Kovco probe suffered army interference - MP Commander

Army chiefs have been accused by a military police commander of interfering in the investigation into the shooting death in Baghdad of Private Jake Kovco.

Major Michael Pemberton said his professional team may also have been unnecessarily "tainted" because their full role in investigating the death had yet to be revealed.

Major Pemberton, head of the military police's special investigations branch (SIB), was giving evidence on Wednesday to the inquiry into Pte Kovco's death.

The inquiry has already heard suggestions the SIB investigation was flawed, with officers not carrying out any DNA or gunshot residue tests at the scene.

There have also been claims investigators coached some soldiers through their statements.

But Major Pemberton said his team had acted professionally in investigating the death of Pte Kovco, who died on April 21 after being shot in the head with his own 9mm Browning pistol inside his Baghdad barracks room.

He accused army chiefs in Baghdad of interfering in the investigation and of putting pressure on his SIB team.

He said his chief investigator in Baghdad was harassed with phone calls from army chiefs about the probe.

"Is that interfering with the conduct of the investigation, or simply a commander interested in what was going on?" asked counsel assisting the inquiry, Colonel Michael Griffin.

"I would use the term interference," replied Major Pemberton.

A three-man SIB team was initially sent to investigate the shooting, but the matter was later handed over to NSW Police.

Major Pemberton said that soon after finding out about the shooting, he ordered Pte Kovco's room to be secured and his body to remain in Iraq until the SIB investigators arrived.

His team took 96 hours to fly to Iraq from Australia, but before they arrived, army officials allowed people to enter the room and Pte Kovco's body to be transferred to a civilian morgue in Kuwait.

Major Pemberton said those decisions potentially contaminated vital evidence for his SIB team.

The SIB team had also been "unnecessarily tainted because I don't believe the complete story of (SIB's) involvement has been told until now," Major Pemberton told the inquiry.

"They displayed a very professional approach and conduct throughout the investigation."

Major Pemberton called for the military police to be given more equipment and manpower as well as an independent commander to take control of any future investigations into deaths within military ranks.

He said a defence force review, currently before the Chief of the Defence Force and service chiefs, had recommended an independent commander take charge of all investigations.

"I believe from a policy perspective within defence that is a very big step in the right direction," he said.

"However, it (the military police) has always been an under-resourced organisation.

"We are a necessary evil. When we are required everybody wants to embrace us, but as soon as we become an issue we are pushed to a corner.

"However, at the end of the day, the sort of incident that has occurred here ... highlights the fact that from an organisational perspective we don't tend to put credence to issues such as this until after the fact.

"If we were better equipped, had more manpower ... then I am sure that we would perform much better in the bigger picture." The inquiry continues

Source: AAP News Service

The Australian Army has taken a battering over the initial handling of this investigation.

A three-man MP SIB team was initially sent to investigate the shooting, but the matter was later handed over to NSW Police.

The NSW Police have been critical on the lack of crime scene protection.

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