A Queensland police officer who leaked the address of a domestic abuse victim to her violent former partner has resigned, more than five years after first admitting to hacking into a confidential police database.
Neil Glen Punchard had a criminal conviction for computer hacking and two-month suspended prison sentence reinstated by the state court of appeal in August.
Punchard’s subsequent decision to quit – before having his salary suspended – finalises a long saga that has deeply embarrassed the Queensland police service.
But the woman whose details were leaked, Julie*, says Queensland police must now overhaul its “weak” internal discipline system, which allowed Punchard to remain employed and paid during years of wrangling about the case.
In some cases, police do not have a legal trigger to dismiss officers found guilty of criminal offences.
“From the outset, the system is really geared to protect the serving police officer and not the victim,” Julie said.
The former senior constable has been paid more than $200,000 in salary since being charged in late 2018 and stood down from official duties.
The police officer accessed two separate confidential computer systems to obtain Julie’s address 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.
Since learning about Punchard’s text messages to her former husband, Julie has campaigned for the officer to be investigated, charged and sacked. She also fought a lengthy battle with police for compensation.
Punchard first admitted computer hacking in 2016, in a compelled statement to a police disciplinary investigation. The admission could not be used as evidence in court. Police decided not to pursue criminal charges at the time.
After considerable public pressure, police re-opened a criminal investigation and charged Punchard with nine counts of computer hacking in December, 2018. He was stood down from operational duty after being charged.
His career has remained in limbo during repeated appeals regarding the severity of his sentence, but Punchard has remained on a senior constable’s salary throughout.
During this period he would have been paid between $77,000 and $94,000 a year, but likely at the higher end of the pay scale due to his years of service.
In August, the Queensland court of appeal reinstated a conviction and suspended sentence against Punchard. The decision was understood to give the police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, a trigger to sack him.
Punchard resigned on 17 September after being served with a “show cause” notice for suspension without pay.
“He resigned before showing cause or before any other action with respect to his ongoing employment could be finalised,” police said in a statement.
“As all court matters had been concluded QPS was bound to accept his resignation.
“His conviction will remain a matter of public record which will impact future employment prospects. Entitlements will be a matter for his superannuation fund.
“Commissioner Katarina Carroll 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.”
Julie said she is relieved Punchard is no longer a serving officer, but that the case highlighted how the police discipline system failed to hold officers to account, and in turn contributed to a lack of public trust.
In 2019, the Queensland government repealed the police discipline system established after the landmark Fitzgerald inquiry with one that is less “punitive”, less legalistic and less adversarial. The overhaul was championed by the influential Queensland police union.
A petition calling on Carroll to sack Punchard had more than 67,000 signatures, but the commissioner had been unable to act under the system.
“I wish for the system to be changed because at this point in time it’s not a right system, it’s not a fair system,” Julie said.
“It shouldn’t have taken so long for a police officer who has committed criminal offences to finally not be employed by the QPS.
“In the end he gets to go on his terms, they didn’t sack him.”