Police appeal sentence for cop who exposed domestic violence victim

Queensland police have appealed the sentence handed to an officer who leaked the address of a domestic violence survivor to her ex-husband.

Jul 20, 2021, updated Jul 20, 2021
Queensland Police Senior Constable Neil Punchard  (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Queensland Police Senior Constable Neil Punchard (AAP Image/Glenn Hunt)

Neil Glen Punchard used police computers to access restricted information about a friend and his ex-wife, who were going through a bitter break-up.

The 55-year-old received a wholly suspended two-month jail sentence in October 2019 after pleading guilty to nine counts of computer hacking in 2013 and 2014.

The senior constable used police computers nine times over 12 months to access restricted information about a long-term friend and his ex-wife, who were going through an acrimonious break-up, and her new partner.

Punchard successfully appealed the sentence last year, with District Court Judge Craig Chowdhury ordering he instead perform 140 hours of community service.

Judge Chowdhury found a jail sentence was “excessive when having regard to the precise circumstances of the offending, the mitigating factors, and sentences imposed by magistrates for this specific offence in other cases”.

But barrister Angus Edwards, acting for the Commissioner of Police, told the Queensland Court of Appeal on Tuesday Judge Chowdhury had acted in error.

He said a wholly suspended sentence of imprisonment was appropriate to denounce Punchard’s conduct and serve as a general deterrence.

“Community service was not apt to serve those purposes,” he added.

The court was told Punchard did not know the woman was a domestic violence victim, but knew accessing the information from the police computer system was wrong.

“What he did was risk a member of the public’s safety by obtaining that information for the purposes of providing it to the complainant’s estranged ex-husband,” Mr Edwards said.

The offending was more serious because it was committed by a police officer who has a duty to uphold the law.

“This, in my submission, is a serious example of a police officer with all the power and trust … offending in a way that is the complete antithesis of his role to protect the public,” Edwards added.

But Punchard’s barrister Jeffrey Hunter QC argued Judge Chowdhury’s decision should not be set aside because there was no error.

He said the officer had completed the 140 hours community service.

Punchard remains suspended from duty.

Police have said previously Commissioner Katarina Carroll is expected to consider if Punchard could remain employed once the appeal process is finalised.

The Appeal Court judges have reserved their decision.

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