Tele: Australian police forced to pay millions for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment

An Australian lawyer travelled thousands of kilometres to deliver a backpack stuffed full of cash to two Indonesian teenage boys as compensation for being unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned by the Australian Federal Police.

Peter O’Brien handed over the rupiahs in person because the boys known only as SU and BS didn’t even have a bank account.

Their compensation case — for their harrowing experience being thrown in an adult jail with murderers and drug dealers — is one of 16 botched, unlawful and malicious prosecutions that the AFP has been forced to pay out.

It has cost taxpayers more than $4 million over five years.

Solicitor Peter O’Brien and the two Indonesian boys who received compensation for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment. Picture: Supplied

Mr O’Brien said his clients were just 14 and 16 years old when the AFP arrested and charged them for sailing an asylum seeker boat into Australia waters, relying on a dodgy wrist x-ray scan to say they were over 18 and should be treated as adults.

The boys had been tricked by people smugglers into crewing the boat and spent a year in Sydney’s Silverwater jail. At the time people smuggling by adults attracted a mandatory jail term. Mr O’Brien took action on behalf of the boys against the AFP and won.

He said the money changed the lives of the two teenagers, their families and the community in the picturesque city of Bau Bau in southeast Sulawesi.

“They used the money to buy fishing boats for their village,” said Mr O’Brien.

And the boats enabled them all to earn a living and the whole village turned out to thank him for “saving their future.”

Picturesque Makasar Island located just around 30 minutes boat ride from Bau Bau in South-East Sulawesi.

Out of the 16 cases the AFP was forced to pay out on, 14 of them have included confidentiality clauses.

The AFP has 3258 sworn officers as well as 693 protective service officers who have arrest powers.

The AFP was contacted for comment, but did not respond by deadline.

By comparison Queensland police who have four times the number of sworn officers at more than 12,000 paid out more than $6.2 million in compensation from 2017 to 2020.

NSW police have settled more than 1000 civil claims made against officers in the past four years with $24 million paid out for 300 civil cases in just the past year, 2019/2020, according to documents obtained by Greens MP David Shoebridge.

The Victorian and South Australian police media units advised a Freedom of Information request would be needed to obtain their compensation payouts.

Mr O’Brien states that while the figure is no shock, it’s an important exercise in accountability.

“The volume of cases is proof in and of itself that change is needed within the Police Force. Until there’s a major shift in attitudes, these cases will continue to roll in and continue to cost the taxpayer millions,” he said.

Among the most high profile known cases in which the AFP has had to pay compensation was to CFMEU boss and former NRL star John Lomax.

The AFP charged the construction union official with blackmail during the trade union’s royal commission in 2015 but the charges were dropped just months later.

Mr Lomax sued the AFP for malicious prosecution and in 2018 he received a payout courtesy of the Australian Federal Police.

After the payout CFMEU national secretary Dave Noonan called for the amount to be made public.

Mr Noonan said there is no doubt it was a malicious prosecution and the AFP ensured maximum publicity of the charge.”

Other big payouts by the AFP include more than $1 million in legal costs and compensation in 2014 over its botched raids on Channel 7’s offices including a $85,000 payout to convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby’s sister, Mercedes over a failed proceeds of crime investigation.

David Eastman was paid $7 million in compensation. Picture: AAP

The ACT Government had to pay $7 million to David Eastman over his 20-year imprisonment for the murder of AFP Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester, after his conviction was quashed following an inquiry which uncovered deep flaws in the evidence put together by the AFP and used to convict Mr Eastman.

A retrial was ordered and Mr Mr Eastman was found not guilty.

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