Chief Ombudsmen to investigate police refusal to release bugged Operation Austin phone call which mentions Wally Haumaha.

A bugged phone conversation in which Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha is referred to by name is being kept secret by police.

The Herald on Sunday asked for transcripts of telephone conversations intercepted by Operation Austin detectives investigating historic rape allegations against police officers.

Haumaha was friends with Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and Clint Rickards and worked with them in the Rotorua police station in the 1980s and 1990s.

Operation Austin began in 2004 when Louise Nicholas publicly accused the trio of raping her.

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Her allegations also led to a wide-ranging Commission of Inquiry into police conduct.

Haumaha was a senior sergeant at the time and was interviewed as part of the investigation into Nicholas' allegations.

He described his three friends in glowing terms, while another police officer said Haumaha told him Nicholas' allegations were a "nonsense".

A government inquiry will now probe why those comments - which Haumaha has apologised for - were not disclosed to Police Minister Stuart Nash and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern before they recommended his appointment as Deputy Police Commissioner in June.

As part of an ongoing investigation, the Herald on Sunday asked the police under the Official Information Act to release any Operation Austin job sheets - typed notes of police officers during inquiries - or intercepted conversations which mention Haumaha.

The police asked for more time to collect the job sheets which mention Haumaha before deciding whether the documents will be released.

While there were no records of Haumaha speaking to anyone whose phone was tapped, the police confirmed his name was mentioned by those under surveillance.

"On one occasion, the parties to a conversation have made a brief reference to Mr Haumaha by name," wrote Jane Archibald, the acting deputy chief executive for Public Affairs.

She declined to release the transcript under privacy grounds.

"Interception of private communications is an invasive investigation technique. Information contained in private communications or in a transcript obtained from an intercepted communication is personal to the participants to the conversation," Archibald wrote.

"On the basis that a government inquiry is intended to address public interest concerns regarding the process for the appointment of Deputy Commissioner Haumaha, and considering the strong privacy interest with intercepted private communications, Police believe there are no other considerations which render it desirable, in the public interest, to make that information available."

Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum during their sentencing the for pack-rape of a woman in Mt Maunganui in the 1980s. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum during their sentencing the for pack-rape of a woman in Mt Maunganui in the 1980s. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

The Herald on Sunday has appealed the police decision and the Chief Ombudsmen, Judge Peter Boshier, is investigating.

However, the police confirmed they would release to the government inquiry any material requested.

Rickards, Shipton and Schollum claimed the group sex with Nicholas was consensual and were found not guilty at the 2006 trial.

The jury was unaware Shipton and Schollum were already in prison on other rape charges laid by Operation Austin.

Operation Austin and the Commission of Inquiry, led by Dame Margaret Bazley, exposed sleazy elements of police culture and led to widespread changes in the force.

Queen's Counsel Mary Scholtens - who worked on the Commission of Inquiry - will start her investigation on August 20 and report back six weeks later.

She was appointed on Friday after the previous chair, Dr Pauline Kingi, stood down when the Herald revealed she had endorsed Haumaha on the LinkedIn professional networking site.

Mary Scholtens QC in 2004 at the first meeting of the Commission of Inquiry into police conduct. Photo / NZ Herald.
Mary Scholtens QC in 2004 at the first meeting of the Commission of Inquiry into police conduct. Photo / NZ Herald.

The inquiry will "examine, identify, and report" on the adequacy of the process that led to Haumaha's appointment as the Deputy Police Commissioner.

"In the event the inquiry finds deficiencies in the appointment process, the Prime Minister will seek advice from the Solicitor General or the State Services Commissioner on the appropriate next steps," said Internal Affairs Minister Tracey Martin, who is overseeing the inquiry.

Scholtens was announced a day after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was "hugely frustrated" with new information about Haumaha being revealed after his promotion.

Her comments came after the Herald revealed three women working on a joint project walked out of Police National Headquarters because of alleged bullying by Haumaha.

The policy analysts, two from the Justice Ministry, one from Corrections, were based at PNHQ in Wellington working in the Māori, Pacific, Ethnic Services division run by Haumaha, a superintendent at the time.

The cross-sector project aimed to improve "justice outcomes" for Māori.

Alleged verbal bullying contributed to the women leaving PNHQ in June 2016, feeling "devalued and disillusioned".

The trio told their managers, did not return to PNHQ, and continued working on the project from the Justice Ministry offices.

The inquiry was wide enough in scope to consider the bullying allegations, two senior ministers, Grant Robertson and Chris Hipkins, told Parliament on Thursday.

Robertson also said the chief executives of the Justice Ministry and Corrections, Andrew Bridgman and Ray Smith respectively, would be asked how the bullying allegations were handled.

"I'm hugely frustrated to be in a situation where an appointment has been made and now we're having information being drip-fed out, which should have been made available at the time of the appointment," Ardern said.

One of the three women now plans to make a formal complaint about Haumaha's alleged behaviour.

She said the trio had raised the matter with their respective managers, she was never asked to make a formal complaint, and the women had believed their managers would handle that.