Australia: Some current police problems

DPP's defiance over Queensland killer cop is a declaration of war: Mundine

Black Leftist against white Leftist, in other words. The DPP (Leanne Clare) is hiding behind the fact that Aboriginal witnesses are easily derailed in court. It sounds like the police have got dirt on our Leanne. As she appears to be a lesbian and is a political appointee, that is not hard to imagine.

Indigenous leader Warren Mundine last night accused Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare of declaring "war on Aboriginal people" after she defiantly ruled out any review of her decision not to lay charges over the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee.

Mr Mundine and Palm Island spokesman Brad Foster said Queensland Premier Peter Beattie must introduce legislation to make the justice system more open after Ms Clare yesterday failed to give any reasons for her refusal to call a review. Her action will not relieve any of the political pressure on the Beattie Government, although Mr Beattie said yesterday the Government would change the way the police force investigated indigenous deaths in custody.

The Queensland Police Service will now treat every indigenous death in custody as a suspicious event, meaning that it will be automatically investigated centrally by the ethical standards branch instead of through a local investigation.

Last week, Ms Clare ruled that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would face no charges over Doomadgee's death in a police cell on Palm Island in November 2004. This was despite a coroner's finding that Sergeant Hurley was responsible for the death. Yesterday Ms Clare said she was aware of the controversy over her decision not to charge Sergeant Hurley but "it does not change the fact that the evidence does not support a prosecution". "The firm assessment of my office was that the evidence fell considerably short of that which would be required to put anyone on trial," she said in a statement, ending a week of silence on the issue. "Prosecuting is not about being popular. It is about acting on the admissible evidence without fear or favour and doing what is considered in good faith to be the right thing."

But Ms Clare again failed to disclose any of the "new evidence" she had considered in coming to her decision. The Australian reported this week that the initial investigation into Doomadgee's death was handled by police officers who were friends of Sergeant Hurley. After Doomadgee died in custody, police from Townsville flew out to investigate the matter later that day, and spent the evening socialising with the police they were investigating.

The changes announced yesterday will mean that such events could not be repeated and Mr Beattie described them as a "major change" in the way police operated, even though he did not expect the changes to be "universally applauded by police".

Mr Mundine, the federal Labor president, said last night that Ms Clare had effectively "declared war on Aboriginal people" with her decision to refuse a review. "Peter Beattie must step in now before race relations in the country completely fall apart," he said.

Ms Clare released her statement late yesterday after receiving a letter from the Attorney-General noting Mr Beattie would "strongly support such a review, if this decision was made". "If she makes that decision, then I will strongly support her, and if she doesn't, that's her decision," Mr Beattie said earlier yesterday. But Ms Clare said a review would "pose a fundamental issue" about the independence of the DPP. "A carefully considered decision was made in this matter," she said. "The proper exercise of the independent statutory function of the DPP should not be overriden by another agency."

In the letter, Mr Beattie urges Ms Clare to meet members of the Doomadgee family to explain her decision. Ms Clare said she "would be happy to meet again" with the family. Mr Mundine said he had defended Ms Clare in the past, but her decision in this case showed there needed to be a proper appeals process in Queensland. "She has more power than the High Court - the coroner can make one finding and she can make another, but she doesn't have to explain why." he said. "It's up to Peter Beattie to change the law so the DPP (can) be more open and transparent." Mr Mundine said the indigenous community would not let the matter rest, and warned there would be a continuing campaign against the decision.

Mr Foster said Ms Clare's decision to meet the Doomadgee family placed enormous pressure on them, as they would become the only people to know the full reasons behind her decision.

In the city centre of Perth yesterday, a small crowd gathered to protest against the Queensland Government's failure to deliver justice to Doomadgee, whose death sparked riots on Palm Island in 2004. "I felt sick to my stomach when I heard about the decision the Queensland DPP handed down," WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee chairman Marc Newhouse said. "Police and prison officers arethere to serve the public, andwhen something like this happens, it creates an issue of concern for all Australians because it shows a serious flaw in our democracy."


Killer cop decision faces review after all

Pressure does the impossible

Queensland's Attorney-General Kerry Shine will commission a review of the decision by the state's top prosecutor not to charge a policeman over the death of an Aboriginal man in custody on Palm Island. Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Leanne Clare has stood by her decision not to pursue Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the 2004 watchhouse death of Mulrunji Doomadgee. This was despite the deputy state coroner Christine Clements' ruling in September that the officer caused his death. Ms Clare last night said she was aware of the controversy surrounding her decision but insisted "the evidence does not support a prosecution".

But Mr Shine said today she had agreed to provide him with her file on the case - allowing the attorney to commission an independent review. "Once I have received the file, I will refer it to the Crown Solicitor to commission an independent review of the material provided by the DPP, in the public interest," Mr Shine said. He said Ms Clare has also provided to him a summary of the file. "I have asked Ms Clare to consider releasing, to the greatest extent possible, the contents of that summary in the public interest," Mr Shine said. "I believe the information should be provided to the family of Mulrunji Doomadgee during a second meeting with the DPP, which Ms Clare has agreed to. "The DPP's offer to provide the file offers an opportunity for an independent review of the matter, but I would urge everyone to let the process run its course. "I want to thank the DPP for making the offer to provide the file."

Last night, Ms Clare said Snr Sgt Hurley couldn't be prosecuted regardless of whether an external review was ordered. "The prosecution guidelines prevent a prosecution where the evidence offers no reasonable prospects of a conviction," she said in a statement. "The firm assessment of my office was that the evidence fell considerably short of that which would be required to put anyone on trial. "Therefore, no-one in my office could prosecute this case regardless of any position adopted by an external review."


Walls tumble on NSW police secrets

Brick by brick, the wall erected by the NSW Government to shield aspects of the management of NSW Police from scrutiny is crumbling. This has come at great cost to the public and little credit to the State Government, which has had its attempts to protect material from disclosure serially overruled by Supreme Court Justice Peter Johnson. Indeed, if it had not been for determined action taken by the NSW Opposition, with the support of the Greens, in the Legislative Council, critical material relating to inquiries into police management may never have been brought to light.

It is now more than five years since former NSW police officer Tim Priest, who served from 1983 to 2002, brought a suit against the State Government seeking damages for negligence and breach of contract. He claims he was disciplined around June 1999 for failing to obey a command not to make drug-related arrests; that after making a complaint to the NSW Crime Commission in July 1999 he was harassed and victimised by or at the request of senior officers; that he assisted another police officer to complain to the Police Integrity Commission in November 1999 about a senior officer and was isolated and ridiculed at Cabramatta police station and became the subject of further complaints; and that in February or March 2000 he complained that he was refused overtime to properly investigate a murder at Cabramatta.

Challenged at every turn, the case came to Supreme Court Justice Johnson, who considered argument from June 23, 2005, to January 31 this year before ordering the Crown to produce material including files relating to Operation Retz, an investigation into the Endeavour Regional Command. He also ordered the production of diary entries for the years 1997 to 2001 made by former commissioner Peter Ryan, former deputy commissioner Jeff Jarrett, former assistant commissioner Clive Small, former superintendent Peter Horton and former Inspector Deborah Wallace relating to Priest, drug crime in Cabramatta, Cabramatta local area command and internal affairs. Nothing was produced.

On June 5, the Crown objected to the order, claiming that there was "no legitimate forensic purpose" for Retz and other material to be produced. However, Priest and his lawyers had a lucky break on June 15, when they found by chance and read a copy of a separate investigation, the Tunks report, in material the Crown had agreed they could see. Prepared by Chief Inspector Jeff Tunks in 2003, it is a review of what is known as the Newling Investigation into Cabramatta from 1991 to 2001.

On November 2, the Crown gave an indication of the problems it faced obtaining the sought-after diaries, with QC John Maconachie telling the court: "We will continue to make enquiries to determine from people who are no longer in the service and some of whom are very antagonistic. Mr Jarrett doesn't come into headquarters for a cup of tea every Thursday. Mr Ryan, I might say, might not be a dancing partner of (current Commissioner) Mr Moroney either. There is a real practical problem to this."

Two days later, on November 4, two lever arch file folders containing about 300 pages from Retz were delivered to his court. All were undated except for a 151-page report dated November 2002, which would have supported the Crown's argument that Retz took place after Priest left the service.

Justice Johnson, on November 28, rejected the privilege claim on Tunks and the call to withdraw Retz from disclosure. Had not the Upper House moved on November 15 to demand that the Retz files be produced to Parliament, that's where things may have rested. Within three weeks, Retz material was dumped at Parliament -3000 documents running to some 35,000 pages were delivered in response to an order almost identical to that issued by Justice Johnson.

Given the similarity in the requests, the discrepancy between the responses to the Supreme Court and Parliament without further explanation is absolutely staggering. However, Liberal MLC Charlie Lynn, who has made a preliminary study of the dumped files, believes that more than 20 files - including a crucial report on convicted paedophile Robert "Dolly" Dunn -- are missing in breach of the parliamentary order.

In a report to Opposition Leader Peter Debnam, he said the material he had seen provided an insight into the leadership and management practices at the highest levels of the NSW Police Service. Following the release of the material to Parliament, Justice Johnson has ordered the Crown to hand over all Retz files for examination by January 30, before a further hearing on February 7. But the genie is out of the bottle; the Retz files are being read by Legislative Councillors who claim the material could damage the State Government irreparably. Before next year's state election, the public should have the opportunity to read the papers and reach its own conclusion.


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