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A policewoman who was arrested over false suspicions of child sex abuse will receive compensation after detectives mistook her 32-year-old former husband for a 10-year-old boy in an intimate photo of the couple.
The County Court of Victoria has ordered Victoria Police to pay $85,000 for arresting and detaining the officer, whose ex-husband was under investigation for child sex abuse allegations.
A policewoman will receive $85,000 after being falsely arrested over child sex abuse.Credit: Darrian Traynor
Professional standards command detectives held the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, for almost five hours on February 4, 2019 after a separate investigation into her then-husband, who was eventually convicted of child sex abuse.
Investigators questioned the woman about an intimate photograph that purportedly showed her with a child after she had given them her phone to help with their investigation into her husband.
However, the image was of the policewoman and her ex-husband, who was 32 years old at the time and wearing his wedding ring.
During an interview with the policewoman, a detective asked why the male, thought to be a 10-year-old, was wearing the ring on his right hand.
She explained the photo was a “selfie” taken in a mirror, which had inverted the image.
Detectives also asked why the male in the image, whose face was obscured, had virtually no body hair. The policewoman said her ex-husband routinely removed most of his body hair with clippers or a razor.
She was also questioned about a scar and a bent finger, before explaining how her ex had sustained the injuries.
The woman was eventually released and exonerated, but she launched a civil claim against the force in the County Court.
Following a nine-day trial in July, Judge Julie Clayton found that Victoria Police had failed to establish they had reasonable grounds that the officer had committed an indictable offence.
“She was unlawfully arrested and, for the period of her detention, she was falsely imprisoned. The state is liable for the damages caused by her false imprisonment,” Clayton said in her judgment on October 31.
Clayton also awarded $25,000 in aggravated damages because of the egregious conduct of some officers involved in the investigation who later provided evidence at the trial.
“At least some police officers, to this day, consider that the subject image shows her committing an offence against a child, notwithstanding that she has been officially exonerated,” Clayton said.
One officer told the court: “Well, I don’t know why they exonerated her, but my belief was and remains that that’s a child.”
Clayton also criticised the force over its handling of the matter.
“Police maintained that they made no error in their investigation, and that Victoria Police has nothing to learn from her arrest, despite being wrong that the subject image was child abuse material, and despite the fact that the matter could have been investigated and resolved without arrest,” Clayton said in the ruling.
The intimate image of the female officer and her ex-husband was obtained by detectives from the Dandenong sexual offences and child abuse investigation team (SOCIT) as part of an investigation into her ex.
The policewoman, who was given a pseudonym during the trial, separated from her husband when she became aware of allegations against him and provided extensive assistance to SOCIT investigators.
According to judgment, she provided additional electronic devices that police had not seized during an initial raid, secretly recorded a conversation with her ex-husband, extracted an admission about some of his offending and made a statement to police.
Her ex-husband was charged and convicted of child sex offences.
Robinson Gill principal solicitor Jeremy King, who represented the woman, declined to comment.
Victoria Police declined to comment.
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