Bloody disgrace: saga is state's worst injustice
Tony Koch

15th December 2006

THE question giving most discomfort to the Queensland Government following the violent cell death of Mulrunji Doomadgee two years ago is a simple one.

If the "scuffle" in the watchhouse had ended with the police officer lying on the floor with four ribs broken and his liver torn in half - and it was the Aboriginal man who got up and walked away - would two years of investigation have found that the Aboriginal man would not face any charges?

Well, that is the question that is constantly asked on Palm Island following the death of Doomadgee - and the subsequent suicide of his 17-year-old son, his only child.

In coming to any judgment about the decision that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would not face even disciplinary charges, the comments of Deputy Coroner Christine Clements should be remembered. She had the advantage of hearing all the evidence and cross-examination, of observing the demeanour of the witnesses, and of asking questions herself.

Her findings, delivered two months ago, included that violent physical retaliation by Hurley on Doomadgee while he was on the concrete floor of the watchhouse was responsible for his death.

She commented that his arrest (for swearing) was inappropriate and the initial investigation into the death in custody, conducted by police friends of Hurley, "was inadequate and undermined the integrity of the investigation".

Clements noted that the checks on Doomadgee when he was dying in the cell were "callous and deficient", and that investigating officers were "wilfully blind". She rejected Hurley's denial that he had punched Doomadgee.

In effect, she considered he was lying in his sworn evidence to her inquest. Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare, revealed yesterday she had studied the evidence presented to the coroner, and had also "pursued further lines of inquiry and received additional evidence". It is not clear what that evidence was, or how it was tested.

The saga of the death in custody of Doomadgee represents the most shameful injustice Queensland has seen in decades.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is asking people to "be calm" because it is apparently acceptable in his eyes for a drunk man to be arrested for swearing and 20 minutes later to be dead in a police cell - and nobody is held responsible. It is an absolute disgrace.