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Dectective Inspector Rob Pope assigned to head investigation
A feature of the high profile police investigation Operation Tam is the media management style of the officer in charge, Detective Inspector Rob Pope. Mr Pope was appointed officer in charge of the investigation into the disappearance of friends Olivia Hope and Ben Smart, who have not been seen since they boarded a yacht with a ‘mystery man’ in Endeavour Inlet, in the early hours of New Years Day 1998.
Mr Pope took over on 7 January and reporters soon noted his distinctive media management style. An experienced and successful investigator, he is economic with words, which served to annoy and frustrate some reporters and their editors. A Dominion editorial of 13 January set out to punish him and accused police of being ‘characteristically tight-lipped’ and said while police appealed for maximum public cooperation ‘they are being uncommunicative themselves’. The editorial also criticised what it saw as a slow response to the initial report the pair were missing, and of other aspects of the inquiry. It sermonised “If police want to reduce speculation and enlist the public’s help, they could be more forthcoming themselves.”

However, Rob Pope’s position from the outset was that he was not prepared to compromise the investigation by revealing too much. His reticence was an understandable response to the legal and operational constraints on police on what they are able to say in such circumstances. The growing intensity of scrutiny of police actions after events, such as occurred with Joe Karam’s attack of the investigation and prosecution of David Bain, led to a warning just before Christmas from Police Commissioner Peter Doone. In the police in-service magazine Ten-One, he reminded staff of the need for meticulous care in conducting investigations.

The Solicitor General has also cautioned police on the need to take great care in its public comment during investigations, because of the risk of jeopardizing prosecutions and attracting contempt of court proceedings.

Interestingly, The Dominion followed its editorial with a largely complimentary Saturday People feature on 17 January on Mr Pope, which is headlined "Non-singing detective", and why Rob Pope is playing the police hand close to his chest.

The feature ended, ‘With the mysterious drama being played out in the Marlborough Sounds under the focus of full public attention, and with few facts being initially disclosed, speculation has been
Rob Pope’s position from the outset was that he was not prepared to compromise the investigation by revealing too much.
inevitable. This has left Mr Pope unhappy and he has regularly asked reporters to ‘back off’ – though without losing his cool in the process. This is a staunch cop. He draws firm boundaries and never budges.’

In an editorial in the police in-house magazine Ten-One of 23 January, Commissioner Peter Doone supported Rob Pope’s handling of the media side of the inquiry. He described Operation Tam as a classic example of the sort of situations police investigators face. He said it had all the elements that attract maximum public and media attention.

“How police manage this attention can be critical to the eventual outcome of the investigation and any subsequent prosecution. Opinion and speculation can provide material for defence counsel to exploit at a trial in the event that later evidence alters preliminary views or strengthens (or weakens) one or other of a series of options."

“This inquiry should serve to remind all of us, police, media, and the public that there are many priorities, some of them conflicting, which must be balanced and that there is a need for patience and trust in professional judgements in resolving these conflicts."

Mr Doone talked about how the highly competitive environment in which the modern media functions puts pressure on an investigation team, particularly the officer in charge.

“It is inevitable that the media will publish a story with or without input from the police. It is in everyone’s interest that media coverage should be as accurate and balanced as possible. Police have a key role in ensuring this is so, yet may, for very good reason, not be able to publicly discuss some aspect of the investigation at a particular time.

“I am very supportive of Rob Pope and his team in threading their way through this particular minefield.”

For further information refer to any of the 20 topics isolated for you by Crime Co. Sequentially The Seized sloop is recommended.

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