Tragedy as AFP staffer suddenly dies
WARNING: Distressing content
The Australian Federal Police has been rocked after a former member of the organisation was found dead this morning.
Julie Woodward's body was discovered in a Melbourne hotel when police went to conduct a welfare check after receiving what appeared to be a suicide note on email.
Ms Woodward, 43, also sent news.com.au the lengthy document - in which she accuses the AFP and state police of subjecting her to a toxic bullying culture - after our extensive coverage about workplace suicides in the AFP.
She is the sixth AFP staffer to have taken their lives in the past two years.
Ms Woodward was employed as a criminal intelligence analyst for the AFP between February and August this year, after a successful career with state police in several Australian states and territories.
"This is a terrible time for Julie's family and friends and the AFP would like to offer its sincere condolences," an AFP spokesperson said in a statement.
"The AFP understands that sadly Julie Woodward was found deceased, in non-suspicious circumstances by Victoria Police. This is now a matter for Victoria Police and the Victorian Coroner."
A Victoria Police spokesperson told news.com.au its investigation into Ms Woodward's death "will be oversighted by our Professional Standards Command".
"Victoria Police was extremely saddened to learn of the death of a former employee in Melbourne earlier today," the spokesperson said.
"Our thoughts and condolences are with her family, friends and former colleagues in Victoria Police.
"Whilst it is early days in the investigation, we can confirm that prior to her death she sent us a letter which speaks about her experiences at Victoria Police and other policing agencies. The content of that letter will now form part of our investigation on behalf of the coroner.
"Whilst it is inappropriate to comment on aspects of the letter, it is important to state that Victoria Police has and continues to invest heavily in welfare support for staff and we are strongly committed to creating workplaces that are safe, inclusive and respectful."
In her 56-page letter - which news.com.au has chosen not to publish - Ms Woodward recounted personal difficulties and significant challenges she had overcome in her life.
But it was her time serving as an unsworn member in several state police departments and finally the AFP that ultimately broke her. She claimed she was bullied in the Northern Territory and Victoria police forces before accepting a job with the AFP in Canberra earlier this year. Ms Woodward said she again became the target of bullying and harassment in the workplace.
"Ms Woodward ceased employment with the AFP on 13 August as part of the probation process," an AFP spokesperson told news.com.au today, adding it was "not appropriate to discuss the reasons for this".
On the same day of her termination, Ms Woodward contacted news.com.au via email for the first time.
At that point, five sworn officers had taken their own lives on the job within two years, and about 100 AFP whistleblowers had contacted news.com.au to express concern that they - or someone they knew - would be next. Ms Woodward claimed "policing culture" was also to blame for her deepest and darkest troubles.
"I would like to speak up about policing culture, bullying, extreme sexual harassment and the discarding of staff," she wrote in the August 13 email.
"I feel like we need to somehow unite to have our voices heard and seek a royal commission.
"I'm not sure what I would like to do … but I'm not comfortable just walking away and letting bullies win while I'm jobless and on medication for anxiety and depression. I've worked too hard."
Tragically, just three months later, Ms Woodward was dead.
According to the AFP spokesperson, Ms Woodward "had access to a holistic suite of support services including a welfare officer network, psychologists, and social workers".
"This support is part of the AFP's commitment to delivering holistic approach to supporting all AFP members' health through access to a range of clinical health professionals using a multidisciplinary approach," the spokesperson said.
"The AFP utilises an evidence based approach to health support and recognises individuals can elect to engage with the AFP health team or their own treating practitioners.
"Over the past two years specifically, the AFP has demonstrated that the physical and mental health of our people is a high priority by engaging professional expertise and support from both inside and outside Australia."
Ms Woodward's tragic death comes amid an ongoing cultural crisis within the AFP.
Almost 100 AFP whistleblowers have contacted news.com.au to report a severe mismanagement of widespread mental health issues, a lack of support services, and a disturbing internal bullying culture within the organisation over the past three years. Several members of various Australian state police departments have also come forward to make similar claims about policing culture.
Many of the past and present sworn members who came forward claimed the toxic culture had culminated in the workplace suicides and warned that more deaths were inevitable.
"It's like looking at a whole lot of ticking time bombs and wondering which one will go off," one agent previously said of his colleagues.
TRAGEDY IN THE WORKPLACE
In July this year, an AFP officer from Melbourne took his own life while on a work trip.
News.com.au understands his body was discovered by a colleague.
His death came after Sergeant Samantha Baglin, 44, died by suicide at the Australian Federal Police national headquarters in Canberra in December last year.
Just six weeks earlier, Superintendent Richard Roberts also took his own life in the same building.
In November 2017, AFP member Malcolm Scott, 59, took his own life in the Melbourne headquarters.
Mr Scott's death followed that of colleague Sue Jones, 53, a sworn member and mother-of-two who died in the same building earlier that year. Both Mr Scott and Ms Jones's deaths were later deemed to be non-suspicious.
The new AFP commissioner, Reece Kershaw, addressed the issue at his swearing in ceremony in September this year. He said his initial focus would be "to ensure our frontline officers in the AFP are supported with the right training, technology and equipment, that the operating model of the organisation is fit for purpose for now and the future, and that the health and wellbeing of all staff is supported by the appropriate strategies and mechanisms".
Earlier, Mr Kershaw conceded there was "more work to do" to prevent officer suicides.
"It is a disturbing issue for us," he said.
"I think it's really important to look at those strategies and the support mechanisms that we can roll out to prevent this from happening."
In March last year, the high rate of suicide deaths and mental health conditions experienced by first responders - including emergency service workers and volunteers - prompted a federal Parliament committee to launch an inquiry into the role of the Commonwealth and the states to address the issues.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) also announced an audit into the AFP's management of mental health within the organisation. It was later revealed that two-thirds of men and women in the AFP experienced potentially traumatic events at some stage in their career.
The ANAO made six recommendations, which the AFP agreed to implement as part of its "new Health and Wellbeing Strategy for the organisation".
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