It would seem that The Australian‘s senior reporter Cameron Stewart has decided to give evidence voluntarily in the case against the man accused of being his confidential source for a Quill Award-winning scoop on the Operation Neath anti-terrorism raids.
It is an extraordinary development in a case destined to go down in the text books as a case study in how journalists deal with confidential sources.
As reported in Crikey yesterday, the charges against the alleged source, Detective Senior Constable Simon Artz, were listed for hearing today before the Melbourne Magistrates Court. As Crikey was put to bed yesterday there was talk of protracted legal negotiations, with the possibility the hearing, at which Stewart was to be forced by the Office of Police Integrity to give evidence as a reluctant witness, would not go ahead.
And indeed, this morning the case was adjourned, with a committal hearing now scheduled for the October 19. Meanwhile, the Office of Police Integrity put out a statement this morning saying that “the compulsory examination of Cameron Stewart is no longer required”.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Lawyers have this morning told me this can only mean that Stewart has agreed to provide a statement voluntarily. News Limited sources confirm that this is their belief.
There have been mutterings from inside News Limited for weeks to the effect that Stewart was seriously considering his position, and the extent to which it aligns with that of his employer, in a case that has apparently caused him much anguish and lost sleep — though not as much lost sleep, one suspects, as Simon Artz, who may go to jail if he is found guilty.
Meanwhile, there are also grumbles from those close to the case about the amount of money — allegedly hundreds of thousands of dollars — spent so far by The Australian in its attempt to suppress the evidence in the Artz case, which includes a transcript of an interview between Stewart and the OPI.
The barrister representing Artz, Tony Hargreaves, declined to comment when I rang him this morning, and Stewart did not return calls. Nor did the editor of The Australian, Paul Whittaker. Or at least not before Crikey‘s deadline.
For those who need the background to this case, and the way in which it relates to The Australian‘s long-running campaign against the OPI and Victorian Police Commissioner Simon Overland, read yesterday’s story.