By Wayne Flower, Melbourne Correspondent
06:28 30 Nov 2020, updated 06:28 30 Nov 2020
- Former top cop had text messages telling federal police of the decision
- Graham Ashton told inquiry he cannot remember who it was that told him
- Counsel assisting inquiry suggests Mr Ashton first mentioned private security
- Inquiry had heard not a single minister, staffer or cop knows who made the call
- An official finding will be revealed by the inquiry just days before Christmas
- Professor Brett Sutton came under fire for withholding scores of relevant emails
Victoria’s top cop was most likely behind the implementation of private security at quarantine hotels instead of police, an inquiry has heard.
As the hotel inquiry draws to its end date just days before Christmas, counsel assisting the inquiry has launched a stinging attack on former Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton.
In a day that has seen Victoria Police belted by the royal commission into police informers, the hotel inquiry has been told the idea to use private security at hotels likely began with Mr Ashton on the day the program was conceived.
The inquiry had previously heard there had been a ‘creeping assumption’ that private security had got the gig following a meeting between Mr Ashton and government officials on March 27.
Quarantine breaches involving private security guards seeded 99 per cent of Victoria’s deadly second wave of COVID infections, which in turn has led to more than 800 deaths of the elderly.
The inquiry ran for months and when it ended in October heard not a single person could identify who made the decision to hire the private security guards.
It was a starting assumption which, enforced by Victoria Police’s preference and in the absence of opposition, ultimately became the position.
In its closing submissions, the five barristers making up counsel assisting the inquiry suggested a series of text messages between the former police chief and Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Reece Kershaw on the afternoon of March 27 were telling.
The texts showed Mr Ashton had been working under the impression private security would guard hotels and not police or troops.
‘An inference can and should be drawn that private security was mentioned in the conversation between Mr Ashton and (Department of Premier and Cabinet boss) Chris Eccles at 1:17pm,’ counsel submitted.
‘As neither participant could recall the conversation, it is not possible to say what was said, or which of the two men raised the topic.
‘However, it was that conversation which was the source of the understanding that Mr Ashton referred to in his subsequent texts to Commissioner Kershaw,’