The late-night email set out how to wipe email trails and mask mobile calls to keep them secret. But the contact between Peter Fox and Joanne McCarthy was nevertheless exposed.
As relationships go, this one has caused a lot of trouble – for the police, the Catholic Church, NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell and even the Prime Minister. Now it's all being laid bare in the Newcastle Supreme Court.
Fairfax Media journalist McCarthy is being grilled in the witness box at the special inquiry into how police and Catholic Church priests and officials handled allegations of sexual abuse in NSW's Hunter Region.
The inquiry was set up by the NSW Premier after a whistleblower policeman, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, went on ABC's Lateline last November, alleging a cover-up. The Prime Minister called a separate royal commission on child sexual abuse days later.
The royal commission is well into its task of hearing victims' stories in private – but at the NSW inquiry, the victims are largely sidelined as anonymous sets of initials*.
Instead, the focus for the best part of two days has been on what McCarthy knew, how she knew it, and whether and why she sought to conceal her relationship with Chief Inspector Fox.
According to the evidence, in November last year Chief Inspector Fox sent Newcastle Herald journalist McCarthy an internal police document on his investigation so far, and where he thought it should go next. She passed up his invitation to correct or amend it.
She said she knew that he was withholding from his colleagues the statements he had taken from two victims who were the subject of a new investigation that excluded Chief Inspector Fox. McCarthy said she didn't think it her place to tell the police about it.
She said she didn't have an arrangement with Chief Inspector Fox to keep the witness statements secret. "No," she said, in response to a question whether she had ever referred to him as “her police officer”.
Then why did Chief Inspector Fox send her an internal police document that was highly critical of police? Wayne Roser SC, barrister for a posse of police, wanted to know.
“I think by that stage, I was kind of a sounding board to him … He wants to keep me in the loop,” McCarthy replied.
Both of them were having their emails to police ignored, so “possibly we were both feeling the same way", she said.
“Possibly he was feeling a little bit lonely and isolated at that point, so the caring ear of a journalist … I don't know,” she said.
The courtroom laughed at the concept of a journalist's caring ear. Even so, McCarthy has repeatedly asserted that her prime motivation was to get police to conduct a serious investigation into allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic church in the Hunter region, and to ensure the victims with whom she was in contact were treated well.
Ms McCarthy's evidence continues.
*Clarification: The NSW inquiry has talked extensively to victims in private hearings and interviews, has taken statements from them and has given extensive support to them in other ways.