The Office of Police Integrity has been dealt a savage blow in its case against Victoria Police officer Simon Artz, after Magistrate Jack Vandersteen allowed all 12 contested witnesses to be cross-examined when the saga heads to trial next year.

Following a committal mention in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court this morning, the case now threatens to descend into yet another media circus involving News Limited, with a who’s who of law enforcement and media figures — including Australian Federal Police commissioner Tony Negus, Victoria Police deputy commissioner Kieran Walshe and three staffers from Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s Other Films — set to be probed by Victoria’s leading QCs.

Artz faces eight charges, relating to his alleged leaks to The Australian‘s Walkley Award-winning reporter Cameron Stewart surrounding the Somali terror raids on the morning of Tuesday August 4 last year, which occurred hours after the paper’s report of the operation hit the streets.

The practices of The Australian‘s newsroom will also be raked over, with Stewart’s history working with a top secret security clearance at the Defence Signals Directorate sure to be examined when the case resumes on July 11 next year.

The court was told that Stewart allegedly had a coffee with Artz on July 30 2009, and shortly thereafter contacted the AFP media unit. But Vincent Azzopardi, for Artz, argued there was much a broader circle of potential sources available to the former spook, that on that date the timing of the raid was still the subject of discussions.

Azzopardi said that “the court was heading towards a miscarriage of justice” if the contested witnesses were disallowed.

The nub of the case would appear to rest on the transcript of an interview given by Stewart to the OPI, in which he is believed to have fingered Artz as his sole source.

“The prosecution case is Cameron Stewart, essentially,” Magistrate Vandersteen remarked.

“Mr Artz seems to be saying in his application is that it is beyond Stewart, it is a set of circumstances where witnesses for whatever reason, for example, maybe bias, maybe self-interest … that there are circumstances where Stewart had a number of contacts beyond him [Artz].”

The central issue is who knew what when. A frustrated Lana Custovic, for the Office of Public Prosecutions repeatedly shook her head at the arguments proffered by Azzopardi who alerted the court to Stewart’s huge circle of potential sources beyond Artz.

Many of the 12 contested witnesses previously gave evidence to the OPI/Australian Centre for Law Enforcement Integrity investigation. A further 22 are not contested.

Azzopardi said that several of the contested witnesses had “cast a shadow” over the date of the raid, with the prosecution case hinging on the fact that Artz had told Stewart first.

Azzopardi accused The Australian of hatching a “secret deal between prosecutorial agencies and a news media corporation.” Both sides agreed that Kieran Walshe had made a “contemporaneous diary note” of the sequence of events.

The court was told of Stewart’s long history of terrorism reporting, including his string of feature stories on other operations including Operation Rochester and his related conversations with fellow Australian journalist Richard Kerbaj.

The practices of the Victoria Police Media Unit will also come under the spotlight, with Victoria Police spokeswoman Nicole Mckechnie also slated to appear. Veteran ABC figure Alan Hogan, Anita Jacoby and another staffer from Denton’s outfit responsible for the production of Hungry Beast will also feature in the witness box.

The issue of journalists’ protection of their sources is also set to be examined. Crikey understands that prior to giving evidence, Artz gave a signed statement to Stewart releasing him from his ethical obligations. Stewart also talked to Chris Warren from the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, about whether he was in breach of the AJA code of ethics.

Warren told Crikey that he had discussed the matter of the outing of Artz and that he was confident Stewart had complied with the proper processes. Warren said he was aware of a written agreement with Artz that Stewart had completed prior to giving an interview to the Office of Police Integrity.

“I’m confident in the things he was able to tell me that he acted pretty well within the Code of Ethics,” Warren said.

The OPI told Crikey that given the matter was still before the court, it was inappropriate to comment.

Peter Fray

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