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sydney alternative media - non-profit community independent trustworthy
Wednesday, 17 January 2007
Silent or is that silenced witness on Palm Island?
Mood:  sharp
Topic: indigenous

The bizarre situation where NSW lawyer working for the Qld government Sir Laurence Street is talking to the media as if his visit to Palm Island yesterday is merely coincidental to this horrific death of a 'a critical witness' is great cause for concern. The lead story in the Brisbane Courier Mail today (a one newspaper town, owned by News Ltd) is deeply disturbing and worth publishing in full below.

If 24 year old Patrick Bramwell died by suicide it raises the whole question of Street strictly ruling out taking 'any new evidence', and 'rejecting an open ended inquiry'  as reported in general media and here at SAM dated 5th January plus postscript updates (found by clicking top right date card):

5th January 2007

Sir Laurence Street really the corruption reformer wanted by many in the Doomadgee wrongful death case, after AWB comments?

and whether Street's approach tipped a depressed young man over the edge, that no one would listen to his witness, not Street, not the broader institutions of society for the last 2 or 3 years. If there was foul play, that speaks for itself.

The proximity of the police, already under a big shadow, the night before his death, the severe political exposure of the Qld ALP government to date, the on the record conservatism of Street the lawyer sent in to fix the controversy, suggests the administration of justice in Qld is well off the rails.

SAM's editor quite separately has heard direct witness there is quite a deal of entrenched corruption in the Qld police well after the famous 1987 Qld Fitzgerald Royal Commission into deep problems there.

This writer cannot get out of his mind the report that investigating police had dinner the night they arrived on Palm Island with the officer Chris Hurley who was being investigated. And the finding of the coroner strongly implicating the same Hurley yet no prosecution proceeding.

This Courier Mail story speaks volumes:

Cellmate found hanged

 By Peter Michael : THE review into the Palm Island death in custody will continue despite the death of another man who was lying beside Mulrunji when he died in a jail cell more than two years ago.

Mulrunji's silent witness

January 16, 2007 11:00pm

THE review into the Palm Island death in custody will continue despite the death of another man who was lying beside Mulrunji when he died in a jail cell more than two years ago.

Patrick Bramwell was found dead by his grandmother on Palm Island early yesterday, ending his life without the day in court he said he craved to tell his version of the tragic story.

His death came just hours before former NSW chief justice Sir Laurence Street visited the island as part of his review into the controversial decision not to recommend charges over Mulrunji's death.

Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare said last month there was not enough evidence to prove that former Palm Island police officer Chris Hurley "was criminally responsible" for the death of Mulrunji. Senior Sergeant Hurley was accused of bashing Mulrunji.

An autopsy found the man suffered four broken ribs, a ruptured liver and a ruptured portal vein.

Sir Laurence said yesterday the death of the key witness was unlikely to affect his final report, which could be completed within a week.

"He was a witness, but he was not (in that sense) indispensable," Sir Laurence said.

"We have one witness less but his evidence was part of the overall material of which there is eight ring-lock binders of documents."

Bramwell, 24, was found hanging from a tree in his front yard by his heartbroken grandmother Muriel Bramwell about midnight on Monday.

His life ended where all the trouble began – the same spot where, two years ago, his friend Mulrunji walked past and abused community police liaison officer Lloyd Bengaroo as Bramwell was being arrested for drunkenness.

His death gave Sir Laurence an emotional encounter first-hand with the tragedy and despair of Palm Island.

Bramwell was arrested by police for swearing on November 19, 2004, just before Mulrunji was arrested for the same offence.

The two men, who knew each other, were taken to the watchhouse in the same paddy wagon and shared the same jail cell.

Mulrunji later died from injuries deputy state coroner Christine Clements found had been caused by Snr Sgt Hurley during a scuffle at the police watchhouse.

Dressed in a dapper grey suit, tie, white hat and carrying a leather-bound walking cane, Sir Laurence, a respected former chief justice of New South Wales, met with the grieving Bramwell family on the veranda of their humble three-bedroom home.

"It is a very sad day to be here," said Sir Laurence, flanked by a team of legal advisers.

"My visit has been made even more poignant to come here on a day like this because its very tragic."

"I wanted to pay our respects and express our regrets," Sir Laurence said.

Bramwell's father, Patrick Bramwell senior, yesterday said his son's death came after police had detained the youth during a late-night drunken argument with his sister and had driven him 10 minutes out of town "to cool down".

Muriel Bramwell, 68, said she looked out her window about midnight and saw the young man hanging in the almond tree in her front yard.

"There was no wind blowing, he was dead still," said the grieving aboriginal elder. "I called for help and they took him down, I wanted to blow air into him, but it was too late."

This death follows the death-in-custody of Mulrunji and the subsequent suicide of Mulrunji's 19-year-old son Eric.

Palm Island men's group spokesman Robert Blackley said:

"It is not just a personal loss but a massive blow in our case against Hurley."

Sir Laurence yesterday shook hands with schoolchildren and visited the site of Mulrunji's death and the local council during his hour-and-a-half visit to the island, 60km north-east of Townsville.

He said he expected to finish his report "within days if not the week".


And refer this report by very experienced journalist Malcolm Brown on legal matters of Fairfax on location http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/palm-island-mourns-third-death/2007/01/16/1168709754663.html


Pretty much the same story at rival The Australian here: Mulrunji's cell mate found dead. One thing rings true from Street in the story here - a determination to press on given 'tragedy all around'. But that's a double edged sword including consideration of all relevant evidence (which is a very sound principle of administrative law actually), not some inflexible refusal to ignore new evidence because it's ostensibly beyond a politician's 'terms of reference' of an inquiry with all the vested interest that might involve. In short Street is wrong in the SAM editor's view to parade such a  minimalist approach to his task at Palm Island, re Cole on AWB or Fitzgerald Royal Commission back in 1987. Especially when society and politics look to lawyers for leadership when the chips are really down. Not minimalism as a so called budgeting virtue. In short f*ck the budget. Get the truth.

Postscript #1

Crikey.com.au ezine January 18th O7 writes

8. The sorry state of indigenous affairs in Qld just got sorrier

Graham Ring from the National Indigenous Times writes:

Queensland’s Beattie Government has thus far seemed guilty only of staggering ineptitude in its administration of Indigenous affairs. However a report from Tony Koch in today’s Australian raises the stakes beyond mere incompetence, suggesting that the Government has deliberately suppressed a report which details the extent of Indigenous disadvantage in Queensland.

The report, prepared last year at the behest of former minister John Mickel, warned of the “urgent need to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples standard of living” and recommended “immediate and sustained action to reduce the disparity in all life stages”.

However, this damning document never saw the light of day. After racking up another crushing election victory in September of last year, Beattie moved quickly to abolish the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy, merging its functions into the Department of Communities.

However, any post-election attempt by the government to downplay issues of Indigenous justice was foiled by saturation media coverage of the Coroner’s inquiry into the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island in November 2004.

Only weeks after the election, Queensland’s acting state coroner Christine Clements handed down her findings into the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee. which had occurred almost two years earlier. The Coroner concluded that the actions of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused the fatal injuries. Yet, Queensland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare found that Hurley had no charge to answer, describing the death as a "terrible accident".

The public outrage that followed saw the Beattie Government in damage control, citing the independence of the DPP and attempting to tough things out. With the government bleeding badly, Attorney General Kerry Shine eventually wrote to the DPP advising her that a review of the decision would be "strongly supported" by Premier Beattie. Clare was unmoved, issuing a statement saying that if the case had gone to trial "no law abiding citizen…would have found this man guilty."

The following day, Shine released an extraordinary statement, saying that Clare had made an "unexpected offer" to provide him with the file on the Palm Island death. Retired Queensland District Court judge, Pat Shanahan, was commissioned to conduct the review. However Shanahan stood down just days later when it became public knowledge that he had been part of the panel that appointed Clare as DPP in 2000.

In an effort to rescue the situation, the Beattie Government went beyond Queensland’s borders and appointed distinguished NSW jurist Sir Laurence Street to review the matter.

Street’s report is expected to be completed within weeks.

Then came the news yesterday that 24-year-old Mr Bramwell - who had shared Mulrunji’s cell on the night he died - hanged himself on Palm Island last Monday, amidst allegations that he had been subject to police pressure not to talk about events surrounding Mulrunji’s death. This further tragedy underscores the sorry tale of the Queensland Government’s mishandling of events.

With the ham-fisted bungling of the Shanahan appointment, and the tragic suicide of Bramwell, things have gone pear-shaped for the Beattie Government. The suppressed report obtained by The Oz suggests that the fruit is rotten to the core.

With the Government now haemorrhaging, and Indigenous leaders like Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine continuing to apply the blow-torch, perhaps only a Royal Commission will see public confidence fully restored.

Posted by editor at 8:38 AM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007 2:38 PM EADT

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