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Trial begins for Royal Newfoundland Constabulary civilian employee charged with accessing private information

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Susan Hewitt has pleaded not guilty to three charges

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The trial of a civilian RNC employee charged with unlawfully accessing police files was underway for less than two hours Tuesday before it abruptly came to a halt.

Crime analyst Susan Hewitt, 37, has pleaded not guilty to three charges of unlawfully accessing personal information under the province's privacy legislation, and her two-day trial began in provincial court in St. John's Tuesday morning.

The Crown's first witness was Kim Harding, who was the RNC's director of information services at the time a man made a complaint alleging Hewitt had breached his privacy by accessing his information held in police files.

Harding explained to the court how the RNC stores information gathered during criminal investigations, detailing how every employee of the force, whether officer or civilian, is given their own ID number and password and access to files. The degree of access is different for different employees based on their job requirements, Harding said.

As a crime analyst, Hewitt's job includes identifying crime patterns — either in relation to a specific person or a particular offence or location — in response to police officers' requests as part of investigations.

A crime analyst could provide an investigator with a criminal profile of a suspect, Harding explained as an example, or information on which area of town is experiencing the highest occurrence of a specific crime.

As part of the investigation into the allegations against Hewitt, Harding said she undertook an audit of Hewitt's access to the system holding the police files. The audit revealed Hewitt had accessed files involving the original complainant and two others between August 2016 and October 2017 with no apparent reason and no linkage between the files other than a date.

"That's not normal," Harding explained. "It's not typical for a crime analyst."

When Harding told the court her determination that Hewitt had accessed the files improperly had been corroborated by information supplied by the investigator in the case, court proceedings stopped.

Defence lawyer Randy Piercey pointed out the investigator had not been called to testify during the trial, so Harding's evidence in terms of what she had been told amounted to hearsay.

Hearsay evidence is generally inadmissible in court.

After a recess, the proceedings resumed long enough to set a date in the new year for the trial to continue, giving Crown prosecutor Arnold Hussey time to call additional witnesses to testify.

Hewitt is the second civilian RNC employee to go to court this year on charges of accessing private information. In July, administrator Tammy Brinson was found guilty of a single offence, but was given an absolute discharge.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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