The David Eastman saga shows the dangers of "tunnel vision" constraining a police investigation, a leading barrister says.
The Australian Federal Police are remaining tight-lipped about the findings of the Eastman inquiry, released on Friday.
The inquiry found that investigating police, at times, crossed the line into “unlawful and unfair” conduct, while acknowledging they were operating in an extremely challenging environment.
Police harassment included verbal abuse, aggressive confrontations, repeatedly surrounding Eastman and invading his personal space, and forcing an interview on him when he was in custody on another matter, despite clear advice he wished to exercise his right not to speak about the murder.
ACT Policing did not comment in detail on Monday when asked whether such behaviour had now been stamped out, saying only that it “always reviews and updates its policies and procedures based on best practice”.
“ACT Policing will consider the Board of Inquiry report and decision of the Full Bench of the ACT Supreme Court in due course,” a spokesman said.
Barrister Greg Stretton, SC, president of the ACT Bar Association, said the Eastman case highlights a different trap police can fall into during criminal investigations.
Eastman was identified as a key suspect almost immediately, and police spent years watching and listening to the former public servant.
Mr Stretton said, in some cases, police can become so focused on an individual suspect that it can negatively impact on the investigation.
“It just shows you what happens when someone is picked out as being, rightly or wrongly, the perp,” Mr Stretton said.
“Everything that incriminates that person is put on the file, and anything exculpatory is just ignored.”
He said that was still a problem plaguing modern-day police investigations, including one case in which Mr Stretton said he had recently been involved.
“I do believe you can get this tunnel vision; I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”
Mr Stretton said the Eastman case did not reflect poorly on the ACT’s appeal processes.
Eastman went through a string of appeals, and a 2005 inquiry into his fitness to plead, but it took the Eastman inquiry to identify serious flaws with the case.
But the Eastman inquiry had a far broader remit and a different purpose to the appellate courts, and Mr Stretton said there shouldn't be any criticism of the appeal system.
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