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,