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Prosecutors drop Ashby perjury case -

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Prosecutors drop Ashby perjury case

Samantha Donovan reported this story on Tuesday, February 9, 2010 12:21:00

ELEANOR HALL: To Melbourne now where there's been a dramatic development in a long-running case
against a former senior policeman.

Today the state's prosecutors dropped their perjury case against former assistant commissioner,
Noel Ashby.

They cited a judgement last week which declared that the public hearings held by the police
watchdog into the issue were not conducted lawfully.

The Victorian Office of Police Integrity has just held a media conference. Our reporter Sam Donovan
is there and joins us now.

Sam, just how significant is it that this case has been dropped?

SAM DONOVAN: Oh, it would seem to be a very significant blow to the Office of Police Integrity,
Eleanor. The charges have been dropped because Supreme Court judge Robert Osborn said that the
former Federal Court judge Murray Wilcox QC didn't have the authority to conduct the OPI hearings
back in 2007 because the OPI director at the time, George Brouwer, hadn't been properly delegated
his powers or hadn't properly delegated the powers to Mr Wilcox.

It was at those hearings that Noel Ashby was accused of lying when he said he hadn't received any
information about a serving detective being investigated for murder.

The whole case stems from OPI investigations into an alleged series of police leaks in the case of
the 2003 murder of male prostitute Shane Chartres-Abbott. The OPI allege that Noel Ashby had passed
on information to the powerful head of the Police Union Paul Mullett who then tipped off a
policeman who was being investigated in connection with the murder, Detective Sergeant Peter Lalor.

ELEANOR HALL: So the police watchdog is effectively being blamed for this case not going ahead. How
did OPI investigators respond?

SAM DONOVAN: Well, the director of the Office of Police Integrity Michael Strong has just held a
press conference a short time ago. He admitted that the collapse of the case is an embarrassment to
the OPI but he also described the case as a successful operation and said that the credibility of
the OPI is intact.

It would seem that by getting Noel Ashby, Paul Mullett and the former media director Stephen
Linnell out of the Victorian Police Force, the OPI regards that it has achieved its goals.

ELEANOR HALL: What does this mean though for the reputation of the OPI?

SAM DONOVAN: It would appear to be a very damaging blow to its reputation, at least in the eyes of
the public, Eleanor.

The fact that the OPI failed to ensure that the 2007 hearings were legal, that is as director
Michael Strong said, embarrassing. The failure of the case is also going to add weight to the calls
of the Victorian Opposition and the Police Union for the OPI to be abolished and for an independent
commission against corruption to be set up in Victoria.

The collapse of this case follows the dropping of a case against the former union chief Paul
Mullett last year because of a lack of evidence against him.

ELEANOR HALL: So has there been any reaction yet from Noel Ashby?

SAM DONOVAN: Well, Noel Ashby spoke briefly outside court this morning, Eleanor just saying that on
legal advice he is not going to say too much more at this stage.

I understand that the former Victorian media director Stephen Linnell who'd agreed to testify
against Noel Ashby and had indeed pleaded guilty to a few counts of perjury himself, he is
apparently examining having his conviction overturned and possibly mounting a civil case over his
investigation and prosecution.

This is what Paul Mullett, the former head of the Victorian Police Association, has told the ABC
this morning.

PAUL MULLETT: The community is quite entitled to ask at the end of the day what was this all about
and why was tens of millions of dollars spent on pursuing Noel Ashby and I for what has amounted to
nothing.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Paul Mullett, the former head of the Victorian Police Union, and our reporter
Sam Donovan there in Melbourne.