A former police commander, who was one of the key investigators of Melbourne’s notorious gangland war, has escaped without a conviction for leaking information about a corruption probe to a junior female officer.
Despite Stuart Bateson pleading not guilty – which can result in a harsher sentence – Magistrate Simon Zebrowski gave significant weight to the former policeman’s distinguished career, service to the community, and prior good character in deciding on Friday to fine him $6000 without a conviction.
Stuart Bateson outside of court back in June.Credit:Joe Armao
The criminal charges, and publicity of them, Magistrate Zebrowski said, has “no doubt been an ignominious fall from grace”.
The magistrate found that Mr Bateson, once touted as a future chief commissioner, was guilty of three charges of disclosing sensitive information about a secret corruption probe to a female colleague 18 years his junior.
Mr Bateson, who the court heard has now retired from the force due to ill health, breached an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission confidentiality notice that made it an offence to disclose that he was both called to give evidence to the corruption watchdog and any information about its investigation.
Magistrate Zebrowski said it was difficult to imagine how Mr Bateson’s disclosures to the junior officer would have impacted the investigation.
The officer when he was a detective senior sergeant in 2009, with the matriarch of the Moran crime family, Judy Moran.Credit:Justin McManus
“You told her, in a nutshell, to tell the truth and not to try to protect you. None of the matters you told her to say were untrue,” the magistrate said.
The IBAC investigation centred around conflicts of interest and allegations that senior police were interfering in sexual misconduct investigations.
The court heard Mr Bateson gave the policewoman, five ranks his junior, and whose identity is suppressed, an advanced warning of what IBAC was looking into.
The policewoman, who gave evidence in court, said Mr Bateson visited her home in August 2018 to warn her she might be called and coached her on what to say. There were two other disclosures, once in his car.
“He said that I may be called in and spoken to,” she told the court.
“He said that I was to be honest.”
She said she felt intimidated and pressured.
“I felt coached because he said, ‘If I were asked, I would say.’ Given the age difference and the significant rank difference, and this was clearly work-related, I felt quite pressured to oblige.”
Stuart Bateson at a press conference about the Bourke Street massacre in 2017.Credit:Eddie Jim
Mr Bateson had been with Victoria Police for 32 years.
He was a Valour Award recipient and was commended for his leadership in responding to the Bourke Street massacre in 2017.
His role with the Purana taskforce investigating the gangland war in the late 1990s and 2000s became the basis for the character Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Owen, played by Rodger Corser, in the Underbelly series.
The work of the detectives from Purana has been heavily criticised in the recent royal commission that exposed Victoria Police’s use of Lawyer X, the pseudonym given to Nicola Gobbo, the former defence barrister who gave up information about her own clients, including drug traffickers Tony Mokbel and Carl Williams.
Mr Bateson’s lawyer Belinda Franjic told a plea hearing last month that her client’s “glittering career” had come to an end.
The court heard Mr Bateson had been suffering from chronic, long-standing and undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This wasn’t some high-flying cocky senior police officer thinking he was above the law and could do what he wanted, this was a man who was highly professional, highly successful but who was expiring a substantial amount of inner turmoil,” Ms Franjic said.
Actor Rodger Corser played a character based on Stuart Bateson in the Underbelly series.
But prosecutor Sarah Thomas said Mr Bateson was one of the most senior officers in the state and his crimes were “considered and calculated”.
“He did think he was above the law,” she said.
“He was aware of the consequences of his actions.”
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