Failure of the justice system

The family of Doomadgee has good reason to be angry

THE family of Mulrunji Doomadgee is right -- Queensland Police should ``hang their heads in shame'' over his death and the 5 1/2-year saga that followed. On Friday, Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine concluded the third coronial inquest into the matter, returning an open finding on whether the death of Doomadgee, 36, on November 19, 2004, was accidental or deliberately caused by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.
Mr Hine concluded there was no evidence that Sergeant Hurley had meant to inflict the injuries that killed Doomadgee, who suffered a ruptured liver and had four ribs broken during a scuffle in the doorway of the lock-up of Palm Island police station. Doomadgee had been arrested for drunkenness.
But Mr Hine also concluded that the initial police investigation lost credibility because of a ``perception of collusion'' between local detectives and Sergeant Hurley.
It is outrageous that he was tipped off about crucial witness accounts by the investigating police. The finding that Sergeant Hurley probably lied about not remembering falling on Doomadgee after Doomadgee had punched him was also disturbing.
The failure of authorities to resolve the matter within a reasonable timeframe is an indictment on Queensland's justice system. The matter has also weakened the standing of Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, who backed his now-disgraced officers from the outset. And it remains to be seen what the long-awaited Crime and Misconduct Commission report into the initial police investigation finds. If, as anticipated, it is strongly critical of the police conduct of the case it will place the commissioner, whose contract was renewed prematurely in February, under further pressure.
Twenty years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and Queensland's Fitzgerald inquiry, the long, sorry saga serves as a warning that parts of the justice system appear to have lapsed back into the culture of the Bjelke-Petersen era. But it is no longer acceptable, in any state, for police to enforce the law in a way that could be seen as protecting fellow officers.
Had Doomadgee been white or had Sergeant Hurley died in the scuffle, public outcry would have forced authorities to investigate thoroughly and quickly. It is shameful that it remained unresolved for so long.