SENIOR News Limited journalist Cameron Stewart says a ''toxic'' atmosphere between Victoria Police's top brass and their federal counterparts is to blame for criminal charges being laid against a policeman accused of leaking to him.
Stewart, 49, identified Detective Senior Constable Simon Artz as his source for a front-page story about imminent anti-terrorism raids in Melbourne in August 2009.
But The Australian journalist told the Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday that the Australian Federal Police had been the biggest leakers, because he had no idea about their operation until they told him.
From the witness box in Artz's committal hearing yesterday, Stewart launched a tirade against ''police politics'', the Office of Police Integrity and former chief commissioner Simon Overland.
Stewart accused the AFP of being ''embarrassed'' about a furore over when the newspaper was available for sale, to the point of misrepresenting his comments to them.
The court has heard that copies of The Australian were for sale from 1.50am. The raids began just before 4.30am. He said he had no idea about the newspaper's production deadlines and told AFP staff to ask the paper's editors. That conversation never took place, he said.
The Australian's editors agreed to hold Stewart's story at the urging of the AFP, in exchange for the force giving Stewart a briefing about its operation.
Stewart praised Artz's character and professionalism, describing him as ''a good man''. ''I know he was well regarded by the African community, with which he dealt a lot, well regarded in legal circles and well regarded amongst his colleagues, and my personal belief is that he certainly doesn't fit the mould of a corrupt copper,'' Stewart said.
''On the contrary, he is a man who made a misjudgment on one day of an otherwise stellar 20-year police career.
''I personally find it abhorrent the OPI (Office of Police Integrity) chose to recommend criminal charges against Mr Artz for [what] could surely be dealt with by internal disciplinary procedures within Victoria Police and I wonder to what degree that decision was fuelled by the toxic, high-profile atmosphere injected in this case from day one by Simon Overland.
''He made it very clear he did not agree with the federal police's decision to brief The Australian about aspects of Operation Neath. Police politics in this case have done no favours for Mr Artz … The real leaker was … the AFP.''
Defence counsel Bill Stuart said: ''I suggest to you that Mr Artz is not a leaker of information. You simply used him to confirm your true source.''
Stewart replied: ''And that's not the case.''
Prosecutor Nick Papas, SC, asked Stewart if Artz had not divulged information, would he have approached the AFP for information. ''Not at that time, no,'' Stewart said.
The hearing before magistrate Peter Mealy is expected to conclude today.