Heat Turned Up On Lauer
Sydney Morning Herald/1993-11-11
By PAOLA TOTARO And MARK RILEY
The Police Commissioner, Mr Lauer, came under further political pressure yesterday when it was revealed he had admitted in writing that police raided the Children of God sect and seized 72 children despite having "no direct evidence" of abuse.
The former Minister for Police, Mr Ted Pickering, told Parliament that official documents signed by Mr Lauer showed that the raids proceeded with improperly executed warrants and that Mr Lauer had tried to "compromise his ministry and mislead the Parliament" on the issue.
"The House should note that the Police Service and Mr Lauer knew on the 10th June, 1992, that the warrants were deficient and yet Mr Lauer was prepared to let me mislead the House in this respect despite that knowledge,"he said.
Mr Pickering also tabled a letter in which the chairman of the Police Board and former District Court judge, Mr Barrie Thorley, expressed doubts about the legal validity of the warrants and the accuracy of a speech provided by Mr Lauer for Mr Pickering's use in Parliament.
Mr Thorley's letter says: "As to your suggested response in Parliament to some question which has not been asked, I would only wish to say that I would not be inclined to be as enthusiastic about the legality of these warrants in their execution as the suggested response may indicate. I would prefer accuracy."
Departmental advice given to Mr Lauer last night, however, counters Mr Pickering's allegations, saying that police did not need hard evidence before they sought warrants to raid the homes of sect members, but needed only to"establish reasonable suspicion that crimes were being committed".
The department document, a copy of which has been obtained by the Herald, also accuses Mr Pickering of quoting selectively from ministerial advice about the warrants.
Late yesterday, the Minister for Police, Mr Griffiths, said he had called for an urgent response from Mr Lauer to Mr Pickering's allegations and that he would provide this to the House before the end of the week.
And last night, the NSW Opposition also issued its strongest challenge yet to Mr Lauer calling on him to immediately answer allegations that police acted in excess of their authority.
The ALP spokesman on community services, Mr Ron Dyer, said documentation provided by Mr Pickering indicated that the raids were a "fishing expedition and a stuff-up".
"I believe that Mr Pickering has satisfied the House that there is a case to answer on the part of Mr Lauer ... he is alleging there was a potential misleading of the House. That is very serious and it's up to Mr Lauer to respond sooner rather than later."
The controversial court case against the Children Of God group, now known as The Family, ended last week when a Children's Court magistrate directed that care applications for 65 of the sect's children be dismissed.
The proceedings, which began with the raid on May 15 last year, are understood to have cost the State Government $4 million so far.
Mr Pickering told Parliament that on May 19, Mr Lauer provided a signed document that stated: "No direct evidence obtained of sexual, mental or physical abuse prior to the operation of the 15 instant.
"Intelligence together with informant and former sect member interviews led to the belief that these offences had been committed and were still occurring."
Shortly after, Mr Pickering said, the then Minister for Health and Community Services, Mr John Hannaford, had warned him privately that the warrants obtained by the police to take the children into custody were suspect.
" ... I confronted Mr Lauer with this suggestion ... the Police Service by way of (written) advice informed me that my information about the warrant was wrong," he said.
Mr Pickering said that on June 19, he was given further confidential legal advice by the ministers for health and community services and the Attorney-General which also questioned the legal validity of the warrants.
Despite this, Mr Pickering said, he received another document three days later, signed by Mr Lauer, which included a speech written to respond to any questions in Parliament on the controversial raid.
This said: "In the circumstances, appropriate warrants were obtained through application to the court, applications supported by the evidence to hand, and were executed on the 15th May last."
Mr Pickering said he voiced his complaints about the speech to Mr Lauer but only a short time later, received yet another brief which noted that the warrant "deficiency" had not been mentioned in the speech because it was considered that the information should not be released "voluntarily" but only if the minister was asked a specific question.
"Consequently, separate speech notes have been prepared and are submitted herewith for use by the minister should that situation arise," the note said.
This same document, however, also contained legal advice from Dr G. A. Flick, QC, which revealed that the warrants were flawed and that "the execution of the warrants ... by a person other than the person named was in excess of the authority conferred and the act of removal constituted a trespass and a false imprisonment of the children".
Mr Pickering said he wanted the Parliament to make its own decision about Mr Lauer's motives.
In the Lower House last night, the Minister for Community Services, Mr Longley, said the warrants had been validly issued but that there was a defect in their execution.
He said that the Ombudsman, Mr David Landa, and the former NSW Chief Justice, Sir Laurence Street, believed the raids had been conducted in good faith.
The police department document issued to Mr Lauer last night says Mr Pickering "distorted the truth" of advice from the Police Commissioner on the validity of the warrants.
PAGE 6: Sect members still count the cost.