The Queensland police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, is “carefully considering” whether to take further disciplinary action against an officer who leaked the address of a domestic violence victim.
Carroll has faced significant pressure to sack the officer, Neil Punchard, who pleaded guilty to nine counts of computer hacking in 2019.
Punchard was stood down in 2018 and formally suspended the following year. Police continue to pay his salary.
But the officer’s future has remained in limbo during a series of appeals about the severity of his sentence. The most recent decision – a court of appeal judgment that reinstated Punchard’s conviction and suspended sentence – is understood to now give Carroll a trigger to sack him.
The woman whose address was leaked, Julie*, said that family violence victims “could never have faith in police again” if Punchard remained employed by the police.
She has campaigned for five years for Punchard to be charged and dismissed.
“The cause I have fought so hard for and for so long is to prevent this from happening to anyone else. I never want anyone to go through what I have,” Julie told Guardian Australia.
“If Punchard is not sacked, what message does that sent to police officers? What message to women who reach out to the police for help?
“The QPS must set an example.”
Julie’s five-year public campaign has repeatedly drawn attention to problematic police responses to family violence.
It has also highlighted concerns about notoriously lenient Queensland police disciplinary procedures that protect officers – even those who have admitted criminal offences – from the sack.
In Punchard’s case, the agreed facts of his offending have not changed since his 2019 guilty plea.
The senior constable accessed two separate confidential computer systems to obtain the address of Julie and other details. He sent it to her estranged husband, his childhood friend.
“Just tell her you know where she lives and leave it at that. Lol,” Punchard wrote to his friend after sending the address in 2014.
In another message, he said: “The police will contact you if they want to speak to you … then you give them my name. That is your get-out-of-jail-free card.”
The recipient of the text message would later be convicted of domestic violence offences.
But while the circumstances have gained significant public attention and placed Carroll under pressure to sack Punchard, any decision on further action has been complicated by police disciplinary rules and the ongoing appeals process.
Queensland police commissioner Katarina Carroll has faced pressure to sack Neil Punchard. Photograph: Glenn Hunt/AAP
Last year the district court overturned Punchard’s initial sentence and determined that no conviction be recorded. He was ordered instead to complete 140 hours of community service. Guardian Australia understands the situation meant Carroll did not have sufficient grounds to sack him.
Carroll then challenged the district court ruling in the court of appeal. Last week, the court of appeal overturned the district court judgment.
In a statement, the Queensland police service said it would consider the judgment of the court of appeal.
“This includes what, if any, appropriate steps are to be taken from here,” a spokesperson said.
“The officer remains suspended from duty.
“The commissioner has publicly acknowledged that a failure to discharge prescribed responsibilities in an ethical, professional and lawful manner erodes public trust and confidence in the QPS.
“The QPS has acknowledged that the unlawful or improper use of information can have significant consequences and impacts for those individuals whose privacy have been breached, and has expressed sincere regret.”
* The woman’s name has been changed to protect her identity.