Police criticised over Roast Busters communication – report out

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(Stuff, written by Laura Walters, Katie Kenny & Stacey Kirk)

Police mishandling of the roastbusters case in the media once again “seriously undermined” the trust the public and sexual abuse victims had in police, a lawyer says.

The comments come after a review of police handling of publicity around the Roast Busters today found police misled the public, but not intentionally.

The Roast Busters were a group of West Auckland men, understood to be aged 17 and 18, who boasted online about their sexual exploits with drunk and underage females.

During the past decade the public had become aware of a history of police mishandling sexual abuse cases, Auckland lawyer Catriona MacLennan said.

While police claimed to have “changed”, cases like the roastbusters saga added to the cumulative picture that police had not improved their handling of sexual abuse cases, she said.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) at 10am published the report which looked at police handling of media inquiries after the story broke in November last year.

The IPCA found that due to a “collective breakdown in communication”, owing to “other commitments and time pressure”, no individual officer could be blamed for the inaccurate information provided to the public.

“When the story first broke, the media approached police for comment about their knowledge of this group and details of the police investigation,” the report said.

“It became apparent over the following days that the information originally provided by police to the media was incorrect.”

Initial statements claimed that despite a “full and thorough” investigation, prosecution was not possible without a formal complaint from a victim.

It later emerged four girls came forward over incidents involving the group between 2011 and 2012. One of those girls, aged 13, had gone through the formal complaint process.

MacLennan said she was “very shocked” when Waitemata Police District Commander Bill Searle said none of the girls had been “brave enough” to come forwards to make a formal complaint in the Roast Busters case.

That was an “appalling” statement, which once again put the onus on the victim, she said.

“It’s a concerning indication of ongoing police attitude in that area.”

The report said the false information would have had an impact on all of the young women who had had some contact with police, in particular the woman who gave the video evidence.

“Understandably she was confused and upset by the information being provided by police as she had in fact made a formal statement to police.”

MacLennan said it was “very concerning” police comments at the time gave the public and other sexual abuse victims and survivors the impression that police could only lay charges if a formal complaint was made.

Police Minister Anne Tolley said she welcomed the report’s findings.

“The report confirms that there was a communication breakdown within police.

“Although not deliberate, this was disappointing and the Commissioner personally apologised to me at the time for this mistake,” she said.

It was “vital” both the public and victims of crime had trust and confidence in the police, “which is why they must do everything they can to provide accurate information”.

“I await the outcome of the IPCA’s review of the criminal investigation, and acknowledge that it can’t be released until Operation Clover has been concluded,” Tolley said.

IPCA chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said maintaining public trust and confidence should be “top priority” for police.

He said although no police employee made a deliberate decision to mislead, time should have been taken to obtain the correct details from police files in response to questions from the media.

“The provision of inaccurate information was compounded by the fact that the police did not identify or rectify the mistake themselves, despite the opportunity to do so, and instead had to admit mistakes publicly only when contradictory information was ascertained and published by the media,” he said.

“This resulted in a consequent negative effect on the credibility of police.”

In a statement today police responded to the report by saying it had been a “learning situation for all staff involved”.

– Stuff

Roastbusters scandal history

The Roastbusters scandal caused widespread outrage after it was revealed young men were posting videos of themselves online bragging about sexual activities with drunk, underage girls – some as young as 13.

On November 3, Detective Inspector Bruce Scott of Waitemata district said that even though police were aware of the group, there was nothing they could do until a girl was “brave enough” to make a formal complaint.

Days later it emerged a young teen had complained to police two years before, but she was not taken seriously.

The 15-year-old who went to police about the Roastbusters in 2011, said she would lay a new formal complaint after the scandal broke. She also criticised police for their line of questioning, asking her what she was wearing at the time of the assault, when she was aged just 13.

Tolley welcomes report

Police Minister Anne Tolley said that although the breakdown in communication was not deliberate, it was disappointing, and she acknowledged the apology at the time from the Police Commissioner.

“It is vital that the public, and victims, have trust and confidence in the actions of the police, which is why they must do everything they can to provide accurate information.

“I await the outcome of the IPCA’s review of the criminal investigation, and acknowledge that it can’t be released until Operation Clover has been concluded,” she said.

-APNZ

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