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Public servant guilty  of disclosing official secrets to Burke
Former premier Brian Burke leaves Perth Magistrates Court this morning, accompanied by his wife Sue, after being acquitted of charges of disclosing official secrets. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

A former public servant who released Government information about land rezoning to former premier Brian Burke was this morning found guilty of disclosing official secrets while Mr Burke was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Magistrate Robert Young this morning found Mr Burke not guilty of disclosing official secrets but he found the charges against former Government official Gary Wayne Stokes had been proven and he was guilty of the charge.

The charges against Mr Burke and Stokes related to the release of correspondence about the rezoning of land in Whitby, south-east of Perth.

The rezoning involved a conflict between the land’s owner, Urban Pacific – a client of Mr Burke and his business partner Julian Grill – and mineral sands miner Bemax over the land’s use.

Stokes, who was the-then deputy director general of the Department of Industry and Resources at the time, declined to comment as he left court this morning.

Speaking outside court, Mr Burke said he was delighted to have been cleared of any wrongdoing.

"The financial, emotional and physical strain of these matters, which have now been going on for years and years is almost intolerable," he said.

Former premier Brian Burke leaves Perth Magistrates Court this morning, Mon', after being acquitted of charges of disclosing official secrets. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

"My heart goes out to Gary Stokes as it does to other people who've been treated so harshly by the Corruption and Crime Commission process and I think most unfairly. I hope it's the end of the matters (for me) by the CCC but there's a special vehemence towards me at the CCC and I accept I've been a vocal critic of the CCC but I'm not going to stop because the process is wrong.

"There are so many broken bodies in the wake of the CCC that somebody has to speak out and I guess the penalty for my speaking out are occasions like today."

Prosecutor Bruno Fiannaca told the court this morning there was a strong need for general deterrence as "this kind of offending undermines integrity of government institutions and damages public confidence".

He said the offence of which Stokes was found guilty were "essentially an abuse of trust".

"Mr Stokes well knew... what his obligations were," he said.

Mr Fiannaca argued the information provided to Mr Burke by Stokes would have given Urban Pacific "some advantage."

The court was told the offence of disclosing official secrets carries a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment or a $12,000 fine.

Stokes will face court again next week when his lawyer is expected to make sentencing submissions.

At the trial, Mr Burke said he believed he was allowed to provide a business client with a copy of a letter sent to him by Stokes and marked as "confidential" but it was not to go any further.

Mr Burke testified he had emailed Mr Stokes, who he believed was the person in charge of Whitby, in March 2006 asking if it was “at all possible” to obtain a copy of a response from the then Department of Industry and Resources to the then Department of Planning about Whitby, to which Mr Stokes said he would see what he could do.

The following day, Mr Stokes sent Mr Burke the letter – from DOIR director-general Jim Limerick to DPI director-general Greg Martin - with the words “please treat as confidential”.

Giving evidence in their defence, both men told the court that Urban Pacific was entitled to receive the information as an interested party and the confidentiality requirement meant only that it was not to be shared outside the company or with third parties.

Stokes claimed he was in a position to authorise the release of the letter and said there was nothing in the letter which indicated to him to being any issue of confidentiality and he was simply keeping the proponent informed of any issues which may affect them, as required by the department’s code of conduct.

He said it was his “normal method of operation” to do such things himself. Stokes said it was well known that Government emails were logged and kept on the public record and said if he “had anything to hide, I wouldn’t go down this path” of emailing the letter to Mr Burke.