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Senior investigator at law enforcement watchdog fights corruption finding

Court documents show the first investigation was ordered in November 2017 to examine a phone call Ms Hansford made five months earlier to Natasha Boyce-Bacon, who worked in the Integrity and Professional Standards Branch of the then Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The pair had been working together on Operation Valadon, an investigation into former Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg and allegations he helped his girlfriend to apply for a job with the Border Force. Ms Hansford, whose maiden name is Marshall, was closely involved in the investigation but was not the lead staff member responsible.

According to Ms Boyce-Bacon, during the June 26 phone call Ms Hansford told her an anonymous complaint had been made which alleged amongst other things that Ms Boyce-Bacon and another member of her family were drug dealers. Ms Boyce-Bacon took notes after the conversation and reported the interaction to her supervisor.

Ms Hansford emphatically denies she divulged information about the complaint, maintaining the phone call was to get an update on Operation Valadon. “Contrary to Ms Boyce-Bacon’s assertions, I said very little,” Ms Hansford said in her own written account of the conversation.

The initial investigation, carried out by a senior executive lawyer at the Australian Government Solicitor, Virginia Masters, found in 2018 that Ms Hansford did not engage in corrupt conduct.

Ms Masters found the information allegedly divulged by Ms Hansford over the phone did not match up with the content of the complaint, and it was possible Ms Boyce-Bacon learned of the complaint from another source.

The investigator also found that at least some aspects of the complaint against Ms Boyce-Bacon were “vexatious”, noting it was made after members of Ms Boyce-Bacon’s agency were ordered to undergo drug and alcohol testing.

“Ms Marshall is regarded by the Integrity Commissioner as a trusted operator,” Ms Masters found. “My examination of this matter gives me no reason to take a different view.”

However, Mr Porter appointed a second investigator, Timothy Lowe, several months after the initial investigation concluded. Mr Lowe found in a 2019 report that Ms Hansford had divulged information about the anonymous allegations in the phone call and, in doing so, acted corruptly.

“Ms Boyce-Bacon’s contemporaneous notes detail a near-complete knowledge on her part of the particulars of the anonymous allegations that, on the evidence, could have been derived from none other than Ms Marshall,” Mr Lowe found.

He recommended the matter be referred to the AFP for investigation and the Commonwealth DPP for possible prosecution over a breach of the Law Enforcement Integrity Commissioner Act, which makes it an offence for staff members to disclose confidential information.

In court documents, Ms Hansford alleges Mr Porter did not have the power to authorise a second special investigation, and the second investigator Mr Lowe did not have jurisdiction to make his decision in circumstances where the minister did not have the power to authorise him.

When the case was mentioned in the Federal Court earlier this month, Ms Hansford’s barrister Surya Palaniappan sought material relied on by Mr Porter in his decision to appoint a second investigator.

The court has ordered that the implementation of Mr Lowe’s decision be suspended until the judicial review is complete. The case is set for hearing in October.

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