Haughey cleared as police cover-up fails

Bede Haughey at Springboard.

Attempts to suppress vital information connected to an alleged “negative culture” at Warkworth police station have failed.

A document secured by Mahurangi Matters vindicates former Sergeant Bede Haughey and instead highlights failings in more senior police management based in Orewa.

Sgt Haughey was first threatened with transfer to Orewa after allegations of an alleged “negative culture” at Warkworth police and that the local force had “lost the confidence” of the Warkworth community.

The allegations emerged in September 2017. Rather than be transferred, Sergeant Haughey took leave until the allegations could be cleared up.

He subsequently retired from the police after 19 years service in December 2017, following a mediation hearing. Parties agreed that matters aired at the hearing would remain confidential.

At the time, an investigation into the culture at Warkworth police – referred to as a Culture Pulse Check – was conducted by Stacey Scott, a human resources advisor from the Waikato police district.

Ms Scott spent several days at theWarkworth police station probing officers on their experiences there and the “general vibe of the station”.  

Attempting to discover if there was any substance to the “negative culture” charge, Mahurangi Matters requested a copy of Ms Scott’s Culture Pulse Check report under the Official Information Act (OIA) in January 2018.

In response, the police Area Commander for  Rodney, Inspector Bruce O’Brien, said there was no such report and declined the request.

However, Mahurangi Matters believed it was inconceivable that an investigation of this nature could not have resulted in a written report, a suspicion confirmed by several police sources.

Mahurangi Matters appealed to the Ombudsman to seek assistance in securing the report.

In August last year, Inspector O’Brien reiterated that the report did not exist, but conceded that the findings had been summarised in an email.

He declined to release the email on the grounds that participants in the survey had been assured it would remain confidential and that matters discussed necessarily remained private to “maintain the effective management of police staff and resources”.    

Mahurangi Matters disagreed and again appealed to the Ombudsman requesting release of the email.

The Ombudsman responded saying it appeared police were entitled to withhold some information in the email under sections of the OIA, but there was uncertainty on whether they could withhold all of it.

The email, written by Ms Scott, was eventually released by Area Commander for Waitemata North Mark Fergus, with some redactions, at the end of May – almost 18 months after Mahurangi Matters made its initial OIA request.

Far from finding a “negative culture” at Warkworth police, Ms Scott wrote that her overall impression was of a group of friendly, hardworking staff.

“It was very clear that the staff genuinely care about the community and each other, and the station operated much like a little family,” she wrote.

At the same time, she noted a “feeling of disconnect” between Warkworth staff and management at area level and a “lack of visibility of the Rodney Area Leadership Team”. Staff also complained their safety was compromised by having to patrol alone, and they lacked the support staff to prepare prosecutions, unlike their urban counterparts.

Mr Haughey says the shortage of staff was also a concern of his over years of working at the station.

“We were constantly arguing for more staff,” he says.

Mr Haughey says he is delighted the email has surfaced and feels completely vindicated.

“The most disappointing aspect from my perspective is that the police were so reluctant to release the truth to the community, so that any concerns that some had could have been allayed and confidence restored,” he says.

He says the Police Association, acting for Mr Haughey, made similar requests for information on the culture pulse check and suffered the same stone walling that Mahurangi Matters did.

Mr Haughey says it’s possible that if the details of the culture pulse check had emerged earlier, then things might have turned out differently, but this is not certain.

“The moment you cast aspersions on someone’s good name, the damage is already done to a certain extent,” he says.     

Mr Haughey remains disappointed that some sections of the email remain blacked out.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he says.

In a letter to Mahurangi Matters accompanying the released email, Inspector Mark Fergus says a significant amount of work has been done to resolve Warkworth staff concerns, including the concern of patrolling solo. He adds that that the feeling of disconnect or distrust of management raised by staff has also been addressed.

“My leadership team and the District Commander have all increased our visibility and engagement with staff at the station,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, Mr Haughey says he is enjoying retirement in Point Wells – a community he loves.

He continues to work alongside Springboard Community Works assisting at-risk youth. His next project will be to produce a video for use in schools to discourage methamphetamine addiction.

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