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Phone-bugging report snares Kaldas, Burn

AAP logoAAP 20/12/2016 Stefanie Menezes

The long-awaited report into the NSW police bugging scandal has accused both Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn and her rival predecessor Nick Kaldas of engaging in "unreasonable" or "unlawful" conduct.

The adverse findings bring to an end a long "troubled era" within the force, which divided its top ranks and led to the single-largest investigation ever taken by an ombudsman in Australia - Operation Prospect.

On Tuesday, acting Ombudsman John McMillan tabled to parliament the final 850-page report on the inquiry, which looked into allegations of improper surveillance on 113 police officers during an internal police probe between 1998 and 2001.

It came just hours after Mr Kaldas lost an 11th-hour bid to stop the report from going public after raising concerns about how it was conducted.

The report found Ms Burn, who was involved in the probe dubbed Operation Mascot, had engaged in "unlawful conduct" contrary to the Police Act 1990 in relation to the deployment of a protected witness in May 1999.

"Burn was the team leader with management and supervisory responsibilities for planning and executing the deployment of a NSW Crime Commission informant in a manner that constituted a breach of the informant's bail condition on two occasions," it said.

Responding to the report, Ms Burn said she was not the man's minder, had no knowledge of his bail conditions and was not responsible for checking them.

Ms Burn also insisted she never sanctioned, authorised or pursued illegal tapping of police officers.

"I reject absolutely the suggestion that I may have engaged in unreasonable, let alone unlawful, conduct in connection with this matter," she said in a statement.

"While mistakes occurred at Mascot, I can say with complete confidence that, at all times, I performed my role conscientiously, ethically, honestly and in accordance with my oath of office, statement of values and the law."

Ms Burn's long-term rival, Mr Kaldas, was also found to have given "false and misleading testimony" in a secret hearing over the scandal.

The retired senior officer gave evidence to the ombudsman that "may" constitute an offence under the Police Act 1990, the report said.

Mr Kaldas said the ombudsman's report became a witch hunt against those who dared to complain.

"It was supposed to be about serious wrong doing on a large scale several years ago," Mr Kaldas told the ABC.

"What it turned into was an investigation into who revealed that wrong doing."

Mr McMillan said for some the report would be vindication.

"The hope ... is that many people will find it easier to move on from the controversy of this period," he told reporters in Sydney.

The report also addresses systemic issues following on from the scandal and recommends a review of the protocols for joint operations between NSW Police and the NSW Crime Commission.

It's recommended the NSW Crime Commission and NSW Police Force apologise to more than a dozen officers over the bugging operation.

It also recommends the establishment of a Public Interest Monitor, with the same powers as a judge or magistrate, to vet applications and warrants for bugging operations.

The inquiry, which cost $9.64 million to run, was set up in 2012 and led by now-departed ombudsman Bruce Barbour.

Mr Kaldas previously accused Mr Barbour of being biased against him in favour of current Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.

But Mr McMillan said he never accepted that claim.

"I don't say that glibly - I looked at the issues raised and was assured there were no breaches," he said.

The NSW Police Association slammed the report, saying its release "highlights the inherent unfairness and lack of natural justice" for police.

Greens MP David Shoebridge, who this year moved to suppress the publication, meanwhile says he fears the report will cause more ripples within the force.

"This ongoing division in the NSW Police might be justified if there was a serious likelihood of people being held criminally accountable for the illegal bugging, but that is not what this report is recommending," he said.

Acting Premier John Barilaro, and the NSW Police Force have both said they will carefully consider the report and respond in due course.

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