an "acrimonious" separation from her husband when Punchard accessed the system to find her details, Prosecutor Angus Edwards told the court.

Punchard, then 47, went on to say he should use his name as a "get-out-of-jail-free card" if any complaints were made.

Punchard denies knowing the relationship was abusive at the time. The victim's former husband is now subject to a domestic violence order banning contact with the woman or her children.

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The woman made an initial complaint to the Queensland Police Service three years ago, but no charges were brought.

She then turned to the media to publicise her story in her quest for justice.

Punchard was eventually charged late last year after the Crime and Corruption Commission overturned the previous decisions. He stepped down from official duty with Queensland police, but reportedly still worked for the service on a limited basis.

Mr Edwards described the incidents as a "complete breach of trust".

Campaigners say Australia has a serious problem with domestic abuse.

According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, almost one in three Australian women have experienced physical violence, and nearly one in five have endured sexual violence.

On average, one woman per week is murdered in Australia by a current or former male partner.

The victim in the Punchard case, who has moved home twice since, told the Guardian: "I now understand why so many innocent women and children are dying of domestic violence in this country because it's not taken seriously enough."

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