The 4 Freedoms Library

It takes a nation to protect the nation

Top cop's verdict on burqas

CLAIRE HARVEY  THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH  JULY 03, 2011 12:00AM

Scipione burqa

Nothing to do with religion: Police Commissioner Anderw Scipione insists police officers must be given the power to demand Muslim women remove their burqas.

POLICE must have clear powers to order removal of any face coverings, including veils, helmets and hoodies, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says.

The state's top officer is "absolutely filthy" about false complaints against frontline police and has vowed to hunt down and catch anyone who deliberately smears honest cops.

In his first interview since the sensational acquittal of a burqa-clad Muslim woman for falsely accusing police of threatening to rip off her veil, Mr Scipione said there was one law for everyone in NSW - regardless of their race or ethnicity.

"This is not about disrespect; this has got nothing to do with religion," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

"It wouldn't matter whether it was a full-face motorcycle helmet or a balaclava at the snowfield: People have to do what they're required to (by police).

"Whether you're wearing a veil, whether you're wearing a full-face motorcycle helmet, a ski balaclava in the snowfields - if there is a lawful reason, if there is a need for police to actually identify the person, then this should not be in the grey. It should be something everyone clearly understands."

Frontline police officers had to be protected from vindictive complaints, Mr Scipione said, adding that honest officers' careers could be wrecked by vengeful allegations.

"I get absolutely filthy when people want to make complaints that are clearly false," he said. "If you do that, and I catch you, we will charge you. It's not reasonable to expect these heroes, who go out every day and do their work, to have to endure this.

"If you have a complaint and they [police] do the wrong thing - we will deal with it. But if you've done the wrong thing and you actually make something up and I catch you, I will go after you."

NSW Police were not racist, Mr Scipione said, adding he had no personal view on whether full-face veils were appropriate in Australian society. He said: "It comes down to trust. People need to trust us.

"We are not in the business of trying to exploit some racist position, because that is counter-productive to the community."

Mr Scipione noted a recent statement from the Islamic Council of NSW, declaring there was no legitimate religious reason for Muslim women to refuse a police request to unveil.

"Islamically, for purposes of legally identifying an individual, a woman can remove her face covering, in the presence of a male," the Islamic Council said in a clarifying statement.

"That is exactly what we're talking about," Mr Scipione said.

The commissioner has held talks with Premier Barry O'Farrell, Police Minister Mick Gallacher and Attorney-General Greg Smith. "Government has indicated that if there is a loophole, they'll work with me to ensure we close that loophole," he said. "This is not something we can just allow to continue."

Mr Gallacher told The Sunday Telegraph there was a "weakness" in the law and said police needed the powers to demand a facial identification. He also said fingerprinting could be an option to help identity verification.

"I know the civil libertarians will say this is terrible but all I've asked for in this is an alternative form of ID, in this case a fingerprint. When the matter is finalised at court the fingerprint would be destroyed," he said.

Carnita Matthews, 47, was pulled over about 6.15pm on June 7, 2010, by Senior Constable Fogarty and penalised for failing to properly display her P-plates. The officer asked Ms Matthews to show her face, remaining calm as she shouted accusations he was racist.

A veiled woman purporting to be Ms Matthews made a complaint about 6.45pm that day at Campbelltown Police Station, and on June 9 a veiled woman delivered a statutory declaration signed in Ms Matthews' name to the station, accusing Constable Fogarty of threatening to rip off her veil.

In November, Ms Matthews was sentenced in Campbelltown Local Court to six months' jail for making the false statement - but last week an appeal judge quashed the conviction, saying there was no proof she was the veiled complainant.

Police have asked the Director of Public Prosecutions to make a further appeal against the District Court ruling but Ms Matthews' solicitor Stephen Hooper this week said his client was "severely embarrassed" when she saw the video of her behaviour at the scene.

"She didn't think she had behaved like that at the time she was severely embarrassed about her behaviour," he said.

"She certainly does apologise to the police and agrees that he [Mr Fogarty] was not being racist. She asked me to publicly apologise."

Mr Scipione said: "When someone makes a false accusation, they're not only damaging that particular officer's good name, they're also, I think, undermining and attacking, in fact, the whole of the NSW Police Force.

"More than that - it goes right to the heart of the justice system here in this state.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/police-commissioner-andrew-scipion...

Tags: Aus:, Top, burqas, cop's, on, verdict

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