Wrongfully imprisoned man sues Queensland for $2.1m, alleging police officer acted with malice

A former British policeman who was wrongfully jailed for more than 200 days has filed a $2.1 million lawsuit against the state. Queensland and a police officer who – court documents allege – said he “hated” the man, threatened to beat his wife and unnecessarily searched his underwear drawers.

Former London Metropolitan Police officer Eamonn Charles Coughlan was imprisoned in 2019 for attempted arson and insurance fraud, but was given a full acquittal by the High Court the following year.

Coughlan has claimed in court documents that his prosecuting constable, Benjamin Andrew Vere, acted with malice and failed to properly investigate the blaze and fire at Coughlan’s Bribby Island property in July 2015 in 32 different ways failed.

The malicious prosecution case, filed in the Queensland Supreme Court, claims Vere made false statements, communicated improperly with witnesses and did not properly disclose evidence.

It said that Veere was prompted to make the allegations by a complaint by Coughlan about the officer’s inappropriate behavior. The documents don’t go into detail about that complaint.

Coughlan – a Met Police officer from 1988 to 2001 – was denied legal aid and represented himself during the criminal proceedings. Two district court trials were canceled. At the third trial, he was convicted of arson and attempted insurance fraud and sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

While in custody for more than seven months at Woodford Correctional Center near Brisbane, Coughlan claims he was sedated by a fellow inmate, stabbed with a needle by an intravenous drug user and given prescription drugs. Refused medicine.

They say they were forced to live in cramped, poor conditions in which prisoners were “doubled” – two prisoners living in housing meant for one. He says he slept on a piece of urine-stained foam half a meter from the toilet.

Coughlan was released from prison in February 2020, when The High Court unanimously overturned his conviction and entered verdicts of not guilty to both charges. The court found that, based on the circumstances, “it was not open to the jury” to find Coughlan guilty.

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The verdict did not directly criticize Vere, but noted the officer’s admission that he did not investigate anyone else and that he told various people that he “hated” Coughlan.

Coughlan’s civil claim alleges that Vere’s “sole and principal purpose” in investigating the fire was to prosecute Coughlan.

Among the 32 alleged failures by the police are allegations that officers did not prepare a formal investigation plan; did not properly investigate other possible suspects; and failed to conduct inquiries looking for witnesses or evidence corroborating Coughlan’s statements.

The claim alleges that police failed to investigate Coughlan’s financial circumstances. He had made improvements to the property destroyed in the fire such that it was worth more than his insurance policy. The High Court eventually found this to be “absence of financial motive”.

The claim also cites several “inappropriate” emails sent by Weir to witnesses during the criminal proceedings against Coughlan. One of them apologized to the witnesses who said “It’s not your fault [sic] Myself has been personally attacked and is the subject of frivolous and harassing complaints by this man.

Court documents allege that Vere refused to take a statement from Coughlan’s wife and later intentionally made a false statement himself, which falsely claimed that Coughlan’s wife had refused to make a statement.

Coughlan claimed that Vere searched through his wife’s underwear drawer in a manner that unnecessarily “interfered with her privacy”.

According to court documents, on 22 July 2015 at Burpengarry police station – a few days after the fire – we were allegedly threatened by Coughlan’s wife.

,[Weare] threatened to [Coughlan’s wife] … to the effect that under no circumstances shall [Coughlan] Receive insurance payouts for fire and property damage [Weare] will wait till [she] She was beaten and her property was interfered with before she was in private,” the statement of claim said.

On the same day, Vere allegedly pushed his finger in Coughlan’s face.

The claim says that Vere and the state failed to properly disclose the evidence to Coughlan. This included failure to disclose the criminal history of witnesses until shortly before the first aborted trial; and failure to disclose information about contemporary suspected arson incidents on Bribie Island until the third trial began.

Weir and another officer also “inappropriately concerned themselves” with the progress of Coughlan’s insurance claim, court documents allege.

Coughlan is seeking $2.1m in damages, costs and interest. He details significant pain and suffering, psychological harm and damage to his reputation.

The state of Queensland and Veere have not yet filed a notice of intent to defend the claim.

A police spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “These matters are currently subject to litigation processes and therefore the Queensland Police Service is unable to comment on proceedings at this time.”

Weir was also contacted for comment.

Read full story at the guardian.com

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