Fran O'Sullivan: Police excuses ring hollow

By Fran O'Sullivan

Former National Leader Don Brash cuts a rather pathetic figure as he fruitlessly tries to get to the bottom of who stole the cache of his emails Nicky Hager used as the basis of his book The Hollow Men.

There are plenty of theories doing the rounds on who gave Hager the emails he first spun out to other journalists to thwart National's chances at the 2005 election, then used in his own demolition job.

Hager maintains a bunch of National Party members who did not like where Brash was taking their party gave him the emails out of a higher sense of loyalty to their own political ideals - National Party members who were so loyal they lacked the guts to either challenge Brash openly, or, use party channels to gut his leadership. But that hasn't stopped the rumour mill.

Theory number one: A jealous Brash staffer who did not like the boss's linkage to former Business Roundtable high-up Diane Foreman gave the cache to opposing politicians who then gave it to Hager.

Theory number two: A National MP's wife acted as the intermediary between her grumpy husband and Hager. Theory number three: It was a spook job (either private or public investigator) orchestrated by parties close to the past Government.

With all this intrigue swirling you would have thought it in the national interest that Police National HQ would get to the bottom of the issue. Brash after all took his party within two seats of claiming victory in 2005. He was odds on to be Prime Minister. But no.

Police HQ have repeatedly thumbed their nose at the former political leader by assigning a hopelessly inept cop (when it comes to prosecuting politically aligned crimes) to take charge of the investigation. The top cop was allowed to get away with tarrying for the best part of a year before getting down to business, then refusing to release the full file of his on-again off-again investigation.

The probe swings into possibly on-again mode whenever pesky questions are asked about the diligence with which former detective inspector Harry Quinn pursued his inquiries. And into off-again mode the moment the Ombudsman says she cannot release the full Brash file because Police might re-open it.

What a farce.

Brash has had no help from Prime Minister John Key. It is within Key's powers to direct an independent review of the police investigation. But though he was the direct beneficiary of Brash's downfall he is reluctant to give the case oxygen.

Key tries to blow criticism away by saying police told him there had been "security weaknesses" around the Opposition Leader's office at the time Brash's emails got into circulation. "What (they) concluded at the time and I don't think it's changed is that they just can't be sure how that information came into the public domain."

Surely they could not have reached their conclusion before launching a full investigation? That is what the PM appears to be saying, but he just cannot be bothered to ask why the police (who, after all, did not lay charges against Labour figures for plundering the public purse at the 2005 election) have acted in this way. No wonder Brash is raising questions on whether the police are politically biased or merely incompetent.

Brash has had no help from Police Minister Judith Collins either. Collins was Brash's close political chum during the dying days of his leadership when it seemed as if he might just survive. But she has not asked for a review.

It now seems abundantly clear Quinn's pursuit of Hager's sources was little more than a polite run around the traps. But the police had no qualms about obtaining a search warrant for the Herald on Sunday offices to try to get hold of a tape recording of the exclusive interview celebrity sports journalist Tony Veitch gave to its star columnist shortly after his bashing scandal became public.

Or about trying to force TV3 news host John Campbell into revealing the identity of the exclusive source on the theft of Victoria Cross medals from the army museum.

Harry Quinn resorted to neither measure. Bizarre really - police use the full extent of the law to retrieve information from professional journalists. But a political activist is a no-go zone.

This is frankly unacceptable in a democratic system where authorities like the police should be expected to get to the bottom of what was obviously a politically motivated burglary.

- NZ Herald

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