The Victoria Police officer charged with leaking information to The Australian‘s Cameron Stewart received a glowing character reference from his former colleagues at a committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today.
The officer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, fronted with two other former workmates of former detective Simon Artz, who has been charged with leaking Stewart information on an imminent anti-terror raid.
When asked by Bill Stuart, SC, for Artz, what he thought of his former colleague, who is facing serious jail time for the leak, the officer said his work ethic was “exemplary”.
“He was certainly one the most well-regarded and most trustworthy personnel that I worked with in the office and I had complete faith in him as a colleague,” they said.
The picture chafes with the view of the prosecution, who are keen to paint Artz as a rogue operator illicitly spreading secret information into the public realm.
Artz was later charged — and The Australian investigated — for planting the seed for a page one August 2009 Oz splash exposing the “Operation Neath” raids on Somali terrorists on the morning they occurred.
Artz has admitted meeting Stewart on July 30, 2009 but has denied giving him a detailed briefing. However, The Oz later received an extensive run down from the Australian Federal Police that went above and beyond what Stewart originally knew.
The officer said he was not aware of a previous quote given to Stewart by Artz for this 2008 story, for which Artz was lightly reprimanded.
He added it was entirely unremarkable that Artz maintained Stewart as one of a number of community contacts to discuss global events and anti-terror operations.
Stuart: “So … it was no surprise to you that Mr Artz had a journalist as a community contact, such as Cameron Stewart?”
Officer: “No it wasn’t a surprise your Honour.”
Stuart: “You’d be surprised if he didn’t, in fact?”
Officer “No so much surprised that he didn’t but when I became aware after being advised of the contact Mr Artz had had with this journalist, it did not surprise me that he had contact with the journalist particularly because of the field that Mr Artz worked in his portfolio, and the fact that, much like ourselves, journalists also commonly have portfolios that they operate in.”
“So, to have contact with a journalist who does have responsibility for an Africa portfolio did not surprise me.”
The officer said Artz had not gone into detail when he was informed that the media “had a sniff” of the story, but that his colleague had mentioned Stewart by his first or last name.
At one point Artz handed his barrister a reminder that he sometimes referred to Stewart, a former spy before he joined The Australian, as “Creepy Cameron”.
The officer said that he was not surprised that some aspects of the raid may have reached the media as momentum built for proposed Somali arrests.
“I was not a bit surprised that media would have had some knowledge about this operation at that stage,” he said.
Earlier, the who-knew-what-when allegations at the centre of the so-called “OzLeaks” trial continued, with Inspector Greg Bowd telling the court that he had first heard of the specifics of the leak to Stewart via an emailed “information report” at about 2.10pm on Friday, July 31, 2009.
Stewart is expected to appear later this week in the case, which continues this afternoon.