Beattie backflip on Palm case

THE Queensland Government has suffered a humiliating backdown, yesterday ordering an independent review of the decision not to charge a police officer over the agonising death in custody of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee.

After a week of publicly refusing to intervene in the controversy, the Beattie Government yesterday announced the unprecedented review of last week's decision by Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare not to lay charges against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.

But it ignored calls for the inquiry to be run by somebody from outside the state, last night appointing Pat Shanahan, a retired Queensland District Court chief judge, to conduct the review. He will be assisted by Brisbane criminal lawyer Peter Davis.

Ms Clare drew nationwide condemnation last week when she said the evidence did not support a prosecution of Sergeant Hurley, despite the state's Acting Coroner Christine Clements finding in September that the policeman caused the death of Doomadgee in November 2004.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said this week he supported an independent review of the DPP's decision but the decision would be up to Ms Clare.

On Thursday night, Ms Clare again refused to bow to pressure for a review, repeating her claim that the evidence did not support a case against Sergeant Hurley. "Therefore, no one in my office could prosecute this case regardless of any position adopted by an external review," she said.

Yesterday, however, she delivered her entire file on the Doomadgee case to Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine, although there were conflicting reports on whether she had been pressured by the Government to hand over the documents.

Mr Shine said he accepted Ms Clare's "unexpected offer" to hand over the file - paving the way for the review. He told The Weekend Australian he had written to Ms Clare on Thursday, following a visit to Palm Island on Wednesday with Mr Beattie, saying he would support her if she agreed to public calls for the review.

"She then wrote to me and gave me a summary of the reasons for her decision and also indicated she would be prepared to give me the file," he said. "She offered the file knowing that it would lead to a review." But last night, Ms Clare contradicted Mr Shine, saying: "Today, at his request, I forwarded the file to him."

Ms Clare yesterday maintained her stance that there was no case against Sergeant Hurley and refused to comment on the Government's decision "to take the matter elsewhere".

Mr Beattie said Ms Clare's move to hand over her files was a "way forward" that protected her independence. "I would appeal to everybody, whether it's indigenous Australians, whether it's the police union, everybody, just to allow this due process to follow its course," he said.

The backdown follows marches on Palm Island and in Brisbane this week and calls from Aboriginal leaders, politicians and some lawyers for a review of the DPP's decision.

Frederick Cassis, a lawyer for the Doomadgee family, said there were concerns the review would not be independent. "I have spoken to Mulrunji's sister Elizabeth and while she welcomes the review she is concerned whether it will be truly independent," he said. "We think it is essential that it is completely independent and that it is conducted by someone outside of Queensland."

Some Aboriginal people, including respected tribal elders incensed by the decision not to prosecute Sergeant Hurley, are seeking traditional retribution by asking that he suffer Aboriginal justice - by being "sung" to death. Being "sung" equates with "pointing the bone".

ALP national president Warren Mundine, who campaigned against the Beattie Government on Palm Island this week, said the credibility of the justice system in Queensland was still in doubt and would remain so until the matter was resolved. "There was bungle after bungle and it was looking very suspicious to us," he said.

Queensland's Opposition, which had supported the Government's moves until yesterday, said the separation of powers between the Government and DPP had been destroyed by the review. Deputy Liberal leader Mark McArdle said Ms Clare had compromised the independence of the DPP by handing over the file.

The decision to launch a review drew a mixed reaction from the legal profession, with civil libertarians welcoming the move but the Bar Association of Queensland warning it would set a dangerous precedent.

President of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties Terry O'Gorman welcomed the review but said Ms Clare should also release the "new evidence" she said had helped inform her decision not to prosecute Sergeant Hurley.

Queensland Police Union vice-president Denis Fitzpatrick said getting a second opinion would be a waste of time: "I am very confident that this independent review will come up with exactly the same conclusions of Leanne Clare."