SA police officer led 'dangerous cult's' attempts to have critic criminally charged
Exclusive by Josh Robertson
14 August 2019
A police officer led fellow devotees of a "dangerous cult" on a campaign to have a critic face criminal charges over blogs about the group.
Eric Walsh, an acting detective in South Australia, helped more than 30 followers of Universal Medicine (UM) target healthcare activist Esther Rockett in complaints to a federal cybercrime body and NSW police.
Sergeant Walsh claimed the blogger "incited acts of violence" against UM devotees.
He coached followers to pressure a Byron Bay detective to charge Ms Rockett
He coached followers to pressure a Byron Bay detective to charge Ms Rockett and accused the detective of treating their claims of online harassment and stalking with a "limp wristed fob off".
He also sought advice from SA police colleagues on ways to silence online criticism of UM, a discredited multimillion-dollar "healing" enterprise run by a former bankrupt tennis coach, Serge Benhayon.
The ABC has obtained online messages and emails which detail the policeman's advice to UM devotees over six months in 2015.
Mr Benhayon described his contribution as "gold".
Another UM devotee told Sergeant Walsh "the Dalai Lama would follow you into battle such is your purity."
- Sgt Eric Walsh sought advice from police colleagues on ways to silence online criticism of Universal Medicine
- The officer advised "cult" devotees to file police reports against the blogger alleging "illness, anxiety, trauma"
- Healthcare advocate Esther Rockett says Sgt Walsh's actions were "inappropriate" and had no legal basis
The bid to have Ms Rockett charged, failed with NSW police finding the claims, including inciting violence, were baseless.
UM's leader later sued Ms Rockett for defamation.
But last year she proved to a NSW Supreme Court jury that UM was a "socially harmful, dangerous [and] exploitative cult" that "preys on cancer patients".
UM was a "socially harmful, dangerous ... cult"
The jury found Mr Benhayon was a "charlatan" who made "bogus healing claims", was "sexually manipulative of his cult followers", and had an "indecent interest in girls as young as 10".
He was ordered to pay Ms Rockett $1.2 million in legal costs.
Just months after the damning jury findings, Sergeant Walsh attended UM's annual retreat in Vietnam.
He also appears beside Mr Benhayon on a new website promoting UM's men's group, "Unfolding Men", which also includes a barrister and a physician from Brisbane.
online forum for UM devotees
Walsh helped 'cult' members frame complaints
Sergeant Walsh first raised the idea of targeting Ms Rockett in complaints to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) in an online forum for UM devotees in June 2015.
The group would eventually form its own "ACORN evidence support team".
"As many as possible should be going the full hog on ACORN. Flood Eric's inbox and let's get to it," Mr Benhayon said.
The police officer shared a 900-word post on how to frame ACORN complaints around "what I would want to elicit from any victim of crime".
Sergeant Walsh asked if Ms Rockett's blogs had cost them jobs, clients or family relationships or left them in "fear of answering the phone, double locking the door [or] avoiding social media".
"What is the continuing and ongoing consequences, illness, anxiety, trauma? ........ Trauma? (yes i [sic] deliberately asked that one twice, how is your breathing?)".
"If in doubt run it past me — as Serge said — hit my inbox."
Mr Benhayon responded: "This is Gold, Eric . . . Let's make Esther . . . 'famous' with the police."
Weeks later, he told his followers that "these horrific attacks and lies have not stopped me or brought me down but that will not stop me from saying it is a crime . . . I have done my full police report, have you?"
It will work.
"Keep reporting her. It will work."
The complaints prompted NSW police to visit the blogger in September 2015.
Behaviour was 'irrational', blogger says
Ms Rockett, who was bankrupted by legal action from UM devotees, said she was "surprised at the lengths that Universal Medicine were prepared to go to, to harass a critic".
"They did try pretty much everything they could to shut me down," she said.
Ms Rockett said the revelations about Sergeant Walsh showed actions "inappropriate for a police officer".
"He should have known that the complaints really didn't have any legal basis," she said.
"He was really behaving in a way that was not impartial and really quite irrational."
The ABC understands NSW police later became aware of Sergeant Walsh's role in coaching complainants.
By December 2015, Sergeant Walsh had prepared an 800-word document for UM followers called "Questions for GS [the NSW detective]".
Sergeant Walsh warned that the detective would "try to dictate the conversation with you, he will patronise you but he will appear sympathetic".
"Don't be persuaded that this is a civil matter or that [Ms Rockett's] conduct is supported by freedom of speech," he said.
"You will want to know. . . if he has been advised by senior officers or lawyers . . . who are they and what information were they provided to come to that decision.
state that ... you continue to be traumatised, threatened and intimidated
"You will need to state . . . that you have and continue to be traumatised, threatened and intimidated as a victim.
"You will be stating that you expect . . . to be informed about the nature of the conversation he had with [Ms Rockett] regarding you."
Days later, Sergeant Walsh railed against the "lazy" NSW detective, telling UM devotees "now it is time to . . . not be cowed by GS . . . don't hold back in submitting complaints".
"There is and continues to be a real threat of physical assault occurring — and this is directly attributable to [Esther Rockett's] conduct and actions — and nothing else," he said.
"[The detective] has only contacted people to tell them there is nothing he can do — this is a shabby and unacceptable posture and it is in complete disregard of the concerns and needs of victim of crime.
"Just because he is a 30yr detective doesn't mean he is right — he is not — as it happens he actually comes from the worst era of policing.
"It is therefore important to make it very clear to all, that should their [sic] be any retribution or acts of violence meted out against anyone, by those incited to do so by ER, that further questions will have to be asked and someone will have to account for it."
Sergeant Walsh also told followers that "SAPOL E-crime investigators" gave him advice on getting quicker responses to some social media complaints through the federal eSafety Commissioner via its "FBI liaison" in the US.
Sergeant Walsh is currently stationed at a Criminal Investigation Bureau in Adelaide.
When contacted by the ABC, he said: "I'm afraid I'm not sure where you've got your information from.
"I think you may have been misled and so I'm not going to comment any further on that."
Under the South Australian police code of conduct, an officer "must not, in the course of his employment or otherwise, behave in a manner that reflects or is likely to reflect adversely on S.A. Police".
A spokesman said South Australian police were "not in a position to make any comment".
NSW police also declined to comment.
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