SES boss grilled over 'misleading' letter

The head of the State Emergency Service has been accused of misleading the anti-corruption commission to prevent it from investigating his deputy, who is a friend of his.

SES Commissioner Murray Kear wrote to the Independent Commission Against Corruption on October 29 last year to tell it that his deputy, Steve Pearce, had been "negligent" in awarding multimillion-dollar contracts without a tender, but his investigation revealed "no corrupt conduct".

ICAC is examining allegations that Mr Kear sacked another deputy, Tara McCarthy, as a reprisal for investigating alleged corruption involving Mr Pearce, whom he regarded as a mate.

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Mr Kear agreed yesterday that he wrote the letter one day after returning from leave in Tasmania.

"The opinion that you were prepared to give the independent investigatory body was based on returning from Tasmania and one day of investigation that included a conversation with your mate Mr Pearce?" counsel assisting the inquiry, Michael Fordham, SC, asked.

"Well, it also included the conversations I'd had with Ms McCarthy [and other SES officials while on leave] and, when I returned, looking at the contracts in the office," Mr Kear said.

Commissioner David Ipp, QC, said: "Your intention by that letter was to stop [ICAC] from investigating? It cut ICAC off at the pass, didn't it?"

Mr Kear replied that he was telling investigators that his own view was that there had been no corruption, but the letter also said he would "welcome [its] advice on this matter".

"It had the effect of making ICAC believe there was no point in investigating? That was your intention, wasn't it?" Mr Ipp said.

"I gave ICAC my opinion that I thought there was no corrupt conduct - I thought it was mistake and negligence," Mr Kear said.

Mr Ipp said ICAC "didn't investigate as a result of what you said to them".

Mr Kear denied that his investigation of the alleged corruption was "at best" substandard.

"Your management of Mr Pearce was coloured by your mateship with him, do you agree with that?" Mr Fordham said.

"No, I do not," Mr Kear replied.

Mr Kear, who took leave at his own request pending the outcome of the inquiry, faces a potential criminal charge if ICAC finds he sacked Ms McCarthy as a reprisal.

The corruption watchdog has no power to lay criminal charges but can recommend that the Director of Public Prosecutions consider charges.

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