Victoria

IBAC probe continues into Ballarat officers despite Victoria Police finding

The state's anti-corruption commission will pursue two Ballarat police officers accused of excessive force against vulnerable women in their custody despite Victoria Police internal investigators finding no evidence of criminal conduct.

The two officers, who cannot be named for legal reasons, have had their suspensions lifted after a review of the allegations by the police Professional Standards Command.

IBAC is investigating claims of excessive force by Ballarat police officers.
IBAC is investigating claims of excessive force by Ballarat police officers. Photo: Rob Gunstone

The force watchdog found in December that the alleged conduct of the officers, a man and a woman, was not criminal.

The finding may put Victoria Police at odds with the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission, which says its investigation into the allegations is ongoing.

But IBAC's investigation, dubbed Operation Ross, is also a broader probe. The commission is investigating if human rights violations occurred, and if there is a culture of excessive force at the Ballarat station, as well as assessing the force's internal reporting systems.

And despite the police finding of no criminal conduct, the officers may still be charged with disciplinary offences.

"The review did find a number of poor decisions were made in the management of a prisoner, and as such the matter has been referred to local management in Ballarat for consideration of discipline and training needs," a police spokesman said.

Operation Ross was launched by IBAC last March when it was notified by Professional Standards of an allegation of excessive force during the arrest and detention of a vulnerable person at the station. It led to a probe into previous complaints regarding three other vulnerable people with incidents captured on CCTV footage.

One allegation  was  that officers kicked and stamped on a mentally unwell woman as she lay handcuffed on the ground inside the Ballarat police station.

This allegation, among several others, came to light in a Supreme Court hearing in August. Since IBAC announced it would investigate the allegations by way of a public hearing, the officers, backed by the Police Association, have been fighting to keep their identities secret. Their appeals to the Supreme Court, and then the Court of Appeal, have been dismissed.

In the September Court of Appeal hearing, IBAC Commissioner Ted Woodward told the court the duo needed to be questioned publicly because it was an exceptional case.

There had been more excessive-force complaints at Ballarat than in other police stations in the state, he said.

But union secretary Ron Iddles said in a statement to members last November that public examinations expose officers to the risk of being tried in public before they are charged.

"In our opinion, public hearings do not provide procedural fairness, and in essence act contrary to the presumption of innocence," he said.

The officers have now turned to the High Court, which granted them leave to appeal on February 2.

It will be the first time IBAC has been taken to the High Court.

The public examinations, which were planned to take a week and examine up to 15 police officers, are on hold.