View Comments
Police chief given a not out verdict at inquiry
Police chief given a not out verdict at inquiry

A bad memory, wind noise and the difficulty to get past people eating and drinking outside the WACA Ground's president's box might just have saved the career of Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan.

On reading the Corruption and Crime Commission's report into when and what Mr O'Callaghan knew about the Perth Hills bushfire, it's clear those mitigating factors played some role in getting him of the hook.

Mr O'Callaghan called then assistant police commissioner Wayne Gregson seeking details of a fire he could see from his box at the cricket.

Mr Gregson, now the boss of the Fire and Emergency Services Authority, called police communications and was told about a "significant fire" that had burnt out houses and was posing a "significant risk to life".

Thanks to a recording of that conversation, that is not in doubt.

But it's the fact the CCC accepts everyone's account of what happened next - regardless of major contradictions - that makes its report quite remarkable.

"I did not hear Wayne Gregson tell me much more than the issue of the scrub fire at Bentley," Mr O'Callaghan told the CCC.

If that's true, Mr Gregson didn't mention the life-threatening, property-destroying blaze underway in the Hills at the time.

Yet the CCC concluded that "on the balance of probabilities Mr Gregson in fact communicated some of the information" about the Hills fire during the telephone call.

To that Mr O'Callaghan told the CCC that his assistant commissioner may not have been telling the truth in his evidence to the CCC, or the details of the serious fire burning in the Hills was lost in the wind, crowd and hospitality noise of the WACA's presidential box.

"This is a one-day international with a hell of a lot of noise going on," the Commissioner told the CCC.

"Now, it's half possible that some of the information that Wayne Gregson was talking about on that day was indistinct, inaudible. I didn't get the information."

Asked why he didn't go somewhere quieter so he could hear what Mr Gregson was saying, the Commissioner offered up an extraordinary explanation.

"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," he explained to the CCC.

"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."

For his part, Mr Gregson said he did give his then boss details of the Hills fire.

CCC: Did you regard the information that there was a significant risk to life as important?

Gregson: I believe so.

In the end, the corruption watchdog managed to side with both men before concluding Mr O'Callaghan was cleared of any misconduct.

But here's the rub.

After Mr Gregson spoke to the Commissioner about the fire, a FESA manager called John Butcher rang the police chief while he was still at the cricket.

He told the CCC - and the agency accepted the evidence - that Mr O'Callaghan said he already knew about the Hills fire because he had spoken to Mr Gregson about it.

What's also interesting is that when Mr O'Callaghan fronted an inquiry three weeks after the fire he remembered the Butcher conversation, but not the conversation with Mr Gregson. <div class="endnote">

</div>