The detective at the centre of the defamation claim against WA police by acquitted murder suspect Lloyd Rayney will be in the spotlight again tomorrow - as a nominee for the state’s police officer of the year.
In an ironic twist just days after prominent lawyer Mr Rayney was cleared of killing his wife Corryn following a sensational trial, Senior Sergeant Jack Lee will be among those honoured for their work policing the State this year.
The former head of Perth’s major crime office is currently in charge of the police station in the far northern town of Kununurra, having been transferred out of Perth following his contentious comments about Ms Rayney’s murder in August 2007.
At a press conference at police headquarters in the weeks after Ms Rayney’s death, Detective Lee said Mr Rayney was the “prime” and “only” suspect in the killing of his wife, whose body was discovered buried in iconic Kings Park a week after she went missing.
Almost a year later, Mr Rayney launched a defamation lawsuit, which was delayed while the extensive investigation and trial of Mr Rayney continued.
That murder case finished last week, as Mr Rayney was acquitted by former Northern Territory Supreme Court Justice Brian Martin, reviving the likelihood of what could be a massive defamation payout to Mr Rayney, who said his career and reputation had been ruined by the police pronouncement.
But even before that matter proceeds, Snr Sgt Lee is considered well placed to win the award after being nominated as the State’s top cop.
He is rated a favourite for the award for his various community works in the far north town, where he was posted after being originally transferred to Karratha in the two months following his explosive comments.
In his judgment explaining his reasons for acquitting Mr Rayney, Justice Martin described Detective Lee’s conduct in naming the prominent Perth barrister as “gravely in error”.
“To put the position at its lowest, Mr Lee was gravely in error in identifying the accused as a ’suspect’ in the murder of the deceased and in conveying a police view that the accused was the prime and only suspect,” Justice Martin said.
“Mr Lee’s lack of judgment was compounded by allowing the media to continue to ask questions and by giving a number of utterly inappropriate responses ... naming the accused as a suspect and the prime or only suspect was a serious departure from the proper standards of conduct expected of investigating officers.”
Justice Martin also revealed that Detective Lee appeared to cease playing an active role in the investigation into Ms Rayney’s murder after the infamous press conference until his transfer later that year - although Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan and the police union denied the two were linked.
WA police said Detective Lee was fulfilling his duty to keep the public informed about the investigation when he made the statements.
But in his statement of claim, Mr Rayney said his credit, character and reputation has been “greatly injured” by Detective Lee’s statement, that he had been brought into public hatred, scandal, odium and contempt, and he had been professionally damaged.
He also claimed to have suffered “considerable distress and embarrassment”.