Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bob Atkinson’s culture of denial

The QPS has brought the culture of denial to a fine art – greatly helped by the Police Union.
This has been clear throughout the sorry saga of the inquiry into the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee in November 2004.

It was probably clear during the first Inquest in 2005 and it was very obvious during the Second Inquest, which I attended. My notes record my amazement at the litany of inadequate inquiries, police investigating their friends, superior officers not asking for timely reports. Meanwhile the Commissioner continued his public statements that he had ‘full confidence’ in his officers. I never heard that he wanted to get the truth of what happened – nor that he wanted justice for the Doomadgee family.

This March I attended the third Inquest and the shameful twists, and changed statements (some surely are perjury) the collusion, the misguided loyalty continued. Again the Commissioner was still confident in his officers .

On 14th June the CMC report was published and Chair Martin Moynihan clearly identified the Commissioner, Bob Atkinson as the person responsible for the Queensland Police Service. He is therefore responsible, during his ten year stint as Commissioner, for the growth of the culture of denial, of frequent refusals to admit to faults, of the QPS's self-protecting attitude.

If I had not sat through two of the three inquests I would not be so confident that my opinion is valid. But I saw and heard police officers repeatedly stating that they knew something happened in a particular way, not because they saw it happen but because Sn Sgt Hurley, told them so and that is good enough for them. However, when an Palm Island man says that he saw and heard something happen, that is not believable because it reflects badly on Hurley.

What does Bob Atkinson do after the clear evidence of the coronial inquiries and the CMC report? He continues to deny the problem exists. He says that everything is better now.

Everything cannot get better until the truth of what happened in 2004 at the Palm Island watch house is established as clearly as is now possible. That includes the question of collusion amongst certain officers, and the possibility of 'lying' to the inquest - which I believe is the same as perjury and therefore a very serious offence.

I would like Commissioner Bob Atkinson to bite the bullet and effectively discipline the few police officers who have not done the right thing. He should acknowledge that there have been faults and say how he has dealt with them.
If he does this he will strengthen the many police officers who work tirelessly and fairly for all of us.

So do the right thing Commissioner. Show us that you are capable of turning round the corrosive culture of denial in the Queensland Police Service.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Police Officers must be held accountable for their actions: charges must be laid after the findings of Mulrunji Inquest 14 May 2010

Monique’s suggestions after reading Coroner Brian Hine’s Findings:

That appropriate charges and disciplinary action be taken against Inspector Hurley
· for his arrest of Mulrunji,
· for his assault on Mulrunji in the police station corridor, when Mulrunji was lying on the floor
· for failure to take proper care of Mulrunji when he went limp and before he dragged Mulrunji into the cell
· for his inhumanity in not responding to Mulrunji's cries of pain (clearly audible on the tape played on 11/12 March 2010 hearings)
· for his ‘lies’ as a witness in the coronial inquiry hearings

That appropriate charges be laid against all the police officers
who were involved in the ‘lack of transparency, independence and thoroughness of the investigations after the deaths in custody’.

That Commissioner Atkinson apologise to Tracey Twaddle, the Doomadgee family, the people of Palm Island and the Aboriginal Community throughout Australia, for not having acted swiftly to ensure a prompt, transparent and just inquiry into the death of Mulrunji in police custody.

The Commissioner also apologise for his repeated support of Hurley, even after it was clear that Hurley had certainly acted inappropriately and negligently, and possibly committed perjury.

If the Commissioner feels unable to act in this way, he should be asked to resign.

The Premier and Attorney General must have urgent talks with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and relevant service organisations to discuss how to ensure that there are no more deaths in custody – shockingly there have been several more recently. If there are serious incidents involving police there must be a swift, transparent and just inquiry and disciplinary action taken against any people, regardless of their status, who are found to be at fault.


May 14 2010 Coroner Brian Hine’s Findings (which include undisputed matter from previous hearings in 2005 and 2006) Page & section numbers in italics

1. Mr Doomadgee (Mulrunji) should not have been arrested on 19th November 2004
Hurley arrested Mulrunji which goes against the Recommendations of the Deaths in Custody and also against laws such as the Minor Offences Act (not sure of correct name). The use of arrest as a last resort is often stated to be the correct procedure in any forum on how to reduce the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

I do not remember seeing much discussion of any propensity to over-use arrest powers but I think it a real concern that Hurley, who has now been promoted to Inspector, said in the Coroner’s Court, under oath 12th May 2010
‘I do not regret anything. It is no use having regrets. I have arrested other people for the same kind of offence.’
These are the words I heard Hurley say in the court that day and the strong implication was that he will continue to arrest people for the same kind of offence.

That is, Hurley is prepared to go on arresting people for offences which clearly do not justify being arrested – this is particularly likely to lead to people protesting their innocence; then to the escalation of verbal and physical violence. The police officer will be in a position to say that he has been assaulted but the person being arrested will find it hard to have his side of the story heard.

2. That Hurley has a propensity to react physically
As a result of the death of Mulrunji, subsequent to his arrest by Hurley
· it is on public record that hours of recorded interviews with Hurley exist, which the Police Commissioner fought in court to have suppressed, and which I think it is fair to conclude, contain material which is negative about Hurley and possibly about others too
· four incidents on Palm Island which were discussed in the 2006 inquest hearings,
· plus the Ian Conway Incident, suppressed by Coroner Hine on 12 March 2010, but now made public in the findings

P 67 183. As a result, there is uncontested evidence before the Court of previous instances during the two years Sn Sgt Hurley was stationed on Palm Island in which he accepted in evidence that he responded physically when he was confronted physically or with verbal disrespect. Hines Findings May 14, 2010

Such a propensity was likely to cause a significant number of incidents which would almost certainly lead to charges of assault, not against Hurley but against the person who had treated him with disrespect.

On November 19th 04, it lead to Mulrunji , being arrested and forcibly placed in a police wagon, forcibly removed from it and, after Doomadgee had punched Hurley, Hurley punched Mulrunji as he was lying on the ground but these injuries did not cause his death.

p73 202. There were subcutaneous bruises and injuries to the area above Mulrunji’s right eye, forehead and back of the neck, left index finger knuckle, right little finger, bruising around the rib fractures and the right side of the jaw. Although the injuries to the face were consistent both with contact during a fall or during an assault, they could not have occurred at the same time as a fall, if the fall had caused the fatal injuries. These are unexplained signs of violence, with Hurley being the only possible perpetrator. Hines Findings May 14, 2010

However, these injuries are not the cause of death.
P 37 107. The DSC found 35: Both autopsies concluded that the cause of death was intra-abdominal haemorrhage, due to the ruptured liver and portal vein.
The consensus of medical opinion was that severe compressive force applied to the upper abdomen, or possibly the lower chest, or both together, was required to have caused this injury. Hines Findings May 14, 2010

2. That it is now impossible to establish whether Mulrunji’s death from strong force applied in his upper abdomen was caused deliberately or accidently by Hurley.

Police officers present at the police station during the vital 30 minutes discussed what they would say.

P 122 334 ...fact that the fact finding process has been substantially compromised and rendered more difficult by the unsatisfactory state of the investigation which was conducted into the death of Mulrunji Hines Findings May 14, 2010

P122 335. There has been extensive evidence about, and much has been said of, the flaws of the QPS investigation into this death, in terms of transparency, independence and thoroughness. Hines Findings May 14, 2010

3. That police culture results in loyalty to fellow police officers above their duty to the Crown and to the public.

P 130 341
Both police officers (Sgt Leafe and Constable Steadman)conceded that this was the first and only time they had assisted the defence, and that it had occurred because Mr Hurley was a police officer. Hines Findings May 14, 2010

Hurley’s friend, D Sgt Robinson believed that Hurley told him the truth about Barbara Pilot.
p130 from 340 His (D Sgt Robinson)"investigation" into the Barbara Pilot incident was superficial, biased, and misleading. His conclusion that the complaint was "fictitious"197 (ie. imaginary: not real.198) was dishonest, and flew in the face of the objective evidence.


There are too many tragedies flowing from the arrest and death in custody of Mr Doomadgee - his family have asked that he be known as Mulrunji until they feel it is the right time to resume his  full name.
  • the death of a fit man in his mid-thirties, his life cut-off suddenly and brutally
  • the loss of the son, husband, brother,father, community member of Palm Island 
  • the grief and trauma the sudden, unexplained death caused his family, the Palm Island community and the whole linked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community
  • the angry and quite physical reaction of Palm Island community members to the bald statement of the autopsy results - with no support offered to the family, the council and the community
  • the panic by the police, the still unexplained fire which burnt the police station and also the fire in Hurley's quarters -which lead the illegal declaration of a state of emergency and the arrival of SERT troops on the island 
  • the freezing of any but police movements to the island so that there was no milk, bread and other necessities available to the 3000 Palm residents
  • the storming of private houses, in the early morning by balaclava hooded, non-identifiable police officers armed with tasers and guns who held guns to the heads of terrified residents, including in the front of their children
  • Police officers apparently had 'lists' of people they were looking for - some of whom could not possibly have been involved as they were in prison on the mainland
  • the subsequent charging of about 30 people and the very heavy bail conditions and then sentences imposed 
  • the suicide of Mulrunji's teenage son , despairing of obtaining any justice for his father
  • the trial, after three years' stressful waiting of four men who had dared to plead 'not guilty' to charges of inciting and abetting the alleged 'riot' and their eventual acquittal.
  • The suicide of Mr Nugent, in mysterious circumstances, one of the witnesses of the events in the police station on 19th November 2004
  • The jailing of Lex Wotton in spite of evidence from some Police that he had done a great deal to quieten the crowd and to help to evacuate police if that was what they wanted.
  • the international damage to the reputation of Australia flowing from is seen as a gross miscarriage of justice after the inquiries, inquests and trials coming after Mulrunji's death.
Until there is a real change of heart, a real change of leadership and a real comittment to stamp out racism and unacceptable behaviour throughout the police force these incidents are going to continue. 
There also needs to be an equal comittment to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders and communities and community service organisations to improve the social determinants of culture, health, education, housing and employment.

If you want suggestions for action go to website  and for more ideas and to offer your skills, time and financial support.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. We can and must all work together on this.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

look out for Coroner's report on Mulrunji Inquest Friday 14 may

Coroner Brian Hine will start delivering his report at about 9:30 tomorrow, at Court 3, Townsville Courts.

Some of his findings should be on the news. The full text should be at, coroners court, Findings, by mid-afternoon.

I should have some comments and suggestions for action, by mid- late afternoon.

Meanwhile you might like to check out Ian Curr's comments on

Let's hope we finally have some truth about what really happened on the 19th November and  subsequently.  We may also have some comments on the suppressed evidence which Jeff Waters and others have written about.

Talk soon,

Sunday, March 14, 2010

12th March 2010 Townsville District Court - Day 5

Palm Island – 2nd Inquest re the death of Cameron Doomadgee, referred to as Mulrunji at his family’s request

12th March 2010 Townsville District Court -  Day 5
These are my impressions from talking with various community members and sitting, listening and watching, in the Court room – I cannot always catch what is said.

Mr Boe resumed interviewing Sn Sgt Hurley. He focussed on the issue of Mulrunji’s six distinct calls from the cells, over about 30 secs. Hurley insisted that he had heard nothing, even though the calls are recorded on the audio tape.  Hurley also stated that he normally hears calls from the cells, and that he responds to them. Hurley stated that, if he had heard Mulrunji or Nugent call out, he would have responded.
Mr Boe asked about the events of 20th November. Was it possible that Hurley had overheard or seen the statements and re-enactments being doing that morning. Hurley said that the only memory he has of that day is of sitting in his office and of doing the re-enactment.
Hurley said that if he had known the medical evidence he would  have left some room for an accidental injury in his account.

Note: Hurley said virtually the same thing when Mr Boe brought up the ‘Barbara Pilot Incident’ . Hurley denied running over her foot – but the medical evidence showed that the foot had been run over. so twice Hurley said that if he had known the medical evidence he ‘would have left some room for an accidental injury in his account...’

Mr Boe also asked about the only two items added into the re-enactment (see Mr Devlin’s questions the day before) could Hurley have been told of, or overheard Roy Bramwell’s evidence. Hurley absolutely denied it.
Mr Boe  said Detective Sgt Robinson, asked Hurley only two questions during the interview, 1) did Hurley get any injuries?, No   2) did you fall on top of him? No, I landed to the side of him, on the lino
Mr Boe suggested that the re-enactment left no opportunity for Hurley to have accidentally applied force. Hurley did not answer.

Mr Boe also asked about the relationship of Hurley and D Sgt Robinson. As colleagues and the two longest serving, senior officers, they saw each other regularly and could be called friends. Robinson had been told to investigate several complaints against Hurley in the past and had suggested to senior officers that this was inappropriate giving their relationship. Hurley had also raised the issue. Senior officers in Townsville over-ruled these concerns. They also included Robinson in the Investigating Team after Mulrunji’s death.

Hurley agreed that the Death in Custody should have been treated as a crime scene and that the total area from the police wagon up to and including the cell should have been secured. He said he had only thought of the cell as being the crime scene.

Mr Boe asked Hurley if he had anything to say to the family.  Hurley offered his sincere sympathy and sorrow for the angst they have suffered.
Mr Boe asked if Hurley regretted anything. Hurley said there was no use regretting things done in the past. He has arrested people for similar offences.
This was a pretty provocative response. Coroner Clements specifically stated that Mulrunji should not have been arrested – the offence could have been dealt with without arrest. From the Deaths in Custody Recommendations onward, there has been a focus on minimising arrests. My understanding is that arrest is meant to be virtually a ‘last resort’. Sn Sgt Hurley does not seem to have accepted the Qld Police policy on this. Perhaps this issue needs to be looked at further.
Queensland Government policy is to reduce the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The question of why people are arrested might be a great place to focus on.

Mr Davis, for Attorney General, started by going over some facts. Hurley has been acquitted by a Jury of manslaughter. When giving evidence at the trial, Hurley never contested the medical evidence. Hurley agreed.

Mr Davis went through Hurley’s re-enactment . On the one hand Hurley says he has no memory of what happened between going through the door into the police station. On the other hand, he took part in a re-enactment in which he clearly qualifies areas or actions about which he is unsure. So it can be assumed that the things he does not qualify are things he does remember.
The following are not exact words, but as close as I could get them. Tone is reasonably accurate.
Hurley: the re-enactment is not a true record as I obviously somewhere had contact with Mulrunji.
Mr Davis: That is based on the assumption that you are telling the truth and you did not apply force after the force.
Mr Davis:  You have accepted that you must have accidentally fallen on Mulrunji with such force to cleave his liver.  
Hurley: Some part of my person must have come into contact with Mulrunji, Yes.
Mr Davis: Contact quite violently, so violently that his liver has been split. So you cannot give evidence that you came into contact with Mulrunji because you can’t remember.
So you came into contact with Mulrunji with such violence that his liver was pushed against his backbone and  almost cleaved in two and you missed this. You get up actually believing that you never came into contact with Mulrunji at all.
Sn Sgt Hurley: Yes
Mr Devlin, Counsel Assisting
Summing up Sn Sgt Hurley was the only person in physical contact with Mulrunji, (except for Sgt Leafe helping to drag him into the cell.
Hurley did not see any sign of injury on Mulrunji when he arrested him. Hurley did not hit or punch him. 
Medical evidence about Mulrunji includes damage to his right eye, cheek and jaw, four fractured ribs, liver cleaved in half and portal vein ruptured.
Hurley cannot explain the injuries. He denies Roy Bramwell’s evidence of seeing what appear to be three punches. He denies responsibility for the death of Mulrunji.
Hurley: I accept the medical evidence. I accept that no-one else was in a position to inflict these injuries.
Mr Kent, for Attorney General  cross-examining Police Liaison Officer (PLO) Bengaroo PLO  Bengaroo had difficulty in following the questions put to him. He was obviously extremely nervous and when asked a question, often replied on a different topic.
Bengaroo  was asked to listen to a recording of his evidence on 20th November as to what had happened.  Part of it included ‘Chris fell on him, Chris fell on him, I think he flopped to the floor...  Chris was struggling to pick him up ‘
Mr Kent then asked Bengaroo about this evidence. In particular he asked about Bengaroo’s comment that he did not want to look at what was happening in case he might be blamed.
Mr Kent; Who would blame you?  Bengaroo: the family and others
Mr Kent: What for? Bengaroo: it was because of me he was arrested...
Mr Kent  asked if Bengaroo was concerned that Mulrunji in the police station, Bengaroo: No.
Mr  Kent, were you concerned that he was active and struggling then suddenly inactive when being dragged down the corridor? Bengaroo: No. He was struggling to get up.
Mr Davis, Have you eve said that before?  Bengaroo, No
Mr Davis, . Bengaroo had known about the medical evidence since 26th November. He was interviewed nearly three weeks later by the CMC, 8th December 04. Had he thought, during that time about how Mulrunji had died? 
Bengaroo: No, he didn’t think about it. The CMC had asked him, did Hurley fall same time as Mulrunji? Bengaroo: Same as Mulrunji.
Mr Kent, was Hurley any time on top of Mulrunji, Bengaroo: No
Mr Kent, Did Hurley assault Mulrunji after the fall
Bengaroo: No, I can’t recall    No, I just seen Hurley drag him to the cells.
Mr Kent, The first time you mentioned that they had tripped on the step was on 3rd August before Coroner Christine Clements. ......I’m not clear what Bengaroo answered.
Mr Kent, before the trial of Sn Sgt Hurley for manslaughter you gave a statement which you signed.  Bengaroo: Yes.
Mr Kent, Are you really not sure what happened. Bengaroo: No, I am sure
Mr Kent, Nothing you saw could possibly explain those injuries.  Bengaroo: No, they couldn’t.
Mr Zillman, for Sn Sgt Hurley, You did not see Hurley injure, strike, harm Mulrunji.
Bengaroo: No, I didn’t.
Mr Boe for the Doomadgee family, Did you ever think you had done anything wrong?  Bengaroo: No I didn’t
Mr Boe, Why did you organise a lawyer.
Bengaroo: I didn’t. The Union organised it.
Mr Boe, Why were you nervous about the community reactions?
Bengarooo: Many times the community harassed him, when they thought that the police had treated them badly. Community members often swore at Bengaroo.
Mr Devlin stated that the evidence is that Bengaroo was absent from the police station for about 20 minutes before 11:00am as he went to the bank for money for a ferry fare for ? his fiancee, I think.
Bengaroo was unable to say exactly when he was away between 10:00 and 11:00 am on the morning of Friday 19th November 2004, the day and time when Mulrunji was brought to the police station, and died there.
Mr Devlin informed the Coroner and Court that there were 3? sworn, written statements from police officers all saying that there was no mirror in the corner – that is the one referred to by Roy Bramwell and Palm Island community members.   I did not get the exact details but I am fairly sure that it was all police evidence stating there was no mirror.
Mr Devlin  said he had received information from Detective Sgt Darren Robinson ‘s lawyer with an opinion from his doctor, that appearance at the Court would be deleterious for Robinson’s health. Mr Devlin suggested that there were ample written statements from Detective Sgt Robinson and that, subject of course, to the Coroner, Mr Hine’s, decision, it was not really necessary to have Sgt Robinson appear in Court. 
The Coronor so ruled.

I was one of many who were very disappointed. I saw Robinson apearing as a witness during the inquest in March 06, and then again in March 07, during the trial of William Blackman, Dwayne Blanket, John Clumpoint and Lance Poynter. They were charged with a serious crime: rioting to cause destruction and were acquitted.
I was looking forward to seeing Robinson cross-examined by Mr Devlin and Mr Davis. Many Palm community members were also very disappointed.
Mr Zillman for Sn Sgt Hurley called Mr Glen Cranny, Gilshennan and Luton, for cross-examination. They agreed with Mr Cranny is a partner in Gilshennan and Luton, that he was retained by the Police Union to act for Sn Sgt Hurley and that he was and is, Mr Zillman’s instructing solicitor. I hope got these formal relationships reasonably correct.They are gone through very quickly between people who know each other and know all the details. It is hard for a lay person sitting in the back of the court to pick it all up.

Mr Cranny agreed that he represented Sn Sgt Hurley, Sgt Leafe, Constable ?Tongs, Constable Steadman and PLO Bengaroo.  He spoke to each person, on their own, and got their version of events.
Mr Zillman asked Cranny about conflicts of interest. Cranny agreed that it is essential to avoid conflict of interest. He will only represent multiple clients if their versions agree as to what happened.
If their versions disagree, then they need to have different lawyers.
Cranny acted as lawyer for all five men until September 2006 when Coroner Clements report was published.  After that he continued to act for Hurley and the Police Union in-house solicitors acted for Leafe and Steadman. ? I don’t remember any mention of PLO Bengaroo.
Mr Cranny said that when Sgt Hurley was charged, the Police Union solicitors advised Leafe and Steadman not to co-operate with the Crown.
Cranny disagreed with this policy and told the Union solicitors so. He thought that it was in Hurley’s interests for Leafe and Steadman to cooperate with the Crown.
This is an example of why different representation might be needed. Was it in Leafe’s and Steadman’s interests to co-operate with the Crown?
There is of course, the question about why police officers, who are sworn to uphold the law could ever refuse to cooperate with the Crown. In fact Steadman stated that this was the first time in his career that he had refused to cooperate with a prosecution until ordered by the Commissioner to do so.
Mr Davis, for the Attorney General asked the Coroner if the non-publication order re a certain matter which was discussed in court yesterday, was still in place.
Mr Devlin confirmed exactly what was referred to. (I can’t tell you!)
Mr Zillman said that only minuted-cross examination was available and that it would be unjust to lift the non-publication order.
The Coroner said that he would leave it in place whilst he considered the matter. At least that is what I think he said. The Coroner does not speak into the mike and has a soft voice so it is hard to hear what he says..

I passed a note up to the Court asking them to make clear what the non-publication order applies to and what the effect is. After all, we have heard what-ever it was discussed and it needs to be made clear to us, in the public gallery, what we are not to do.
Mr Devlin then referred to the matter in question and told us that we are not to speak about it to anyone, nor to write about it whilst the order is in place.

ABC Journalist Jeff Waters, wrote an excellent book, Gone for a Song, which refers to the non-publication orders in great detail.
He has also written last Tuesday about this whole saga and has raised important issues.
see - 39k - [ html ] - 9 Mar 2010   -

There was a considerable amount of difficult to hear discussion amongst the lawyers and the Coroner about submissions and dates.  I gathered that the parties represented now put in written submissions to the Coroner and have a certain sequence to follow, first Mr Devlin, then Mr Boe and lastly Mr Zillman (not sure about the others). Key dates seemed to be ist April and 13 April. 
There was also talk about Oral submissions.
I will try to find out if members of the public, interested parties such as social justice groups can put in submissions and on what basis and by when.
This will be in my next blog which I hope to get out by Wednesday 17th March.

I hope also to have some general overview of what transpired and what seem to be key points from this weeks cross-examination but you will have your own views and it would be interesting to read them.


Friday, March 12, 2010

11th March 2010 Townsville District Court - Day 4

Palm Island – 2nd Inquest re the death of Cameron Doomadgee, referred to as Mulrunji at his family’s request

11th March 2010 Townsville District Court - Day 4
These are my impressions from talking with various community members and sitting, listening and watching, in the Court room – I cannot always catch what is said.

Wednesday afternoon – 10th March
Sgt Leafe was in the police garage with Roy Bramwell when Hurley arrived with Mulrunji, PLO Bengaroo, Mulrunji and Patrick Nugent. Leafe had just asked Roy to come to the police station as Sgt Hurley wanted to speak with him about alleged serious assaults on three women on Thursday night/Friday morning.
Mr Devlin took Leafe his first statement of his movements from Hurley’s arrival in garage until it was established that Mulrunji had died in the cell.
It appeared that Leafe was busy opening doors and the cell, organising Roy to sit on the yellow chair (see the evidence on Days 1 and 2) and then eventually arriving at the corridor where Mulrunji lay on his back on the floor and Hurley was trying to pick him up by his shirt. Then Leafe and Hurley took a wrist each and dragged Mulrunji down the corridor to the cell where they placed him. Leafe had only been away about 10 seconds, yet in that time Mulrunji had stopped struggling with Hurley and was not moving. Leafe said Mulrunji felt like a dead-weight.
Mr Devlin: did you ask Hurley what had happened? NO,
Mulrunji was motionless and supine. You did not think there might be a problem? NO. Then the surveillance camera was switched on, Hurley told Roy to leave and Leafe settled down to deal with correspondence.
Mr Devlin asked Leafe if he had seen the tape of the cell and of Mulrunji lying writhing on the floor and heard the six cries for help in the first ten minutes of the tape. Leafe said he had on the day after the death.
Mr Devlin asked Leafe how he could have not heard the six cries for help. Leafe said he did not know but he did not hear them.
Once Leafe discovered that Mulrunji had no pulse, the ambulance was called and ambulance staff pronounced Mulrunji dead and took the body to the hospital. Leafe then settled down to normal everyday business.
Mr Devlin asked if Leafe and Hurley discussed what could have happened. Leafe said they did and that Hurley said he had landed beside Mulrunji so Leafe accepted this as fact.

Thursday morning –11th March
After further cross-examination of Leafe’s various statements, Mr Devlin asked Leafe why he had never mentioned to the CMC on 8th December, that Steadman had written notes on19th November.
Then Mr Devlin summarised Leafe’s position. He had been in a small police station during a death in custody, walking backwards and forwards through the areas involved but he had seen nothing, and heard nothing whilst Mulrunji was in the police station. Mr Devlin seemed to find this astonishing.
Mr Boe then took Leafe through the day of the incident again. His first action after the death was to phone his wife and to say ‘stay in the compound’, because he was frightened of community reactions. Then it was to phone Townsville superiors. The idea of securing the crime scene from the cell through the corridors and doors to the police vehicle did not occur to him (nor to Hurley) although he agreed that this is standard procedure on a suspicious death.
Mr Davis cross-examined Leafe re the basis of his certainty that Hurley had fallen to the side of Mulrunji. Leafe kept repeating that it was his belief that Hurley had nothing to worry about re the death as Hurley had fallen to the side of Mulrunji. However, Leafe had consistently and clearly stated that he did not see the fall so his only basis for the statement is that he believes it because Hurley told him so.
Leafe agreed that he had helped the Defence team of Sgt Hurley with some more precise information abut the length of time he was away dropping it from 10 seconds to about 6-7 seconds and that he had not volunteered that revised estimate to the Prosecuting team. He agreed that as a sworn police officer it is his duty to support the Crown’s prosecution case, not to support the defence.
In spite of all this Leafe stated that his belief in Hurley’s innocence did not affect the impartiality of his evidence. Mr Davis actually suggested that Leafe’s belief in Hurley’s innocence could have lead him to want to subvert the Crown’s case. Leafe denied it.
I am fairly sure that I heard this correctly. It was extraordinary. It made me wonder how to keep an organisation honest and true to its mission if its members put loyalty to fellow-members as a top priority.

PLO Lloyd Bengaroo was called as a witness. Mr Devlin asked Bengaroo about life as a PLO. Begaroo seems to feel PLOs are in a difficult position. They are not police and cannot make arrests but they can be blamed and picked on by the community. . He said that he deliberately did not look into the station as he feared he might be harassed if he saw anything wrong happen.
Bengaroo’s original evidence about the events leading to Mulrunji’s death were very similar to Hurley’s evidence, that is that Mulrunji fell on his back and Hurley fell beside, but not on him.. However, Bengaroo did use these words about Mulrunji after the fall, ‘he was flopping down’. Today he explained this as meaning that Mulrunji was trying to get himself free from Hurley.
In his re-enactment on 20th November 04, Bengaroo says ‘he flopped against the floor, Chris fell on him’.
Note: whilst Bengaroo was doing his re-enactment I noticed two people walking past in the background. This is important because Hurley was asked whether he knew about what Bengaroo said/did in it and Hurley said that all the potential witnesses were asked to keep apart – but some people were certainly walking past.
I felt sorry for Bengaroo. He had difficulty understanding the rather formal and wordy questions he was asked and he looked so alone.

After lunch, Sn Sgt Hurley was called. It was mentioned that his wife had just had a baby and that they would try to get his cross-examination done in time for him to fly home Friday arvo. I heard someone mutter ‘they weren’t so worried about our family’.
Mr Devlin went through Hurley’s first statement of the events when Hurley arrived at the station with Mulrunji and Patrick Nugent. Hurley was trying to get Mulrunji out of the wagon and he was resisting. He hit Hurley with a back-hander on the jaw. They continued to ‘tussle’ outside the wagon towards the entrance of the station, through the standard size door and fell on the floor Hurley to the left of Mulrunji and to the side of him.
Mulrunji was not moving. Leafe came back from opening doors and Mulrunji was still not moving so they took a wrist each and dragged him backwards along the corridor to the cells where they placed him. Mulrunji was still not moving: Hurley added today, he seemed very sleepy. Then Patrick Nugent was escorted to the cell and placed there. He was very drunk.
Hurley turned on the surveillance cameras, spoke to Roy Bramwell and sent him home, then settled to normal police work.
The tape was played showing Mulrunji writhing on the floor and six muffled calls were heard within 30 seconds. Hurley states that he did not hear them although he normally hears calls from the cells. He stated that if he had heard the calls he waould have gone to the cell. He did see the movement but thought it was natural movement during a drunken sleep. Hurley said he was concerned about Patrick who had not moved at all.
Hurley repeated several times that he thought that Mulrunji was very sleepy after the fall and did not speak so that Hurley assumed he was in a drunken sleep. His movements in the cell suggested that he was alright because he was moving around.
Mr Devlin asked why in Hurley’s re-enactment, Hurley had added two details which seemed to take in two items of Roy Bramwell’s re-enactment. 1) that he was trying to pull Mulrunji up by his shirt but the shirt kept tearing and 2) he was saying ‘Get up Mr Doomadgee’. Mr Devlin asked if Hurley had seen Roy’s re-enactment or been told by someone what was in it. Hurley said NO.
Mr Devlin also asked why Mulrunji was arrested. Hurley said it was for his abusive language and mouthing off, originally to PLO Bengaroo and then afterwards walking down the street, Mulrunji was mouthing off and swearing. He was charged with ‘Public Nuisance’. Mulrunji had never been arrested on Palm and Hurley did not know him or his name.
Maybe this is a clue to the high imprisonment rate of Aboriginal people. Mulrunji was walking down the street, swearing yes, but not menacing anyone and Hurley pulled up the car to arrest him. Mulrunji was loudly protesting his innocence when the wagon pulled up at the police station. He did not feel that he had committed a crime. Until, of course, he hit Hurley as he was pulled from the wagon. Apparently that was unheard of on Palm for someone to hit a police officer and Hurley was very taken aback.
Mr Devlin asked if Hurley, as Officer in Charge, had secured the crime scene. Hurley said yes, the cell was locked. Mr Devlin said the entire area from the wagon through the police station to the cells was a crime scene and should have been secured. Hurley agreed that it should have been done. It wasn’t.
Mr Devlin wondered why Roy Bramwell, brought in because of alleged serious assault on three women, and having also had a drunken fight that morning, still drunk, was told to leave the station, very soon after Mulrunji was put in the cells. Hurley said Roy was too drunk to interview and had a known address.
More cross-examination tomorrow. They think they will finish interviewing Hurley and then will interview Detective Sgt Darren Robinson, who has appeared a great deal in the previous inquest especially re other interactions of Hurley with community people.
Robinson was the detective who was charged with conducting investigations into three incidents. He also was one of the main witnesses against Lance Pointer, William Blackman, John Clumpoint and Dwayne Blanket all accused of a very serious offence; conspiracy to riot. I’m not sure of the correct name but it is a rarely used charge with very onerous penalties. The four men were declared not guilty by a jury
in Brisbane in March 2007.

As David Allen used to say ‘ If you have been, thank you for listening’. My thoughts entirely,


Thursday, March 11, 2010

10th March 2010 Townsville District Court - Day 3

Palm Island – 2nd Inquest re the death of Cameron Doomadgee, referred to as Mulrunji at his family’s request

10th March 2010 Townsville District Court - Day 3
These are my impressions from talking with various community members and sitting, listening and watching, in the Court room – I cannot always catch what is said.

After a very wet and windy night on Palm, about 30 people gathered at the Palm airport from 7:15 onwards. We had bookings for planes from8:00am onwards and nowhere to shelter from the rain as we waited for planes to arrive. I boarded the 8:00 plane at about 9:00 so was more than an hour late for the resumption of the Inquest in Townsville as were many journalists and Palm Island residents following the inquest to Townsville.

Constable Kristopher Steadman, not Speldman as written in my notes on 2006 Inquest..
This officer was not a large part of the previous inquest to my knowledge. However today he was extensively questioned. Apparently the officer had only arrived on Palm on 18 November, with no prior cultural awareness training, and happened to be in the police garage when Sgt Hurley arrived with PLO Bengaroo, and Mulrunji Doomadgee and Patrick Nugent in the paddy wagon.

As a former investigative officer in the CIB, Steadman knew the value of information gathered as soon as possible after an incident, and on the afternoon of 19 November, wrote up his record of what he witnessed in his official police notes. He was questioned extensively by Mr Mr , for the Doomadgee family, about why he did not then offer those notes to the Investigating team. There was a considerable amount of legal argument about Mr Boe’s line of questioning, most of which involves sending the witness out of the room so that they are not contaminated and influenced by the legal arguments.

Steadman’s reason was that he asked Sgt Leafe, his supervisor, for advice as to whether he should volunteer his notes to the investigating team and Leafe told him that the Investigating team would contact Steadman. Note: Sgt Leafe was present during the arrival of Mulrunji and helped to drag him into the cell.
It was 3 weeks later, on 8th December 2004, that Steadman was contacted by the CMC team and asked to come for an interview.
There was again much legal argument about legal privilege and the relationship between Steadman and the lawyer, Mr ? Cranny provided for him by the Police Union.
It was astounding that a person who had had the foresight to write up notes about a death in the custody on the day of the death, appeared to have no notes about how Mr Cranny came to represent him, any paperwork involved, how many meetings they had, etc. He cannot even remember whether he showed Mr Cranny his notes before he met the CMC team.

Mr Boe took Steadman through his Notes of 19 November 2004. In particular, the difference between ‘he fell though the door’ with ‘he’ being defined as Hurley in the first inquest and ‘one or the other’ and ‘possibly both’ being Steadman’s statement today. This definition of ‘falling’ and who it refers to, was revisited several times. As far as I could make out, Steadman kept apologising for not remembering what he had said but actually kept coming back to a different version to that in his notes, a version which Mr Boe suggested was slanted towards making things better for Hurley.
Mr Boe also examined Steadman’s views about whether he felt that he was an ‘independent’ witness as is his duty both as a police officer and as a citizen. Steadman agreed that his duty was to be independent, and he felt that he was and is, but that it might appear to others, that he could be biased towards a fellow police officer.
Mr Boe suggested to Steadman that he had not said that there was a ‘heavy fall’ until Hurley’s barrister (not sure whether Mr Mulholland or Mr Zillman) had talked of a ‘heavy fall’ and then Steadman agreed although he had not mentioned a ‘heavy fall’ in his notes.

Mr Davis, for the Attorney-General, then launched into a very rigorous cross-examination of Constable Steadman. He asked Steadman why he had not been willing to cooperate with the Public Prosecuting team in Hurley’s manslaughter trial until the Police Commissioner instructed officers to cooperate with the prosecution in the normal manner.

He also asked Steadman whether he had willingly cooperated with Mr Zillman and Mr Mulholland when they were preparing for Hurley’s defence. Steadman agreed that he had cooperated willingly with Hurley’s defence lawyers but had only cooperated with the Prosecuting team when the Commissioner had ordered all police officers to do so.

Mr Zillman, for Sgt Hurley, then took Steadman through his evidence of what happened at steady pace. Mr Zillman was saying something like ‘I suggest that they fell together’ Steadman ‘Yes they did’, ‘There was stiffness, hard heavy fall’ Yes there was. Steadman seemed to agree with everything Mr Zillman suggested, however much it differed from what he had written on the day in his notes.
No other lawyers wanted to cross-examine so Constable Steadman had finishes as witness. I’m not sure of the technical term.

The Coroner, Mr Hine and the lawyers, decided to call Sgt Leafe to the witness stand even though it was quite late. His cross examination was sensational, but I will leave my reporting until it has been completed so as to have the whole picture.


9th March 2010 Palm Island Court House - Day 2

Palm Island – 2nd Inquest re the death of Cameron Doomadgee, referred to as Mulrunji at his family’s request.
9th March 2010 Palm Island Court House -  Day 2

These are my impressions from talking with various community members and sitting, listening and watching, in the Court room – I cannot always catch what is said.

We woke to soft rain, light winds and the sound of light planes coming in to land.
The lawyers and media started arriving clutching copies of the Townsville Bulletin and the Australian. The Australian in particular had a page which looked half full of photos – though I was not able to grab one to look at properly. Whilst the Store seems to have improved in quality and choice with the advent of a new manager I don’t think early delivery of the Australian is one of the innovations.

Well, the new detail I mentioned re yesterday was the stuff of headlines . Shock new evidence in Palm inquest  John Andersen,Townsville Bulletin, 9/03/1010   Witness changes story: I could see Mulrunji Doomadgee’s ‘scuffle’ Tony Koch, The Australian 09/03/2010 and Key witness in Cameron Doomadgee death inquest says he was threatened by police officer, The Australian 09/03/2010

The hearing started at about 9:45. There was some discussion about some of the media reports and some clarifications from Counsel assisting – but as they referred to documents, and sub clause x of page y, it was impossible for me to follow them well enough to comment here.

Roy Bramwell was called back to the witness stand and Mr Devlin continued to go through the 45 minute audio tape of an interview with Inspector Kitching and ?, who were acting for the CMC on the morning of 26th November 2004 – before the autopsy results were announced to the people of Palm and there was the subsequent ‘disturbance’. 

I appreciate the fact that Mr Devlin always refers to the ‘disturbance’ and not to the ‘riot’.

A key point which was  returned to frequently was how Roy could have seen Hurley hitting Mulrunji when they were hidden by a filing cabinet. Roy said there was a mirror on the wall which was angled to show the corridor in which Mulrunji and Hurley were. When shown a photo of the room, with no mirror, Roy insisted that it had been there on the morning of the 19th.

There was also a great deal of questioning as to why Roy’s statements, at approx 8:am, and 10:45 am on the 20 November and 26th November 2004, and on the 19 October 2006 had some discrepancies.   As well as appearing confused as to which statement contained what, Roy also seemed to have different levels of trust in the interviewers, all of whom were police officers except lawyer Frank Shepherd, and all of whom were white. This lead to Roy withholding some levels of information.  In particular, he did not include all the evidence about the mirror and seeing ‘kicking’, nor that Mulrunji seemed unconscious when dragged into the cell.

Roy mentioned several times his lack of trust in police officers, including Inspector Weber, acting for the CMC. When being questioned about how long he sat in the watch house after Mulrunji had been dragged into the cells, Roy who does not have a watch, thought it was a long time, although from his own evidence about going to the post office just after it opened at 11am, it must have been quite a short time.
I thought about how time seems to both race and drag in my life, irrespective of what the clock says.

Roy said that when Hurley came back into the room after leaving Mulrunji and Patrick Nugent in the cells, Hurley asked him if he had seen anything. Roy said he answered no, because he was frightened.  He feared that if you spoke up, Hurley would put him in the cell too and deal with him in the same way.
 It was very apparent from his body language that this is still a source of guilt for him as he was very close to Mulrunji.

Roy said that he thought it extraordinary that he was called into the police station to be asked about serious assaults that morning on three women, and yet he was sent home, without a question being asked, after Mulrunji was put into the cell.

Roy spoke again about Detective Sgt Robinson tearing up the first version of his statement at 8am on 20 November, 2010. He said that Robinson told him to leave out the bit about the mirror.
After two hours of solid questioning even Mr Devlin occasionally got his references a little confused when asking questions and Roy appeared hopelessly confused as to which statement, when and what he was being asked and why they were not all totally consistent.   I was certainly very confused myself and I am very sure that in the circumstances, my statements would also have been inconsistent and confused, regardless of any attempts to be a truthful witness.

Mr Zillman for Sn Sgt Hurley asked Roy about the role of Sgt Leafe and the lack of consistency about Roy’s accounts of Sgt Leafe’s movements. He also wanted to know how ‘drunk’ Roy was on the 19th and 20th November 2004 for the various interviews which were being discussed. Mr Zillman challenged Roy’s statement that he could not read. My impression was that Mr Zillman and Roy’s ideas of being able to read were miles apart.

Mr Zillman questioned Roy about his statement during the re-enactment on 20th November ’04, that ‘he was kicking’. Did Roy mean that Mulrunji was kicking to get up on his feet or did he mean that Hurley was kneeling on Mulrunji  and Roy described this as ‘kicking’.
Today Roy said that it was Hurley kicking Mulrunji.

I feel that I have not done justice to all the ins and outs of this long questioning period, 2 hours before lunch and a good half hour after. But the reality is that because the public does not know what point the lawyers are trying to make, it is very hard to follow the very detailed questioning – especially with poor audio tapes, and soft-spoken speakers.

Vincent Thimble was next called as witness. This was a big surprise.  Mr Thimble worked as a police liaison officer and ambulance officer, on Palm,  from the 1980s until 1998, and then continued to visit the police station fairly often. Mr Devlin asked him if he was familiar with the day room in the station and also with a mirror in the police station. Vincent said yes and proceeded to describe a mirror in virtually the exact place described by  Roy Bramwell. He said that it was positioned so that officers in the day room could see along the corridor leading to the cells.

This was sensational as Vincent said that two people had come that lunch time and asked him if he would come and testify about the mirror. He agreed. He could not point out who the people were. in the courtroom and did not know who they were.

Some light relief was then supplied by Lance Poynter who laughed when Mr Devlin called him a career criminal. Lance admitted to be in and out of police stations, because of criminal activities. He said that he definitely remembered two mirrors in the corridor leading to the cells. However, one of the lawyers then stated that Lance had not been charged, on Palm Island, between 1997 and 2005., the inference being that his recollections were not within the necessary date of November 2004.
Note: Lance is one of the four men declared ‘Not guilty’ of rioting as mentioned in yesterday’s post. Sadly, he has been in prison again since 2007.

My feelings after the two days of evidence gathering and testing on Palm were that Mrs Sibley and Roy Bramwell came across as credible witnesses in the circumstances. In spite of getting confused about the various statements and when they were signed and in spite of Roy admitting to being drunk, both Mrs Sibley and Roy were solid about the events which they had witnessed  around the hour during which Mulrunji died. Mrs Sibley did not waver about what she saw.  Roy did have some discrepancies but his explanations were surprisingly convincing and I thought about the sobering effect of finding that your best friend had just died in very surprising and suspicious circumstances.

I recommend Jeff Waters piece about the evidence which is being surpressed and kept secret from the public – follow this link to Monday’s story.

Jeff has written Gone for a Song  a very interesting book about the first inquest into the death of Mulrunji and then the second or continuation of the first under Christine Clements.

Tomorrow the hearing is in Townsville and the police witnesses will have their turn at being cross examined.  It should be a very interesting day,

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mulrunji Second Inquest - Day 1

Palm Island – 2nd Inquest re the death of Cameron Doomadgee, referred to as Mulrunji at his family’s request.

These are my impressions from talking with various community members and sitting, listening and watching, in the Court room – I cannot always catch what is said. The Coroner has quite a soft voice, the lawyers are facing away from the public area and the two witnesses are quite softly spoken so it is easy to miss some words.

I took an early morning plane from Brisbane to a beautiful day in Townsville. The sea looked fabulous as we flew over it in the small plane to Palm. The main island looked lush and lovely as Andrea Kyle, Erykah’s daughter, drove me to the newly build Courthouse, close to the Council Office, Store and PYC building.

To my surprise there was no apparent crowd in the square outside the store, in fact not many people around at all. There were a few groups of two – five people on the benches scattered under the large trees near the oval, and a few smokers outside the courthouse.

I arrived just as the lunch break started so was able to catch up with a few friends, including Aunty Agnes Wotton, Lex Wotton’s mother and John Clumpoint* see below.

The Courthouse was crowded with 14 lawyers in suits (11 men and 3 women). Presiding was the Deputy Chief Magistrate: Brian Hine. his Counsel Assisting - Mr Ralph Devlin, Sc, for Senior Sergeant Hurley - Mr Steve Zillman, for the Attorney General – Mr Peter Davis, SC, for the Qld Police Service Commissioner – Mr Michael Nicholson and for the Doomadgee family - Mr Andrew Boe and Mr Andrew O’Brien.

The main focus of the Inquest on Palm is asking the witnesses to the arrest and the arrival of Mulrunji Doomadgee at the watch house to go through their evidence yet again. As you can imagine, it is extremely stressful to be asked to remember what happened on the 19th November 2004 in great detail – particularly knowing that Mulrunji died a little while later.

It is also very stressful to be asked exact details re several interviews which were carried out the next day,the 20th November, then a few days later and then weeks later.

Mrs Sibley witnessed the arrival of the police van, with Mulrunji in it. Once Mulrunji was out of the van, Mrs Sibley was very clear that she saw Mulrunji throw a punch at Hurley and then Hurley punch Mulrunji ‘in the side or the rib’. When asked whether she remembered signing a document on a certain date, Mrs Sibley said, with some heat that she remembered very well what happened to her cousin/brother but that she can’t remember details as to what papers were signed when. The Coroner then assured her that Mr Devlin was only trying to clarify Mrs Sibley’s testimony, not in any way to trick her.

I felt that this was an important moment because some community members had commented to me during the lunch break that they felt that Mrs Sibley was being ‘attacked’ by one of the lawyers before lunch. Both Mrs Sibley and Roy Bramwell were supported by  a lady, whose role is to make sure they understand the questioning, and that their responses are clear to the Coroner, especially if there is any difference in how things are expressed, or called, on Palm. However, she was not from Palm and some people expressed concern about how much she knew the fine details of communication, expecially through glances and small gestures.

The second local witness was Roy Bramwell who was sitting in the watch house when Sn Sgt Hurley brought Mulrunji into the watch house. For about 2 hours, Counsel assisting took Roy through the details of an interview with police at approx 8am on Saturday 20 November ( the day after Mulrunji’s death). There was much questioning about how much Roy had drunk on Thursday 18, and Friday 19th and how sober he was during the 8am interview. There was also a focus on what he could see sitting on a chair in the watch house – whether the filing cabinet was in the way, whether he actually saw what he said he saw or whether he assumed it from what he was told, and what he can remember now.

It was so complicated that I found it very hard to follow and sometimes even Mr Devlin had to rephrase his questions to make them clear. How anyone can possibly be expected to remember this level of detail five and a half years later I don’t know.

A new detail (to me) that emerged was that in October 2006, Roy Bramwell was interviewed, in prison, by officers from the Crime and Misconduct Commission, CMC. There, he told them that he had seen Hurley kneeling on Mulrunji and kicking/punching him several times. Roy was asked why he had waited two years to mention this. Roy answered because at the other interviews he was alone with the police and had no-one from the Justice Group or similar with him. He was asked about this several times and each time made the same comment.

This made me wonder about those interviews after Mulrunji’s death where many of the standard procedures were apparently not carried out. The venue was not secured as a crime scene, witnesses were not kept separated etc. How much evidence was missed because the recommended procedure of having a member of the Justice Group at the interviews with community members, was not followed?

Roy was asked why he had said a) that he saw Hurley punching Mulrunji and b) that he saw Hurley kneeling and ‘kicking’ him and how could they both be true? Roy answered that they were both true, because first Hurley was leaning down punching Mulrunji and then he was kneeling on him and punching him. He also said that by ‘kicking’ he meant that Hurley was kneeling on Mulrunji and punching him. He also said, when questioned, that he only saw three punches.....

Finally, a tape was shown of the re-enactment staged by the police at midday, Saturday 20 November. Roy Bramwell was asked to show where he sat and what he saw in the watch house. Roy started sitting in the chair, described what he could see and then even how Mulrunji and Hurley were positioned and what was happening. This re-enactment was very distressing to some community people in the courtroom.

The Court was then adjourned until 9:30 tomorrow and I think that Roy Bramwell will be taken through the re-enactment step by step.

Many of the lawyers dashed for the last plane off the island tonight. I hung out with a few of the non-indigenous journos, and then came back to Erykah Kyle’s house. Over dinner with her daughter Andrea, we discussed the complexities of court cases, inquests, testimonies and the passage of time.



* John is one of the five brave people who pleaded ‘not guilty’ to charges of rioting on Palm in November 2004. After two years of suspense their trial was finally held. It was moved from Townsville to Brisbane after research of attitudes in Townsville suggested that it would be very hard for the Palm Islanders to get an impartial jury. The trial lasted nearly 2 weeks and although it seemed to me, sitting listening, that the evidence of their guilt was not there, the prosecution was so set on a conviction that no-one was confident of the verdict.

But, on 22nd March 2007, , William Blackman, Dwayne Blanket, John Cumpoint and Lance Poynter were found ‘not guilty’

Due to various circumstances, Lex Wotton was tried separately. He was convicted of the rioting charge but was given a much shorter sentence than we all expected. He has to spend two years in prison, and then can come out on parole for the rest of the sentence. So he is due out in ? June/July this year. I may not have the details exactly correct according to legal talk but I think that is the main thrust of it.

So, you have my impressions on Day 1 of the second inquest,


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Palm Island Song

Palm Island Song written and composed by John Thompson of Cloudstreet

Palm Island is a Paradise
Green jewel in blue ocean
On Palm Island a young man died
Mulrunji was his name

The police they took a man away
Green jewel in blue ocean
That young man he died that day
Mulrunji was his name

Broken body on the watchhouse floor
Green jewel in blue ocean
A place that he'd not been before
Mulrunji was his name

Two men fell and one stayed down
Green jewel in blue ocean
Dying the watchhouse, under the Crown
Mulrunji was his name

It was an accident, no-one's to blame
Green jewel in blue ocean
If that's the judgement, we wear the shame
Mulrunji was his name

A policeman walks free from the court
Green jewel in blue ocean
White man's freedom with black blood bought
Mulrunji was his name

The men of Palm are dying yet
Green jewel in blue ocean
Until there's justice, we mustn't forget
Mulrunji was his name

Palm Island is a paradise
Green jewel in blue ocean
On Palm Island too many die
Mulrunji was his name

copyright John Thompson  adapted for choir by Nick House

The text of the song has been sent to the Doomadgee family according to protocol.

Palm Island song.mp4

Songlines Choir  have sung this at many public occasions and it has aroused great interest and emotion.
By the way, I am a founding member of Songlines Choir. We are a community Choir started in 1999, as a section of the Union Choir, and then became independent.
We sing for Justice especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, for Refugees, for Peace and for the Environment.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Background on Mulrunji Inquest 2006

Some background on the Death in Custody on Palm Island, 19 November 2004 and the inquest which was carried out in 2005 and 2006. Reading them may help with understanding the issues raised in the new Inquest starting 8th March 2010. The Notes are as I sent them out in May 2006.
Why I wrote this and am asking you to read it
I have been interested in issues of justice and human rights for Indigenous Australians since the early 80s. Since the death of Daniel Yock in police custody in Brisbane in 1993 and John Howard’s negative response to the Wik Native Title ruling, I have been involved in the call to abolish the discrimination and structural injustices still imposed on many Indigenous Australians.

I have had some friends from Palm Island for many years and was horrified to hear of a death in police custody on 19 November 2004. I was able to attend part of the still-unfinished Inquest into this death (27 Feb – 3 Mar 2006).

I hope that you will find these notes from an ‘observer at the inquest’ interesting. I am motivated to take action regarding some matters which came up and I am hoping that enough readers may be prepared to join me to enable us to achieve some real improvements in the life of people on Palm. In fact, as I have been working on this article, I am becoming more and more motivated to look at the bigger picture and see if we can work for very fundamental changes.

Some background: Death in custody on Palm Island, 19 Nov 2004, and summary of subsequent events as reported in the media.
These notes have been read by Erykah Kyle, Mayor of Palm Island, and she is happy for me to circulate them: 10th May 2006

19 November
Cameron Doomadgee, aged 36, is arrested by Officer in Charge of Police on Palm Island, Snr Sgt Chris Hurley at 10:20am and is pronounced dead at 11:25am by an ambulance called to the police cells at 11:22am.

An investigation into the death is ordered by police management, to be carried out by Detective Sgt Darren Robinson, Inspector Hickey and Detective Inspector Warren Webber, who is Northern Regional Crime Coordinator. All are known to and friendly with Sgt Hurley and have dinner at his house that night. stated on 3 Mar 06 at Inquest

20 November

Start of investigation – the relevant areas are not treated as a crime scene, contrary to the Recommendations of the Deaths in Custody Report in 1991. 3 Mar 06

26 November

Details of the post-mortem are revealed to the Palm Island Community: Mulrunji, as his family have requested he now be called, died with 4 fractured ribs and his liver cut nearly in half.
The Palm Island Community is outraged and erupts in spite of calls for calm by Palm Island Council. I am not sure of the sequence but the police station and cells are burned, a State of Emergency is declared and a large Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) are flown to the island. Many arrests are made, doors to houses are kicked in, people who are not even on the island, are on the list to be arrested and Palm Island is Big News. Information from Media reports and personal communication from Palm residents.

28 November

Peter Beattie flies up to Palm and announces to the Council his 5 point plan to ‘fix’ the problems on the island. No discussion, no negotiation just a top down statement…. Meanwhile more than 13 people have been removed from the island by police and are later given very onerous bail conditions, including exclusion from the island. Information from Media reports and Open Letter from PI Council 28 Nov 04.


Inquest starts on Palm and then Coroner excuses himself as he has carried out some previous investigations into complaints against Sgt Hurley and also had some social contact with lawyers which might compromise the inquest. Media reports Note: as a member of the public listening as closely as I could to the media reports, it was very hard to follow what was happening, or not happening…

Since the arrest of many islanders after the burning of the police station, there is ongoing media attention on their tough bail conditions and also on the claims of police officers to have been frightened for their lives during the disturbances on Palm.

29 -31 March

It is in this atmosphere that a meeting is held in Brisbane to discuss how and where the inquest will be resumed. Chaired by the Deputy Coroner, Christine Clements, for 3 days lawyers argue about the conditions for the resumed inquest. The police want everything held in Townsville, Palm Islanders want it on Palm AND want Sgt Hurley’s past history to be available for discussion in court. The Palm Island Mayor, Doomadgee family and some community members attend the Brisbane meeting and some stay with me. I attend all of it, but, like the islanders, I find the discussions very difficult to follow.

After this hearing in Brisbane, Coroner Christine Clements rules that the details of any complaints against Sgt Hurley are not to be published in the media and will not be admissible in Court. Months later it is announced that the resumed inquest will be held in 2006, on 27-28 February on Palm and 1-3 March in Townsville…

Meanwhile Sgt Hurley has been reassigned to the Gold Coast, Detective Sgt Robinson is also off the island and members of the community are still in a state of unrest wondering how the inquest will go and what will eventuate…. Police presence has been heavily increased on Palm. Numbers varies but have jumped from around 6 officers to around 18, and officers live in heavily fenced compounds.

The Resumed Inquest and what it covered, 27 Feb to 3 Mar

The initial inquest had covered much of the actual details of Mulrunji’s arrest and death but there had been no discussion of any previous complaints or incidents in which Sgt Hurley was involved.

After considerable legal activity, it was ruled that some incidents that happened on Palm in 2004 and in which Sgt Hurley was a major player, could be considered at the Inquest.

So at the resumed inquest on 27–28 Feb and 1st– 3rd March, witnesses to these incidents were interviewed, and then Sgt Hurley and D Sgt Robinson.
I was surprised to see the number of barristers, with attendant solicitors, who were present. It certainly makes it all very intimidating for witnesses to see at least seven Barristers present, all of whom can cross-examine them:
Counsel assisting the Coroner, Terry Martin; Counsel for the Doomadgee family, Mr Callaghan; Counsel for Palm Island Council, Andrew Boe; Counsel for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, J Hunyour; Counsel for Sgt Hurley, Steve Zillman; Counsel for Sgt Robinson; Counsel for the Police Commissioner.

Details of the four 'significant incidents'

1. Barbara Pilot’s toe and foot were severely damaged. She alleged that this damage was caused by a police car, driven by Sgt Hurley, running over her foot, and that Sgt Hurley did not check her condition nor render her any assistance. A metatarsus bone was pushed completely out of its socket and through the skin, which caused very serious pain. She required several visits to Townsville specialists to get the bone back into position.

What I heard at the inquest:
Ms Pilot was talking to Sgt Hurley, at the window of the police car, 9:30pm in an unlit street: he told her to move away. She fell and screamed ‘you’ve run over my foot’ or some such thing. Accounts differ about when the car was moving…. There was a woman screaming on the ground. Sgt Hurley said that he opened the door and looked out and could see no injuries, then he called to two men nearby to pick her up, and drove off. Evidence from the other police officer in the car was that the window was kept closed and that the door was not opened. Sgt Hurley did not get out of the car to investigate.

Sgt Hurley said he then went to the hospital to interview a possible domestic violence victim – but she had already left before his arrival – and stayed to have tea with the nurses. Dr Leahy, who was working at the hospital at the time, disagreed, stating Sgt Hurley had arrived at the hospital saying a woman might come in claiming to have had her foot run over. After Ms Pilot had arrived and had her foot examined, Dr Leahy said that Sgt Hurley was very insistently asking if the injury could have been caused by something other than a tire. Sgt Hurley denied that the first conversation with Dr Leahy had taken place.

Ms Pilot was airlifted to Townsville hospital where she had treatment for the foot and then returned for surgery a couple of weeks later. Dr Leahy said the injury was severe and extremely painful.

2. Noel Cannon was arrested by Sgt Hurley. In the police cell he kept asking for a mattress and alleged that Sgt Hurley lost his temper, kneed him in the stomach and grabbed him by the throat, squeezing so hard that Mr Cannon wet himself.

Sgt Hurley categorically denied this. The relevant video was not secured by the investigating officer so is unavailable…

3. Neville Bonner woke to find his girlfriend and Sgt Hurley in his bedroom. She was collecting her things under St Hurley’s escort as she and Mr Bonner had had a fight the previous evening. Mr Bonner took strong exception to waking to find his girlfriend and a police officer in his bedroom. Soon things became heated and Sgt Hurley arrested Mr Bonner for obstruction. At the police car, Mr Bonner wriggled out of Sgt Hurley’s hold and ran away. There was more confrontation and it escalated into more serious charges for Mr Bonner.

4. When Douglas Clay, known to D Sgt Robinson to have mental problems, barged into the police station with a beer in his hand, he found 6 police officers in the room. He claims that he forgot his original purpose, which was to ask for help for his mental illness, and started swearing and abusing the police.

D Sgt Robinson did not tell Sgt Hurley that Mr Clay had a mental problem. Mr Clay apparently staggered, or lunged towards Sgt Hurley, and Sgt Hurley slapped him – Mr Clay alleges punched him – so hard that he was propelled, about a metre, hard up against a wall.
Sgt Hurley agreed that Mr Clay had not actually hit him, although he said he thought Mr Clay was trying to head butt him. D Sgt Robinson claimed that Mr Clay had managed to hit Sgt Hurley before Sgt Hurley slapped Mr Clay, with considerable force.

Conduct of Investigations into 'Significant Incidents' based on my understanding from listening to cross-examination of many witnesses 27 Feb – 3rd March.

1. There were several significant incidents in which Sgt Hurley was involved from May 2004 to 19 November 2004. All were investigated by a friend and colleague on Palm Island, D Sgt Darren Robinson, on the instructions of superior officers.

2. The investigations were not treated as important. They were conducted in an unhurried and unprofessional manner: witnesses were not interviewed for weeks, if at all, and relevant medical histories were not followed up. Moreover, D Sgt Robinson admitted to having a biased assumption that Sgt Hurley had always told him the truth and that contrary evidence was therefore just wrong.

3. The Senior Officer to Sgt Hurley when he was on Palm, District Inspector Stohseldt, was directly above Sgt Hurley and responsible for overseeing his discharge of his duties. He was responsible, for example, for Sgt Hurley’s annual performance review. This Inspector knew of an investigation into the Barbara Pilot incident but did not ask about the results of the investigation until October 2005, 1 year and 5 months after the incident. On repeated questioning, Inspector Stohseldt, did not think that he needed to know the result of the investigation as other senior officers were in charge of overseeing it.

4. Senior officers have consistently appointed inappropriate police officers to investigate Significant Incidents on Palm Island. In all the incidents in question, including the death of Mulrunji, D Sgt Robinson was appointed investigating officer. He was a personal friend of Sgt Hurley and a colleague in a small island community.

D Sgt Robinson told the court that he did not think this appropriate and had even occasionally protested to higher officers but he had been ordered to do the investigation anyway. D Sgt Robinson told the Court that he was once ordered to investigate himself, as he had been the arresting officer, the custodial officer and was then ordered to be the investigating officer!

Unsurprisingly, all investigations ended with conclusions that lead to no further action and no charges being laid against any police officer.

The arrest of Mulrunji

It was very hard to follow the thread of the evidence about this and the fact that the Australian and Courier Mail reports differed highlights this. This is what I understood…

Although several newspaper reports said he was arrested for drunkenness, my understanding was that Sgt Hurley agreed that Mulrunji was not very drunk and was definitely coherent. Sgt Hurley and Police Liaison Officer Lloyd Bengaroo had just arrested another man, Patrick Bramwell. Mulrunji was singing the lyrics of a popular song, something about ‘let the dogs out’. Sgt Hurley felt that PLO Bengaroo was offended by this, and one of them told Mulrunji to go away. Mulrunji obeyed the order and started walking away from the police car. As he went, he called out ‘you fucking cunts’. Sgt Hurley then arrested him for being a public nuisance.

Sgt Hurley explained that he considered Mulrunji was being a public nuisance because Sgt Hurley felt that PLO Bengaroo was offended and that Mulrunji ‘deserved’ to be put in the cells.

Sgt Hurley agreed that the language was not uncommon in the community but still felt that PLO Bengaroo was offended so that Mulrunji was committing a public nuisance.

When cross-examined about this, Sgt Hurley insisted that he was justified in arresting Mulrunji. Counsel for Human Rights Commission, J Hunyour, suggested that in fact, Sgt Hurley had breached the Recommendations of the Deaths in Custody Report and also the Minor Offences Act. I’m could not verify the correct name of this act .Mulrunji could have been served a Notice to Appear to answer the charge of being a public nuisance, and he would probably still be alive today.

Getting Mulrunji to the cells and events up to his death

On the basis of evidence given so far to the inquest, none of the parties challenged the view that Mulrunji’s death was caused either accidentally by “collision” between him and Sergeant Hurley, or “by the application of deliberate force” by Sergeant Hurley to Mulrunji Doomadgee.

The evidence of Mrs Sibley, a respected local resident, was that Mulrunji punched Sgt Hurley as he was let out of the police van and Sgt Hurley punched him back. Sgt Hurley denied this categorically: Mr Callaghan, for the Doomadgee family, said that Sgt Hurley must be lying. Sgt Hurley continued to deny it steadily and forcefully.

You could have heard a pin drop during this cross examination session.
Mr Callagahan (counsel for the Doomagee family) quoted evidence from Constable Speldman, who had been serving on Palm Island at the time, that Sgt Hurley yelled abusively at Mulrunji. Sgt Hurley denied it. As they entered the police station, the two men were struggling with each other; both fell heavily and hard. There was a sudden change in Mulrunji’s behaviour. He had been protesting, punching, struggling: then, in a moment he became silent and limp, and was dragged into the cell.

Sgt Hurley denied that Mulrunji was clearly injured – Mr Callaghan suggested that it should have been obvious because of the change in his behaviour.

Sgt Hurley agreed that when Mulrunji was put into the cells, he was not asked the usual Health Questions. Sgt Hurley just ticked them all as ok, even though Mulrunji had changed significantly in his actions and had had to be dragged into the cell. Sgt Hurley did not see any reason to check Mulrunji more carefully after the significant change in his actions after the fall. Sgt Hurley has had no training in how to check people’s health in custody nor for signs of self-harm etc.

Sgt Hurley said that he went into the cell to check on Patrick Bramwell, who was arrested just before Mulrunji, because Patrick did not appear to have moved, he was not particularly checking on Mulrunji. The video shows that Sgt Hurley’s visit to the cell to check on the two inmates lasted 6 seconds only: for 3 seconds he appears to be looking at Mulrunji and for only 1 second to be looking at Patrick. Sgt Hurley did not speak to Mulrunji nor wake him to check on his health status verbally.

Conduct of the investigation after the death of Mulrunji

After the death was reported to senior officers, an immediate investigation was ordered and D Sgt Robinson, Inspectors Hickey and Webber were appointed.

In spite of the presence of other police officers on Palm and the fact that he was involved in the inquiry, it was Sgt Hurley who picked up the other investigating officers at the airport. He took them back to his own house, where D Sgt Robinson cooked dinner and they had a few friendly beers together.

The next day, D Sgt Robinson was locating witnesses and taking statements. He told the Court that he had not read the Recommendations of the Deaths in Custody Report and did not know that the area should be treated as a crime scene.

Roy Bramwell was sitting in the police station when Sgt Hurley pulled Mulrunji into the hallway. Roy Bramwell’s statement said he saw Sgt Hurley’s ‘elbow moving up and down’ as though Sgt Hurley was hitting Mulrunji on the ground.

In the re-enactment Sgt Hurley said it was a ‘picking-up’ motion. There was a suggestion, which Sgt Hurley denied, that D Sgt Robinson had pre-warned him of Roy Bramwell’s statement…

There was conflicting evidence from Sgts Hurley and Robinson about whether Sgt Hurley was being kept apart from other witnesses. D Sgt Robinson did not remember the injury on Mulrunji’s right eye being discussed in the inquiry, nor was Sgt Hurley ever asked the question: ‘Did you hit Cameron Doomadgee?’

The autopsy found a significant injury on Mulrunji’s right eye. It was not mentioned in the Health report and both Patrick and Roy Bramwell said they had not seen it on Mulrunji’s face as he came into the police station.

During cross-examination D Sgt Robinson repeatedly said that he was not clear what the boundaries were for an internal investigation but agreed he had made little effort to clarify this.

After the Resumed Inquest but before the Verdict: 4 March onwards

It will now take approximately 2 weeks to prepare transcripts of the proceedings, then the various legal teams prepare submissions based on the evidence and a day will be appointed to hear the legal teams speak to the submissions. Then the Coroner thinks about it all and delivers her verdict. The Palm Community wants it delivered on Palm.

My Conclusions after attending the Inquest

1. Sgt Hurley perceived himself as having a good relationship with the community, but this perception was not shared by community members, nor could I see it substantiated during the inquest.

Sgt Hurley wanted to go to Palm. He is confident about his actions there and believes that he had a good, positive relationship with the community. He has had very little training from the Police force about cultural matters and says, correctly, that each community is different, and so general training is not very appropriate.

His view of his relations with the Palm Island community was strongly disagreed with by the community members present in Court during the Inquest hearings I attended.

In spite of his interest in Aboriginal affairs, Sgt Hurley had not read the Deaths in Custody Report nor made himself familiar with the Recommendations. He also was unaware of the importance of Acts dealing with Minor Offences, which apparently strongly recommend that arrest leading to imprisonment should be a last resort. He had not ‘got round to’ doing a course on CPR, which would have been available through the Palm Island Ambulance Service and could be very important given the number of people with mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems and general health problems who spent time in the police cells.

Sgt Hurley’s attitude to people on Palm may be illustrated by his conduct as detailed in court. He did not help Ms Pilot when she shouted that he had run over her foot – he left a severely injured woman and drove off. He did not act with normal good manners when entering Neville Bonner’s bedroom, by asking someone to wake Mr Bonner and explain his presence. His “instinctive reaction” when Douglas Clay staggered or lunged towards him was to hit Mr Clay, hard.
Sgt Hurley is confident that he has behaved correctly in all the incidents mentioned.

2. Every aspect of Mulrunji’s arrest, time in the cells and death appears to have been mishandled, including the investigation and treatment of Sgt Hurley after the death.

In the matter of Mulrunji’s death: first he need not have been arrested in the first place. He could have been summonsed.
If injured in a fall he should have been given better care; the hospital is nearby. If Mulrunji was assaulted, that is a criminal act and the assailant should be charged.

After the death, Sgt Hurley should have been kept separate from the witnesses and the investigating officers until after proper statements had been taken.

If it had been Sgt Hurley who had died, Mulrunji would certainly have been arrested and charged. Sgt Hurley has merely been transferred to the Gold Coast.

3. Police officers working on Palm Island are not familiar with, and do not follow, key recommendations about working in this Indigenous Community.

Sgt Hurley’s superior officers appear not to have ensured that he was offered training about Indigenous culture, particularly for the specific community in which he was the Officer in Charge. Nor did his superior officers ensure that he was familiar with the Recommendations of the Deaths in Custody Report, nor the Acts dealing with Minor Offences .

Senior officers also did not appear to be interested in the results of investigations in incidents, noted as Significant Incidents by the police themselves.

All of this suggests that there is little pressure from the police hierarchy for the ‘street police’ to take the recommendations into serious consideration on the beat.

The conduct of the investigations on Palm, as already detailed above, cannot lead to any confidence in the effectiveness and impartiality of the investigations. It is not surprising that people do not make formal complaints if they feel that it is pointless.

4. Tensions between police officers and the Palm Island Community are inevitable in this situation.
How can the Palm Island Community and the police force live in harmony in these circumstances? The Palm Island Community cannot have any faith in the integrity of investigations into allegations of police misconduct, when they see friends doing the investigations, see that witnesses are not being interviewed or, that when they are interviewed they are sometimes being lead to give answers that the investigator wants to hear.

What I think needs to be done.
Big Picture:
  • · It is time to change the power balance on Palm Island. It is time for a ‘grass-roots’ approach: the ‘top-down’ approach of the past 100 years has consistently failed.
  • · The people of Palm, through their Elders, the Palm Island Council, and other community groups, are the people who should be deciding what their vision and objectives are for their island.
  • · The Council, together with the Elders’ Council and other community groups must be sufficiently resourced to be able to put forward the islanders’ priorities with measurable goals and timelines. Then State and Commonwealth government departments can work with the Council to negotiate common agreed objectives and to agree on how to finance the agreed objectives. There must be achievement targets and accountability throughout.
  • · We all need to encourage respect and cooperation between all the groups involved: state and federal government politicians and bureaucrats working together with Palm islanders, Palm Native Title holders and communities on the mainland with ties to Palm.
Smaller picture but still important:
  • Research into current police training re Indigenous culture and communities.
  • Find out how police investigations are meant to be carried out so that we can see if the problem is mainly with the regulations or with how they are carried out and improve this.
  • Ask other former DOGIT Communities (Deeds Of Grants In Trust Communities, i.e. former Aboriginal missions, reserves, etc) what their ideas are to see if the problems are similar in their communities…
  • Develop awareness amongst the wider community that this Inquest is very important.

When the Coroner’s verdict is announced:
The verdict may say that a charge can be laid against someone, and may also include recommendations for change. Or it may say that there is not sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to warrant any charges….

The Inquest cannot change the root causes of the problems on Palm Island. We can cooperate to improve the relationship between islanders and the police. However, unless the power balance changes so that the Islanders own the agenda and an attitude of mutual respect is insisted on, nothing will improve.

Please contact me if you think you can help with any of this.