Decorated Officers lonely battle over costs heads to bankruptcy—(The Sydney Morning Herald)

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The Sydney Herald

Geesche Jacobsen Crime Editor

May 30, 2009

YEARS after leaving the police service, Jim Corbett received a police medal yesterday for “diligent and ethical service”. But the honour does not stop the former police radio expert from feeling “like your best friend has turned on you”. The government he served for 25 years has treated him unfairly, he says, and refused his request for an independent and open review of his allegations of perjury and cover-up. Instead, he is being asked to pay $150,000 in legal costs for a court case he lost against the police in the High Court last year – a payment he and his wife, Robyn, say will bankrupt them. Mr Corbett had challenged a police raid on his house 11 years ago, when officers searched for a pump-action shotgun he had already handed to police in a gun amnesty eight months earlier.

He says police knew he no longer owned the firearm, used to control snakes on his farm, and had no reason to apply for a warrant. They could have known what gun he owned only by accessing amnesty records, he said.

Days before the search – overworked, depressed and on antidepressants – he had tried to kill himself, leaving behind a note.

He survived and was being treated when police interpreted his suicide note as a threat.

“Police will die,” the lengthy note said. But the comment was in the context of Mr Corbett’s distress about the decision by police to abandon the new radio communication system he had built and instead sign the controversial contract with US communications company Motorola. He feared the decision would mean the lives of country police would remain in danger.

The request to search his property came directly from the former police commissioner Peter Ryan, a colleague later told the court.

The court case against the search warrant was fought on a legal issue, when documents he considered crucial were ruled inadmissable and important police witnesses were too sick to attend court.

Since then, Mr Corbett has complained to the Ombudsman, who refused to make a finding because of conflicting versions of events, and to the Police Integrity Commission, which found last year “some of the information obtained by the commission … corroborated your original allegations, however there is insufficient evidence to support further investigation”. Mr Corbett says he has not been told which allegations have been corroborated.

He has written to his local MP, the Police Commissioner and the Police Minister. His solicitor is still negotiating with the Government to have the payment reduced because of the Corbetts’ financial problems.

But even the Government’s own solicitor allegedly told his solicitor she was surprised at the hard line being taken against him – perhaps because of Mr Corbett’s complaints and agitation through third parties.

“It gets to the stage where everybody thinks you are just a non-stop whinger,” Mr Corbett said, admitting to feeling helpless, alone and disillusioned. His wife is facing serious health problems, the couple are “mortgaged to the eyeballs” and no one is prepared to listen, he said.

He said his local member, the Emergency Services Minister, Steve Whan, who awarded him the medal yesterday, said police officers who spent their lives in public service were often under-appreciated.

A spokesman for the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said that “at the time of the warrant [on Mr Corbett’s property] police were acting in good faith, concerned not only for the welfare of Mr Corbett but of others, and have never been criticised for doing so”.

He said police would continue to offer whatever welfare assistance they could provide to the Corbetts.