May 08, 2014 12:00AM
SENSATIONAL claims by a NSW Police detective about his force’s investigation of Catholic Church child abuse, which helped trigger a royal commission, are not supported by the evidence, a state inquiry is expected to report this month.
Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox was quickly dubbed a “hero cop” after he used a live interview on the ABC’s Lateline in November 2012 to criticise his employer, including saying he was “ordered to stand down” from one such case.
While the inquiry’s staff declined to comment and The Australian has not seen the inquiry’s report, it is not expected to support Mr Fox’s claim.
The Australian expects the inquiry to find that Mr Fox was, in fact, never part of the formal police investigation, established to investigate the alleged cover-up of crimes committed by serial pedophile priest Denis McAlinden.
Evidence before the commission suggests Mr Fox instead pursued his own private investigation, without telling his commanders what he was doing and repeatedly leaking confidential information to the press.
Giving evidence to the inquiry, Mr Fox went further in his criticism of the police, saying a “Catholic mafia” existed within the ranks and the official McAlinden investigation was “a sham” and “set up to fail”.
The inquiry, led by state prosecutor Margaret Cunneen SC, is also not expected to support these claims.
The Lateline broadcast was widely seen as a key factor behind the government’s decision, just four days later, to announce a national royal commission into child sexual abuse, while the program team subsequently won a prestigious Walkley journalism award.
Fairfax journalist Joanne McCarthy, who also reported Mr Fox’s claim that the Catholic Church “silences victims and hinders police investigations”, received the Gold Walkley Award for her campaigning work calling for the royal commission.
Emails between Mr Fox, McCarthy and Lateline, presented in evidence to the state inquiry, describe his interview as part of a campaign to “drip feed” information to the media to force the commission to be established.
In one email, sent the night before the broadcast, Mr Fox asks Lateline not to include a separate interview with NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge.
“If we can string it out and drip feed, it will only give us longer coverage and a much better impact. Please don’t lose sight of our objective here for a good quick story now,” the policeman wrote.
“No worries Peter. Whatever you want,” a Lateline staffer replied. The staffer also asked if Lateline could send him a copy of the program’s script before it went to air “so you can take out anything you don’t like”.
Announced a day after the broadcast, the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry was specifically set up to investigate Mr Fox’s claims about church cover-ups and that he was “ordered to stand down” from the McAlinden investigation.
Its report is not expected to make any significant adverse findings against those senior police officers directly involved in the investigation, codenamed Strike Force Lantle.
It will find the strike force was initially delayed, partly because many of its officers went on sick leave, although this did not have a major bearing on the outcome of its work, which was completed before the Lateline broadcast.
The Australian also expects the inquiry to find the Catholic Church did know McAlinden was abusing children at the time. Specifically, it is expected to find the late bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Leo Clarke, received repeated allegations but did not pass them to police. McAlinden, who is thought to have abused dozens of children across three states and a number of other countries, was never convicted of his crimes. He died in 2005. The publication of the inquiry’s findings, due before May 31, will inevitably increase the focus on both Mr Fox, who has received widespread public support, including from many victims of child abuse, and Lateline.
During the broadcast, Mr Fox was repeatedly asked by host Tony Jones to clarify his allegation that he was told to leave the McAlinden investigation.
“You are the person … who knows the most about this case … and you are told by a superior to stand down from the case and give over your material. Is that how it happened?” Jones asked.
“Yes. That’s it in a nutshell,” Mr Fox replied.
Lateline contacted NSW Police before the program went to air and was told Mr Fox knew he could not be part of Strike Force Lantle as he worked for another local area command to that running the investigation.
When Jones put this to him on air, Mr Fox replied: “That’s the first time I’ve ever had those comments made to me.”
Mr Fox and the ABC did not comment last night, while McCarthy could not be contacted.