Senior cop rumoured to be in ‘big trouble’ with sex taskforce, court hears

A prominent senior police officer was the subject of rumours he was in “big trouble” with Victoria Police’s sexual misconduct taskforce before he was charged with leaking details about a secret corruption investigation, a court has heard.

The suspended Commander Stuart Bateson, a former gangland investigator, is before Melbourne Magistrates Court this week contesting three charges that he told a junior policewoman about a secret Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission investigation in 2018.

Commander Stuart Bateson in 2019.Credit:Eddie Jim

The commission’s probe, dubbed Operation Horton, was assessing claims of improper influence in a Victoria Police Taskforce Salus investigation. The taskforce was set up to investigate sexual misconduct, sex crimes and predatory behaviour in the force.

At the time, as Commander Bateson’s lawyer Marcus Dempsey told the court, Commander Bateson was rumoured to be “in big trouble with Salus”.

Mr Dempsey put it to the junior policewoman that she came forward to the Salus taskforce after she had heard the rumours.

The junior officer alleges Commander Bateson alerted her to IBAC’s investigation, which is an offence under the anti-corruption commission’s act, after he had been served with a confidentiality notice and called to give evidence.

Commander Bateson has been suspended with pay since he was charged.Credit:Nine

The policewoman was worried she too would be called before the commission, the court heard.

“I was unsure if Stuey had thrown me under a bus and I felt very intimidated that I had been coached by a commander,” she said in part of her statement read out in court on Tuesday.

Mr Dempsey suggested she learnt about the corruption probe a month earlier, in July 2018, from an article in The Age about an IBAC investigation into allegations of cover-ups, nepotism and information leaks involving high-ranking police.

But the junior officer said it was Commander Bateson who came to her house and told her he had been “called in and asked questions”, and warned her she may be spoken to.

Commander Bateson, 52, does not deny conversations took place with the junior officer, but he denies he told her about the IBAC probe and that any criminality took place.

After the conversation, the court heard, the junior officer researched IBAC’s provisions online. She told the court she did so to find out what her rights and responsibilities were.

The junior officer alleged Commander Bateson told her Salus “thought they had him” over a relationship with another female officer that he said never occurred.

The policewoman said she felt pressured to maintain a friendship with Commander Bateson due to the significant rank difference.

Actor Rodger Corser played Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Owen, a character based on Stuart Bateson, in the Underbelly series.

Mr Dempsey said despite her concerns about the power imbalance, she sent a text to Commander Bateson saying he was a “shit talker” and “you’re caught up in so many webs of lies, you don’t know what’s real any more”.

Mr Dempsey asked: “This is how you respond to a commander who is pressuring you to maintain a friendship?”

“Yes,” the junior policewoman responded.

The officer sent an angry text to Commander Bateson at a later date, saying if IBAC “f—ing came knocking” she would tell them “he took full advantage of a constable 18 years his junior”.

Mr Dempsey suggested the junior officer selected messages to hand over to authorities and deleted others, but the officer said she told Salus investigators she was willing to hand over her phone from the start.

She spoke to Salus about a separate matter and told the court what happened with IBAC was “out of her hands”.

The case, before magistrate Simon Zebrowski and prosecuted by Sarah Thomas, continues this week.

Commander Bateson, whose role investigating Melbourne’s gangland war became the basis for a character in the TV series Underbelly, has been suspended with pay since he was charged.

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