Police say searches made in good faith

Police have admitted there were things they should have done better to ensure the validity of search warrants used to search the homes of two Dunedin ACC claimants.

The claimants Bruce Van Essen and Jason Patterson are suing the Attorney-general and two private investigators for damages relating to searches of their homes in 2006, saying they were ''unlawful and unreasonable''.

Mr Van Essen and Mr Patterson also allege police were in breach of the Bill of Rights Act when they searched their homes and that they acted in an improper manner and maliciously towards them.

The searches resulted from investigations by the private investigators, who were engaged by ACC to inquire into the possibility both men were fraudulently receiving income without telling ACC.

Earlier this week, the Attorney-general, through counsel Fergus Sinclair, accepted the warrants were unlawful and contained errors.

Three of four sworn police officers to give evidence did so on the third day of a civil trial before Justice Christian Whata in the High Court at Dunedin yesterday.

Mr Sinclair started the day by ending his opening submissions with a reminder that it was accepted the warrants were unlawful and the central issue now was whether police were legally immune from having to pay damages, which, he submitted, they would be if they had acted in good faith.

The Crown believed they had, and it was up to the plaintiffs to prove otherwise, he said.

The first witness was Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis, the officer in charge of the Dunedin CIB, including the inquiries team, members of which prepared the affidavits for the search warrants based on information provided to ACC from the private detectives Peter Gibbons, in Mr Van Essen's case, and Graeme Scott, in Mr Patterson's case.

Det Snr Sgt Croudis said he had absolute confidence in everything he and his staff had done.

However, he admitted he had erred in making Constable Andrew Henderson the liaison for ACC investigators seeking to obtain search warrants through the police, when he knew Mr Gibbons, a former Dunedin police detective and the ACC's main contracted fraud investigator in Dunedin, was Const Henderson's father-in-law.

He said he had made the decision because he was confident both men were professional and experienced, and that any conflict could be managed by two ranks of command and supervision above Const Henderson.

''In hindsight, I was probably wrong.''

Under cross-examination from counsel for Mr Van Essen, Michael Starling, who is also representing Mr Patterson, Det Snr Sgt Croudis explained he received search warrant applications from outside agencies with enforcement powers first, including the affidavits they had drafted.

He assessed and prioritised them, sometimes providing advice or remedial instruction, and then forwarded the documents to the inquiries team.

Mr Starling asked him if he thought, then, that he had been negligent in forwarding the application relating to the search warrant for Mr Van Essen's home without a single question, even though the draft affidavit supplied did not identify the offence Mr Van Essen was alleged to have committed.

''... your dealing with the draft document shows at the very least negligence on your part, and shows bad faith on your part'', Mr Starling said.

''You passed on a document when it was your job to assess and prioritise it. The document did not disclose an offence, but because it came from a former colleague you passed it along the line.''

Det Snr Sgt Croudis said he ''totally refuted'' the suggestion.

On the face of it the material in the affidavit indicated a crime had been done, so he passed it on.

It was the constable's responsibility make sure the grounds for a search were bona fide and the document was completed to the standard required by the court.

''I do not accept at any stage there was bad faith, or negligence.''

Sergeant Sheldon Kindley, the officer in charge of the inquiries team, accepted in his brief of evidence that he should have reviewed the affidavits prepared by his staff for the search warrants himself before they were presented to the court.

He had not reviewed the Van Essen affidavit because he felt he did not have the same knowledge of the facts and their background as Const Henderson.

He could not recollect if he had reviewed the Patterson affidavit, which was prepared by Const Matt Preece.

However, he denied, on cross-examination from Mr Starling, that it was his responsibility to check search warrants were signed by the court before they were executed. That was the responsibility of the officer who had sworn the affidavit, and it would be impractical if all warrants had to be checked by a senior officer before execution.

The search warrant for the search on Mr Patterson's home was later found not to have been signed by the court registrar.

Const Henderson said he had not acknowledged his relationship with Mr Gibbons in swearing the affidavit for the Van Essen search because he had not thought it relevant.

He was relying on Mr Gibbons' experience and professionalism as a former police officer, not their personal relationship.

The cross-examination of Const Henderson will continue today.