Fury over Mulrunji decision

December 14, 2006

Extra police are on standby to quell potential violence on Palm Island after Queensland's chief prosecutor decided not to lay charges against a policeman blamed over a death in custody.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Leanne Clare today said charges would not be laid against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.

In September, deputy state coroner Christine Clements found Snr Sgt Hurley struck Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36, and caused his fatal injuries on November 19, 2004, at the police station on Palm Island, off Townsville.

But Ms Clare said the death had been due to a "complicated fall" and was a "terrible accident".

The island erupted into riots on November 26, 2004, after an autopsy found Mulrunji suffered four broken ribs, a ruptured liver and a ruptured portal vein in a watchhouse scuffle.

The police station, courthouse and the home of the officer in charge were set alight during the riots.

Townsville-based Aboriginal activist Gracelyn Smallwood said the DPP's decision was another slap in the face for indigenous Australians.

"It was very clear in the coroner's report that our brother was murdered," said Ms Smallwood, who has called for a national day of action next week.

"How can any conscious person sleep at night when this is going on?

"What's going to happen to our warriors who burnt the police station down now - are they going to go to jail for life? We've been putting up with this for the last 216 years."

Police Minister Judy Spence called for calm as she confirmed extra police had been brought into Townsville and would stay there for several days.

But she said no extra police had joined the 18 already stationed on Palm Island.

While the Crime and Misconduct Commission said it had found there was insufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action against Snr Sgt Hurley, Ms Spence said the police ethical standards command would now conduct its own probe.

The investigation, overseen by Assistant Commissioner Dick Conder, would look at whether Mulrunji was given appropriate first aid once he was arrested, the quality of the initial police investigation and whether police procedures were followed.

"I'm not going to prejudge the findings of those investigations," Ms Spence said.

"I think today is a time for calm. We have to accept the DPP, who is an independent person, has made certain findings that won't please everyone and let the next process take its course."

Mulrunji's sister Valmai Aplin said she was devastated by the decision not to charge Snr Sgt Hurley.

"I felt like my heart was ripped apart - like they just ripped my heart open," Ms Aplin told AAP on Palm Island.

"I wanted to hear that he was guilty and should be charged with murder."

Premier Peter Beattie said it was time for the community to move on.

"What's important here is we build for the future and we are endeavouring to work with the Palm Island community," Mr Beattie said.

Queensland Police Union vice president Denis Fitzpatrick said the union had always believed in Snr Sgt Hurley's innocence.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the past two years had been a "very stressful time" for Snr Sgt Hurley and his family.

"It'd be hoped now that they would be able to get on with their lives," he said.

Mr Hurley, who will return to non-operational duties soon, was unavailable for comment today.

Ms Clare said Mulrunji died from internal injuries caused "by a crushing force to the front of his abdomen" when he and Snr Sgt Hurley fell together through the open door of the police station.

She said autopsy results showed neither kicks nor punches caused Mulrunji's death.

"On the evidence, the fall is the only satisfactory explanation for the injuries identified by the doctors," Ms Clare said.

"In other words, the admissible evidence suggests that Mr Doomadgee's death was a terrible accident."

Ms Clare flew to Townsville to explain the decision to Mulrunji's family.