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Inside SAPOL's stressed phone tap unit

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Police covert surveillance systems were outdated, inefficient and “duplicitous”, a senior serving officer has told a court.

In fact, the working environment was so stressful that the former head of SAPOL’s phone tapping outfit has won a compensation case for the damage it did to his health.

Police confirmed today SAPOL has made further structural changes to its Telecommunications Interceptions Section (TIS), adding staff and improving procedures.

The claims about the operations of the unit were made in evidence given by Kym Weeding, the former head of TIS.

Weeding controlled a unit of some 26 staff that dealt with covert surveillance by way of telephone interception, listening devices and tracking devices.

His frustrations with the operation of the surveillance outfit, changes he recommended that weren’t adopted, and changes imposed that failed to alleviate his concerns, were cited in his Workers Compensation Tribunal hearing relating to the long-term impact of hypertension.

After three days of hearings last December, the Tribunal’s Deputy President Leonie Farrell found in his favour, acknowledging permanent damage to his cardiovascular system “as a consequence of the work related stress he suffered in 2011 and 2012”.

Weeding gave a detailed account of the development of his symptoms and work in the surveillance division and Judge Farrell concluded “I accept his evidence”.

“He worked on day shift from Monday to Friday but he was on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week,” Judge Farrell noted in her decision.

The evidence showed Weeding managed 26 staff, some of them police officers and some public servants.

He was responsible for compliance with all legislation relating to telephone interception and use of listening devices.

The court heard he was the contact point for obtaining all warrants and prepared or vetted all applications to the relevant judicial body.

“Strict compliance with process was required before a warrant could be issued. Where documentation was inadequate he was responsible for dealing with the relevant officer. It was a frustrating process for the investigating officers. The complexities of the process were not always understood by the investigating officers. This led to clashes with investigating officers.”

Weeding told the tribunal that because of his prior involvement in the relevant section of SAPOL, he understood both the importance of the work of the investigating officers as well as the need for strict compliance with the proper process.

“He viewed the existing system as outdated, inefficient and duplicitous,” the Judge said.

“Prior to him taking on the role in 2008 various reviews of the section had taken place. Suggested shortcutting of the process involved had not been actioned.

“His own recommendations were never adopted. Changes in 2010 which should have made the process more efficient merely resulted in the redirection of the processes.”

Weeding told the tribunal that he had written a critical report and met with senior officers.

“Again he thought change would occur. It did not,” his evidence stated.

“He became more and more stressed and anxious as problems built up without any resolution. The workload increased.”

After several medical incidents and a return to work in January 2012 he began to experience numbness on the left side of his face on the way home.

His wife drove him to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

“On the way he began to experience numbness in his left arm and leg. His initial blood pressure reading at the hospital was 280/180.

“He was given intravenous antihypertensive medication and was kept at hospital overnight.”

Later, Weeding made a claim for a psychological injury arising from employment and which caused him to stop work on or about 1 February 2012 – the claim was accepted by SAPOL’s compensation administrators.

“Since that time Mr Weeding has been able to return to work in a different role,” the Tribunal was told.

Later in September 2012 he held a position as Detective Senior Sergeant with Operation Counteract, aimed at aseries of armed robberies.

The tribunal heard medical evidence relating to the connection between stress and hypertension.

“The evidence is clear that at its worst, before being brought under control by medical management and medication, Mr Weeding’s blood pressure readings were in the stage 3 hypertension categories (the highest stage),” the Judge concluded.

“I conclude that work related stress in 2011 and 2012 did contribute to the onset of Mr Weeding’s hypertension.

“In addition I conclude that Mr Weeding has suffered a permanent impairment of his cardiovascular system as a consequence of the work related stress he suffered in 2011 and 2012 and he is entitled to an assessment of permanent disability in accordance with the evidence of Dr Hetzel, that is, 30% of whole person impairment.”

The amount of compensation is yet to be calculated.

Weeding’s concerns and compensation claim appear to have had an impact.

SAPOL would not comment on his individual case today, but did confirm substantial changes to his former unit.

“The section you refer to has been restructured to include an additional five staff members,” a SAPOL spokeswoman told InDaily.

“There has also been a realignment of the functions previously undertaken by a single staff member.

“SAPOL is unable to provide any comment regarding a specific individual or circumstance due to the confidentiality provisions of the Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act, 1986 (S112).

“SAPOL is committed to the health, safety and welfare of its employees.

“When an employee is injured at work they are assisted back to work in accordance with the legislative responsibilities on them and SAPOL facilitated through the Injury Management Section within Health Safety and Welfare Branch.

“The Workers Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 1986 is complex legislation and governs the approach undertaken by the Injury Management Section. Personnel within the Section are there to assist employees to return to full health and work within the parameters of the legislation.”

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