Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Top policeman socialised at club with Rickards

NZ Herald
February 17, 2004
Top policeman socialised at club with Rickards
by Patrick Gower

Police Commissioner Rob Robinson socialised with Clint Rickards in the Rotorua police club when they worked there together about the same time an alleged pack-rape involving police occurred. For three months in late 1985, Mr Robinson was on secondment as a sergeant in the CIB while Mr Rickards was a junior member of one of its squads.

Mr Robinson has not wanted to speak to the Herald about his time there but released a statement saying he knew Mr Rickards, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum at the time they have been accused by Rotorua woman Louise Nicholas of raping and violating her a with baton in a police house sometime around 1986. He acknowledges he may be required to give evidence about his time in Rotorua to both the reopened criminal inquiry or to the Government-ordered commission of inquiry.

Mr Robinson said he came into social contact with Mr Rickards "possibly during occasional attendance at the police club and as a spectator at some sports events". He said the same went for Mr Shipton. He could not recall any contact with Mr Schollum during his secondment but said they had both been constables together in Palmerston North in the 1970s. Mr Robinson said he did not stay in a police house while he was in Rotorua but in private accommodation. Public records show that when his secondment began in October 1985, Mr Shipton and his wife were living in the house where Mrs Nicholas says she was raped.

Mr Robinson took up a new job in Wellington at the start of 1986. Mr Robinson promoted Mr Rickards to become one of his top decision-makers. However, new documents the Herald has obtained under the Official Information Act do show he did "express reservations" about Mr Rickards' suitability when he was shortlisted for the job of deputy commissioner in 2000. Mr Robinson did not elaborate on them to State Services Commissioner Michael Wintringham but later briefed Prime Minister Helen Clark on the allegations against Mr Rickards. She then decided to recommend the other candidate, Steve Long - the deputy commissioner now in charge of investigating the allegations against Mr Rickards. Mr Robinson stood down Mr Rickards as assistant commissioner responsible for the Auckland District when the investigation was reopened two weeks ago.

Mr Rickards, Mr Shipton and Mr Schollum all vigorously deny the allegations of rape but admit having consensual sex with Mrs Nicholas. Mr Robinson said he was not aware of any information from his time in Rotorua that could assist the criminal inquiry, but he would be happy to assist. He said he would also be at the full disposal of the commission of inquiry. Mr Robinson said he did not think his links with Rotorua now made his position difficult. He said Mr Long had his own authority under warrant from the Governor-General and could therefore run it independently of him. Despite Mr Robinson's misgivings about the suitability of Mr Rickards for the deputy commissioner's job, the Herald has also revealed he was involved in promoting Mr Rickards four times after learning of the rape allegations in 1997.

A police officer (now retired) who led a Police Complaints Authority inquiry into the handling of the rape allegations said he warned Mr Robinson at the time of the first of those promotions "you will regret this decision for years to come".

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