Augathella sergeant’s failure to act was reprehensible

A HERVEY Bay man who went missing and died in the desert could have been saved if a senior police officer had acted on information he received about an abandoned vehicle.

But disciplinary measures against the policeman are being appealed by the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which claims the sanctions against Sergeant Andrew Ernest Thomas did not "adequately reflect the gravity of the misconduct".

Barry Powell, 64, was driving from Perth to his home in Hervey Bay in 2009 after undergoing surgery when he became lost in Wyandra in Queensland's south west.

On December 6, Wyandra resident Andrew Wilkinson called police to report seeing an abandoned vehicle, which belonged to Mr Powell.

Sergeant Andrew Ernest Thomas took the call and was given the registration number of the vehicle.

It wasn't until December 10, when Mr Thomas was told a search operation had started at Wyandra, that he remembered the conversation he had had with Mr Wilkinson and told other officers.

Mr Powell's body was found about 650m from his car on the morning of December 11.

In a disciplinary hearing held on November 20, it was found Mr Thomas had failed to take appropriate action after being told about the vehicle.

As a result of the hearing, Mr Thomas received a two-year suspended sentence and if there was further misconduct he would be demoted from sergeant to senior constable. He was also transferred to Toowoomba.

During the hearing, Mr Thomas said he had banged his head on an air-conditioner and other matters "simply overtook" his mind.

He said he had only received information relating to an abandoned car, not a missing person.

Mr Powell's cause of death was recorded as undetermined and there were also some inconsistencies as to the possible time of death.

Mr Thomas said during the hearing he did not feel there was a sufficient link between his inaction and Mr Powell's death.

In the report, that failure was denounced as being "reprehensible" by Deputy Commissioner Ross Barnett.

"You are a senior officer with lengthy experience in policing in remote locations," the documents read.

"You would be acutely aware of the very harsh environment within the Augathella division and the extreme impact such conditions can have on someone who is lost or stranded.

A date for Mr Thomas' hearing is yet to be set but a compulsory conference is set for March 6.

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