Australia–– AN explosive Corruption and Crime Commission report has raised several concerns about Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan’s version of events on the day of the Perth Hills bushfires.
The CCC said its report did not find evidence that supported a misconduct opinion against the Commissioner of Police.
However, it has raised many questions about what happened on the day and the CCC said Mr O’Callaghan could have acted more transparently.
The Sunday Times revealed in August last year that Mr O’Callaghan was watching an international cricket match from the comforts of a corporate box at the WACA on the Sunday of the February 6, 2011 fires – in which 71 homes were destroyed in the Roleystone-Kelmscott area.
Mr O’Callaghan, who is also the State Emergency Co-ordinator, was adamant that the first time he was made aware of the fires was during a phone call about 2.30pm from a Fire and Emergency Services Authority official named John Butcher.
He told The Sunday Times and other media outlets that this phone call did not reveal that extent of the fires. He did not learn that homes were burning down until a subsequent phone call from Assistant Police Commissioner Chris Dawson about two hours later.
However, the CCC investigation found there was evidence that Mr O’Callaghan received three phone calls from then Assistant Commissioner, Wayne Gregson, from 2.08pm to 2.13pm in which the bushfires were discussed.
Mr Gregson, who is now the state’s fire boss, told the CCC that during the last of these phone calls he told Mr O’Callaghan that the fires were significant.
“I can certainly say with some certainty that I passed on that there had been some losses already, although unconfirmed,” Mr Gregson told the CCC.
The CCC also heard evidence from Mr Butcher, in which the FESA official says that when he called Mr O’Callaghan at 2.28pm the Commissioner of Police advised him that he “had already been made aware of the fires by people from within his own organisation”.
“My comments to him were that there was a fire at Roleystone, that the details were a bit sketchy at that stage but houses would or – sorry, have or would be lost, that there was a high likelihood of the need for a State Emergency Co-ordination Group meeting in the afternoon, and that – also that he would be contacted by FESA throughout the afternoon with further details,” Mr Butcher said.
The CCC said that Mr O’Callaghan’s evidence in relation to the “Gregson Conversation” differed from that of Mr Gregson.
Mr O’Callaghan said: “I did not get that information from that phone call”.
Mr O’Callaghan said it was possible that the noise at the WACA meant he didn’t hear Mr Gregson properly.
“Can I just give you a bit of an idea about the environment that I was operating in at the time because I’ve thought about this for quite a while now,” he said.
“The Weather Bureau for that day made it very clear that the winds were 75 to 80 kilometres an hour.
“Wayne Gregson rings me… I’m in the middle of the West Australian cricket ground watching a one-day international. So I’m sitting out in 70 to 80 kilometre winds and this is not a test match, this is not some sort of Sheffield Shield match. This is a One-Day International with a hell of a lot of noise going on.”
“Now, it’s half possible that some of the information that Wayne Gregson was talking about on that day was indistinct, inaudible.”
When asked by the CCC why he didn’t just move to hear Mr Gregson better, Mr O’Callaghan said: “It’s not as simple as that, because to move from where I was would have required a whole raft of people to stand and shift, so people were – had food, they had drinks.
“I was not at a place where I could just disappear up an alley or into a corridor, so I would have had to get a whole row of people to move.”
The CCC said that Mr Gregson raised his phone calls with Mr O’Callaghan in September after the reports in August by media outlets had incorrectly reported that Mr O’Callaghan first become aware of the fires at 2.30pm.
Yet, Mr O’Callaghan never bothered to set the record straight – despite further media enquiries asking when he was first made aware of the bushfires and appearing at a Parliamentary hearing into the Perth Hills fires.
The CCC report also found that Mr O’Callaghan incorrectly told The Sunday Times that he left the WACA at 4.40pm.
The records of his swipe-card access indicate he entered police headquarters, which are nearby the WACA, at 6pm.
Mr O’Callaghan admitted to the CCC that he got it “wrong” in his statement to The Sunday Times.
“My swipe card access actually shows that I went through the gates at Police Headquarters at 6pm,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
“So there were some other things going on in terms of SMSing and phone calls in that time, but I certainly wasn’t watching the cricket at that time”.