A third inquiry into whether bullying allegations against Deputy Commissioner Wally Haumaha were "handled in a timely and appropriate manner" could be opened, the State Services Commission has confirmed.
The Government inquiry by Mary Scholtens, QC, will consider the 2016 allegations but only in terms of what information was potentially available during the recruitment process which led to Haumaha's appointment in May.
Her inquiry was ordered by Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters after the Herald revealed Haumaha's controversial comments about rape allegations against his friends by Louise Nicholas.
The QC was supposed to report back by the end of September, but asked for an extra five weeks to interview witnesses after the Herald reported three women walked out of Police National Headquarters in June 2016 and refused to return because of Haumaha's alleged behaviour.
A second inquiry by the Independent Police Conduct Authority is now investigating formal complaints laid by two of the women.
The policy analysts - two from the Ministry of Justice, one from Corrections - were working on a joint project based in the Māori, Pacific, Ethnic Services division run by Haumaha, a superintendent at the time.
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 Ministry of Justice offices.
Warren Young, IPCA general manager, said the police watchdog was hoping to finish its report to coincide with the release of the findings of Scholtens in November.
"We are working to complete it as soon as possible and certainly before the end of the year."
Now, the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has confirmed a third inquiry could be opened "if necessary".
National MP Chris Bishop wrote to Hughes asking him to investigate conflicting statements issued by the Justice Ministry, Corrections and Police following the Herald story.
Corrections said there was no record of alleged bullying, while the Justice Ministry confirmed issues were raised.
"The issues around behaviour were raised at the highest level between the acting chief executive of the ministry, Audrey Sonerson, and Deputy Commissioner of Police Mike Clement," said deputy chief executive Colin Lynch.
"The ministry expected police to follow up this issue appropriately."
And the police say an allegation of bullying was made to Clement by a "third party, external to all agencies".
"Mr Clement immediately made contact with the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Corrections to request more information and advise that the staff involved could make a complaint if they wished," said a police spokesperson.
"But with no formal complaint, or more information, the matter could go no further."
One of the three women told the Herald the trio had raised the matter with their respective managers and the women had believed their managers would handle that.
She said she was never told about the approach by Clement, or asked to make a formal complaint.
The IPCA will also investigate whether Haumaha telephoned a senior police officer - who apparently witnessed an alleged incident - to seek his support.
While the IPCA and Scholtens inquiries will examine different aspects of the bullying allegations, Bishop asked Hughes to open a separate inquiry to look at how the allegations were handled by the public service.
"It is clear that something has gone fundamentally wrong inside the state sector when three different departments have three different views about how to characterise these women's complaints and what was done about them," Bishop wrote.
Hughes has written back this week to say the Scholtens inquiry, although not investigating the truth of the complaints, will form a view on the seriousness of the bullying allegations.
This will enable the QC to determine how the relevant agencies should have dealt with the information and whether this should have been available to the SSC as part of the appointment process.
"I would need to form a view on exactly the same matter," Hughes told Bishop, although he would wait until the Government Inquiry was completed.
He also noted the SSC did not have jurisdiction to investigate the adequacy of the response by the police.
"My responsibility is to provide assurance that where allegations of wrongdoing arise within the Public Service they are handled in a timely and appropriate manner," Hughes said in a statement to the Herald.
"At the conclusion of the [Scholtens] inquiry, if necessary, I will provide that assurance in relation to the two departments concerned."
Hughes was on the SSC panel, along with Bush, which recommended Haumaha as one of two candidates for the deputy job.
The Scholtens inquiry will look into whether all relevant was provided to, or gather by, the SSC as part of the recruitment process.
The QC has identified 27 witnesses who will also need to be interviewed by the IPCA.
The inquiry into Haumaha's appointment was announced the day the Herald revealed comments he made during Operation Austin, an investigation into historic police rape allegations made by Louise Nicholas.
He described his friends Brad Shipton as a "softie" and Bob Schollum as a "legend" with women, while one officer told the 2004 investigation into the police sex allegations that Haumaha described Nicholas' allegations as "a nonsense".
While Haumaha has apologised, Police Minister Stuart Nash said he was unaware of the "deeply disappointing" comments when he gave Haumaha's name to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for the deputy commissioner role.
How a political fiasco unfolded
• June 29: Herald reveals Wally Haumaha's statement to Operation Austin. Police Minister Stuart Nash says he was unaware of them. Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters announces inquiry into appointment process.
• July 2: Herald reveals Haumaha was once picked to be a candidate for New Zealand First.
• July 23: Herald reveals Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement warned Police Commissioner Mike Bush about Haumaha's history. Dr Pauline Kingi announced as chair of the inquiry.
• July 31: Herald reveals Dr Pauline Kingi endorsed Haumaha on LinkedIn. She steps down the next day.
• August 6: Herald reveals Winston Peters was a guest speaker at Waitetī Marae to celebrate Haumaha's promotion to Assistant Commissioner and other links to New Zealand First.
• August 9: Herald reveals three policy analysts from Justice and Corrections working on joint project leave Police National Headquarters because of alleged bullying behaviour by Haumaha.
• August 10: Mary Scholtens QC named as new inquiry head.
• August 14: Herald reveals internal police investigation into complaint Haumaha contacted a lower-ranking police officer ahead of Herald story about the bullying allegations.
• August 20: Mary Scholtens to start inquiry and report back six weeks later.
• September 6: Two women make formal complaints about Haumaha's alleged behaviour, Independent Police Conduct Authority to investigate.