Top cop avoids conviction over secret leak

Karen SweeneyAAP
Stuart Bateson was charged by Victoria's anti-corruption watchdog with leaking information.
Camera IconStuart Bateson was charged by Victoria's anti-corruption watchdog with leaking information. Credit: AAP

After building a distinguished career within Victoria Police busting notorious gangland crooks, Stuart Bateson has had a major fall from grace.

He was found guilty of leaking confidential information about a secretive anti-corruption investigation to a colleague out of what a magistrate has described as "basic human instinct for self-preservation".

Bateson escaped conviction on Friday on all three charges of disclosing restricted matters and was fined $6000.

The 52-year-old was charged after he made it "abundantly clear" to a junior colleague that he was being questioned during confidential hearings by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.

IBAC was probing allegations of improper influence into an investigation by Taskforce Salus, which examines harassment and predatory behaviour within Victoria Police.

In 2018, Bateson was called to give evidence at a hearing examining suggestions of sexual misconduct within the force and was served with confidentiality notices, requiring him to keep the details a secret.

After a contested hearing, magistrate Simon Zebrowski found that over three months in 2018 Bateson disclosed to the junior officer the subject of the investigation, details of evidence given to or obtained by the investigation and that he had been questioned.

In sentencing Bateson, Mr Zebrowski said it was difficult to imagine IBAC would investigate much lower level offences.

He said for Bateson to be prosecuted so publicly no doubt had a significant impact on him.

"It has been an ignominious fall from grace," he said.

In deciding not to convict Bateson, the magistrate said he had given significant weight to his prior good character.

The senior officer, who has been suspended with pay for two years, had an unblemished prior character and served Victoria Police "with distinction" for 32 years, rising to the level of commander, he said.

The court received 34 references from Bateson's colleagues, friends, family, victims of crime and religious community leaders which spoke of him as a leader, a confidante and a mentor.

Bateson's lawyer Belinda Franjic said they spoke to his humanity.

Mr Zebrowski also said Bateson's state of mind at the time might have affected his better judgment.

The officer, upon whom Roger Corser's character in the gangland series Underbelly was based, has been diagnosed with chronic PTSD of a substantial severity, which doctors say has been longstanding an undiagnosed.

He said Bateson's "stress bucket" began to overflow in around 2012.

"Over the years your reputation and talent as an investigator, and dedication to your job, meant you're involved in many roles of great responsibility which meant of course more than your fair share of traumatic experiences," he said.

"The pressure of high-profile investigations, the deaths of colleagues, numerous horrific crimes scenes, taking on the pain and suffering of victims of crime and their families all took a toll on you over the years."

He said Bateson dealt with the accumulating trauma by drinking and pushing it aside, believing he could tough it out.

Bateson is now working on qualifications as a counsellor to assist police struggling with the stress of the job.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails