Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Police inspector criticised for 'bullying' staff member out of job

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

A police inspector has been criticised for his handling of an employment dispute in which he "bullied" a staff member out of her position.

The non-sworn employee, Christine Stewart, was awarded $9000 compensation by the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) which found her resignation had amounted to constructive dismissal because of the way she had been treated.

Ms Stewart had an "unblemished" record from the time she started working for the police in 1992 until she was the subject of numerous complaints between 2009 and 2010, the ERA decision, released today, said.

First it was alleged she had leaked confidential information from the police computer system, after being asked by an associate to check if there were "any issues" with a man.

Ms Stewart said she never disclosed any information but the officer handling the complaint, Senior Sergeant Mick Lander, did not believe her.

"I believe Stewart has lied during the investigation meeting ," he said

There was another inquiry into Ms Stewart's alleged inappropriate use of her work computer and the time she spent on websites like Trade Me and E-Bay.

Further complaints were made to then-Acting Inspector Edward Van Den Broek from various staff members about Ms Stewart's behaviour at work.

These included an allegation that staff did not pass on information to her because they didn't trust her with it, and that she was loud and "annoying" at work.

Mr Van Den Broek also alleged she had incorrectly entered data and thereby linked a Rotorua police employee to a high-profile Mongrel Mob member.

Ms Stewart said she had been told to enter this information by a senior detective, and it was not her place to question the information as it was provided.

Mr van de Broek said Ms Stewart did not raise this matter with him, but under cross examination he conceded that she may have done.

ERA member Kenneth Anderson said Mr Van Den Broek's initial denial was "somewhat evasive".

He further found that Mr Van Den Broek never provided any specific examples of staff members being reluctant to provide Ms Stewart with information.

Ms Stewart was "upset and distressed" due to the investigation, and resigned.

She said Mr Van Den Broek's attitude had been "aggressive and hostile" and the investigation was a "personal attack" on her professionalism.

"... I felt I was being being bullied and forced out of my position. The police hierarchy had adopted a view about me which was totally false and unfair and I was never really given a proper opportunity to respond to the issues they raised."

The authority agreed, finding that Ms Stewart's resignation in July 2010 was, in reality, a constructive dismissal.

"I conclude that there was a concerted effort on the part of Mr Van Den Broek to make life difficult for Ms Stewart.

"... It seems that her explanations were treated with little regard by Inspector Van Den Broek, especially in the matter of data entry."

The authority awarded Ms Stewart $9000 for humiliation, loss of dignity and injury to feelings.

- APNZ

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