Australia: 'An arduous journey': officer wins landmark drug case against NSW Police - - PressFrom - Australia
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Australia 'An arduous journey': officer wins landmark drug case against NSW Police

22:20  06 october  2019
22:20  06 october  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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a close up of a man: George Zisopoulos was found to have been unfairly dismissed from the NSW police force.© Nic Walker George Zisopoulos was found to have been unfairly dismissed from the NSW police force.

NSW Police have lost a challenge to a landmark legal decision that the force acted "unfairly" and "unjustly" in sacking a long-serving officer on the basis of a hair follicle drug test.

The full bench of the Industrial Relations Commission dismissed an appeal on Friday and ordered that officer George Zisopoulos be reinstated, delivering the police force a major blow in a long running battle that is likely have repercussions for workplaces across the state.

Sergeant Zisopoulos had an "unblemished" record and medals for good service when he became the first NSW officer fired based on the controversial hair follicle test. He has been fighting his dismissal since 2015.

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Sergeant Zisopoulos' lawyer, Nicole Dunn, welcomed the verdict on his behalf.

"It's been an arduous journey for Sergeant Zisopoulos," she told the Herald.

"He's very grateful to the Industrial Relations Commission for giving him a fair hearing and he's very pleased at the outcome. He looks forward to returning to work with the NSW Police Force."

It's understood decisions of the full bench of the Industrial Relations Commission can be challenged in the NSW Court of Appeal in rare circumstances.

"The NSW Police Force is reviewing the decision handed down by the full bench of the IRC ... and is considering its options," a spokesperson said.

The Herald revealed last week that the police force has spent around $500,000 so far defending the Zisopoulos case, with the bill being paid by its insurers.

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Sergeant Zisopoulos returned a positive drug test reading in 2015, based on a single strand of a hair.

The analysis, ordered by then Newtown Local Area Commander Superintendent Simon Hardman, picked up "low levels" of both MDMA and methamphetamine.

The state's then top cop, Commissioner Andrew Scipione, determined that on the "balance of probabilities", the officer knowingly consumed drugs.

However leading forensic experts cast doubts over the results, concluding there was "no evidence" the substances found on Sergeant Zisopoulos' hair were ingested and the minute readings may have been caused by "external contamination".

Sergeant Zisopoulos was frequently in the thick of drug-related work in his general duties role.

In March last year Sergeant Zisopoulos won an unfair dismissal case before the Industrial Relations Commission, with it ruling his termination was "harsh, unreasonable and unjust".

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Police appealed the decision to the full bench of the commission, with the 15 grounds of appeal including whether there was proper evidence to support Sergeant Zisopoulos' allegation the positive drug test was caused by external contamination.

They argued the integrity of the police force could be "seriously undermined" if officers were given the "benefit of the doubt" in connection to the use of prohibited drugs.

Handing down the judgement, Chief Commissioner Peter Kite SC rejected that argument.

"The allegation in this case is quite serious being an allegation of criminal conduct by a serving police officer," he wrote.

"That requires convincing proof on the balance of probabilities. The Commissioner was satisfied that the evidence ... did not reach that standard."

The case could potentially affect thousands of front-line police who come into contact with illicit drugs either knowingly or unwittingly, both in the line of duty or outside work.

It is possible to pick up traces of drugs in everyday settings such as public toilets, according to experts.

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