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Sexting officer steps down as Dutton intervenes over corruption claims

A Victoria Police officer responsible for regulating the state’s security and firearms industries has resigned after allegedly texting photos of his penis to a female security worker, and being charged with unauthorised access to a confidential database.

This week’s resignation of leading senior constable Peter Ryan from the police’s licensing and regulation division (LRD) comes as the Australian Federal Police examine separate claims – referred by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton – that firearms may have gone missing under the division’s watch, with some potentially traded on the black market.

And in a further blow to Victoria Police, The Age can reveal that Mr Dutton has asked the state’s anti-corruption watchdog to look into explosive allegations that another senior officer was involved in the illegal sale of unregistered guns.

Mr Ryan was investigated by the force’s Taskforce Salus, which was set up to identify sexual harassment by police members, after a female security worker reported her discomfort at receiving explicit photographs and messages from the officer.

The Age has obtained screenshots sent by Mr Ryan to the female security worker who his unit was responsible for licensing. Several of the photographs are not fit for publication.

Screenshot of a Facebook exchange between former police officer Peter Ryan and a female security worker.

Screenshot of a Facebook exchange between former police officer Peter Ryan and a female security worker.

The exchanges show Mr Ryan repeatedly messaging the female worker throughout the day and night with photos of his penis and suggestive comments and suggestions such as “rock hard”, “wish you would sit on it” and “you like receiving”.

The female security worker has claimed that senior officers from Mr Ryan’s LRD unit contacted her after she complained to Taskforce Salus and asked her to withdraw her complaint. Investigations by Professional Standards Command, the force’s internal investigation division, were unable to substantiate the woman’s claim.

Asked about the matter this week, a police spokesman told The Age: “Taskforce Salus charged a male Leading Senior Constable from the Licensing and Regulation Division in relation to unauthorised access to use of or disclosing of police information. The matter has been finalised at the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

“The police officer was due to face internal disciplinary charges however, he effectively resigned on 14 November before the matters could be determined. No further action will be taken.”

The female security worker who reported Mr Ryan to Taskforce Salus said she was concerned he had obtained personal details about her from a police database after the pair had connected over an online dating site.

It is understood that Taskforce Salus investigators cross-checked Mr Ryan’s accessing of the police database with a series of other women he had connected with via dating sites or outside of work.

Mr Ryan was charged with 10 criminal counts of unauthorised access of the database. Each count attracted a maximum penalty of two years’ jail or fines of up to $38,000.

The charges against Mr Ryan were dismissed by a Melbourne magistrate in July. He resigned this week rather than face internal police disciplinary proceedings.

The Age can also reveal that Mr Dutton wrote privately last month to AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin and IBAC Commissioner Robert Redlich, QC, asking them to examine separate allegations of misconduct and corruption involving elements of the licensing and regulation division.

The explosive claims were made by former Murtoa firearms dealer Ross Barlow and cash-in-transit security guard Peter Zabrdac, who met with Mr Dutton last month in a briefing organised by Victorian Federal Liberal MP Chris Crewther.

Mr Barlow has alleged that a senior police officer had unsuccessfully tried on numerous occasions to get him to illegally sell unregistered guns to a number of local identities. The officer – who The Age has chosen not to name at this stage – no longer works in the force.

However, in 2014, the leading senior constable and members of the licensing and regulation division conducted an audit on Mr Barlow’s business, which he claims was so poorly conducted that numerous guns went missing in the process.

When The Age first raised this matter in June, police admitted that at least 81 guns could not be accounted for, but they blamed Mr Barlow for providing wrong or insufficient details to locate them on LRD’s database – clerical errors that eventually led to his licence being cancelled.

In a statement, Victoria Police said it was aware of allegations made by Mr Barlow and Mr Zabrdac.

“Matters have been raised by Mr Barlow to Victoria Police since his firearms dealers licence was suspended in 2014 and by Mr Zabrdac since his private security and security business licenses were suspended in 2016. All matters have been fully investigated by Professional Standards Command and Victoria Police is satisfied with the effort and integrity of those investigations.”

Mr Barlow’s case was not the first time doubts have emerged about the way guns are regulated in Victoria.

Questions about the gun registry also emerged in February when The Age revealed that Melbourne security business owner Michael Sloan was in possession of 16 high-powered rifles and a double-barrelled shotgun that the database recorded as “seized” and in police possession.

And in a report handed down in July, IBAC also found that the licensing and regulation division was “particularly at risk of being targeted by organised crime groups and individuals”. Key corruption risks included secondary employment, outside interests, conflict of interest, and unauthorised disclosure or misuse of information.

Asked to what extent IBAC was looking into the allegations against LRD, a spokeswoman said: “For legal and operation reasons IBAC is unable to comment on this matter.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Australian Federal Police said: “The AFP can confirm that it has received a referral in relation to this matter. The referral is currently being assessed. It is not appropriate to comment further at this time.”

Firearms regulation in Australia is a shared state-federal responsibility. The Commonwealth is responsible for overseeing the import and export of firearms, and in certain circumstances, trafficking between states and territories. The states and territories are responsible for the licensing of firearm owners, and the registration, possession and use of firearms.
Article written by Richard Baker & Farrah Tomazen 15/11/18 for the Age Newspaper. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/sexting-officer-steps-down-as-dutton-intervenes-over-corruption-claims-20181115-p50ga2.html Richard Baker Richard Baker is one of Australia’s most experienced and decorated investigative journalists, with 12 years in The Age newspaper’s investigative unit. He has many times been the recipient of Australia’s major journalism awards, including multiple Walkleys, the Melbourne Press Club’s Farrah Tomazin Farrah Tomazin is an Investigative Reporter for The Age, with interests in politics, social justice, and legal affairs.
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