Monday, May 16, 2011

Australia: Justice denied on Palm Island

Frank Brennan SJ

ON Monday I was in Townsville, talking to people about the latest saga in the police cover-up of the death of Mulrunji Cameron Doomadgee, the Aboriginal resident of Palm Island who never emerged alive from the police station after Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley fell on him in November 2004.

The Aboriginal community has had to endure three separate coronial inquiries; a decision by the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions not to prosecute; the reversal of that decision on advice from Laurence Street, who said, "A jury could well find that the only rational inference that can be drawn as to the fatal injury is that it was inflicted by Hurley deliberately kneeing Mulrunji in the upper abdominal area"; the trial of Hurley, who was acquitted, with his barrister telling the jury Hurley was the "instrument of another young man dying and that is a cross he will carry for the rest of his life"; a detailed hearing before the Crime and Misconduct Commission that recommended "consideration be given to commencing disciplinary proceedings for misconduct" against six named police officers; a Supreme Court case denying the Queensland police commissioner the right to conduct the disciplinary proceedings on the grounds of apprehended bias; and now a decision by the deputy police commissioner that there is no need for any disciplinary action against any Queensland police officer.

All is well again in the state of Queensland. Or at least it is back to business as usual in Aboriginal-police relations.

The public is well familiar with the fact the investigating police officers were treated to a barbecue at Hurley's residence on arrival on Palm Island before they began the inquiry into the death caused by Hurley. The barbecue was just the beginning of the chummy police cover-up of their own negligence and dishonesty. Here is one of the CMC's observations about the extraordinary behaviour of Detective Senior Sergeant Raymond Kitching, Detective Inspector Warren Webber and Inspector Mark Williams: Kitching "agreed that he only offered to pathologists information that he considered reliable and relevant".

This seems in stark contradiction to his inclusion on the Form 1 of hearsay evidence about Doomadgee drinking bleach and his exclusion not only of Roy Bramwell's evidence but also of Penny Sibley's allegation of assault (the credibility of which had not been questioned).

In effect, Kitching seems to have informed the pathologist of information adverse to Doomadgee but excluded allegations adverse to Hurley." The pathologist, Guy Lampe, had been told by police that Doomadgee had swallowed bleach (he had not) but not that he had been assaulted (he had). The CMC said the police officers who conducted the internal review of this behaviour "appear to be simply providing reasons to justify Kitching's failure to make this information available to the pathologist, and Webber's and Williams' failure to check the Form 1".

The CMC, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge Martin Moynihan, concluded: "The investigation into the death of Mulrunji was seriously flawed, its integrity gravely compromised in the eyes of the very community it was meant to serve. The way in which the investigation was conducted destroyed the Palm Island community's confidence that there would be an impartial investigation of the death."

Last month, Queensland police deputy commissioner Kathy Rynders published a 410-page report finding that no officers needed be disciplined. She makes these observations about Kitching's Form 1 report: "I consider Kitching's failure to inform Dr Lampe of the assault allegations (whether reliable or not) a significant departure from service requirement and in the circumstance would warrant the commencement of disciplinary action. I note that Kitching included unconfirmed information concerning Mulrunji taking bleach. Similarly, he should have included information of the alleged assault made by Bramwell and Florence Sibley."

However, she says, "I do not consider Kitching's failure to inform Dr Lampe of the assaults constituted misconduct. However, for reasons already outlined and Kitching's acceptance that the allegations of assault should have been brought to the attention of Dr Lampe, it is not my intention to commence disciplinary action, but to provide managerial guidance."

Overall, she agrees with the CMC that there had been "failings in the initial investigation" but concludes that all her boys need is "managerial guidance". She thinks the serious flaws highlighted by the CMC relate only to matters "incidental to the investigation".

In her report, she writes, "The actions of the officers must be viewed objectively, not with the benefit of hindsight."

Addressing the Palm Island community's perception of the police misconduct, she observes, "There continues to be strong feelings amongst many in the community. The danger, however, is that strong feelings tend to cloud sound judgment. "

She concludes: "The evidence simply does not support action for misconduct or official misconduct."

Moynihan describes this decision by Rynders as "almost incomprehensible".

Three years ago, Mike Reynolds, who had been the long-time mayor of Townsville before becoming a government minister and then speaker of the parliament, called for a royal commission into the matter, saying, "This case has become so convoluted and tainted that I now believe truth and justice can only be obtained by a wide-ranging royal commission headed by an eminent jurist."

On Monday Reynolds repeated that call, telling me there was no other way for Queenslanders to put this matter behind them.

After the jury acquitted Hurley in September 2007, Aboriginal leader Gracelyn Smallwood said: "This has not ended the way we wanted it to, but it has been a win on our slow climb up the Everest of justice." On Monday she told me, "People are just so tired and drained. We have lost hope in the Queensland justice system. We've stopped climbing."

The Everest of justice is still well beyond the reach of Queensland Aborigines who happen to get in the way of the Queensland police, who remain a law unto themselves. Three years ago Premier Anna Bligh dismissed out of hand Reynolds's call for a royal commission. She was confident that the legal processes would produce a transparent, just result. We are now at the end of the legal process. The Bligh government needs to listen again to responsible citizens such as Reynolds and Smallwood. There must be a royal commission.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today. Now hosted on Wordpress. If you cannot access it, go to the MIRROR SITE, where posts appear as well as on the primary site. I have reposted the archives (past posts) for Wicked Thoughts HERE or HERE or here

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