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Qld policeman charged over death in custody -

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Qld policeman charged over death in custody

Reporter: Peter Mccutcheon

For the first time in Australian history, a police officer will be charged over an Aboriginal death
in custody. Queensland's Attorney-General today announced that legal proceedings would begin
against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley for the manslaughter of a Palm Island man known as Mulrunji
more than two years ago. It's been a protracted and highly contentious case, sparking widespread
protests late last year, when Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare said she
thought the death in custody was a 'terrible accident' and she would not be laying charges. But
today the Queensland Government released the findings of a subsequent review of the case by former
New South Wales Chief Justice Sir Laurence Street, who concluded there was sufficient evidence to
begin criminal proceedings, with a reasonable prospect of a conviction.

DEMONSTRATOR: This is the change for a better Australia.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: It began as an Indigenous protest against Australia Day on the streets of
Brisbane, but soon turned into an occasion for muted celebration.

DEMONSTRATOR: Part of this victory is yours. It's not over yet. It's not over.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: In a stunning turnaround, the Queensland Government today announced it would
charge Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the death of an Indigenous man in custody on Palm Island
more than two years ago.

KERRY SHINE, QLD ATTORNEY-GENERAL: I have instructed the Crown Solicitor to issue proceedings
charging Sergeant Chris Hurley with manslaughter.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But this highly controversial case continues to divide the community.

DENIS FITZPATRICK, QPU: Police right across this State of Queensland today are incensed at this
political interference.

LES MALEZER, ABORIGINAL AND ISLANDER RESEARCH ACTION: It's quite wrong of the Police Union to take
a hardline position. I mean, they're not there to adjudge the case.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The 36-year-old man known as Mulrunji was found dead in the Palm Island watchouse
in 2004, only hours after being arrested for public drunkenness. The local community suspected foul
play and set fire to the Palm Island police station after authorities insisted the death was
accidental. After two years of legal wrangling, the acting State Coroner found the arresting police
sergeant responsible for Mulrunji's death, but that finding was contradicted three months later by
Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare, who not only ruled there was
insufficient evidence for a criminal trial, but declared the whole incident was a terrible
accident.

LEANNE CLARE, QLD DPP: The medical evidence is that the fall is the most likely explanation for Mr
Doomadgee's death.

DEMONSTRATOR: What do we want?

CROWD: Justice!

PETER MCCUTCHEON: The Aboriginal community was outraged, and Leanne Clare agreed to have the case
reviewed by one of the country's most eminent jurists, former NSW Chief Justice Sir Lawrence
Street. Sir Lawrence handed his findings to the Queensland Government yesterday. They were made
public today.

KERRY SHINE: There was sufficient admissible evidence to support the institution of criminal
proceedings against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley for the manslaughter of Mulrunji.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Although this directly contradicts the findings of Queensland's top prosecutor,
the State Attorney-General, Kerry Shine, today argued it's not unusual to have different legal
opinions.

KERRY SHINE: There is no slight in any of this on the DPP at all. There is no diminishing of
confidence in the DPP therefore.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Can the Indigenous community still have confidence in the Director of Public
Prosecutions, Leanne Clare?

LES MALEZER: I can't see how Indigenous people can have confidence.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Les Malezer is a former senior bureaucrat for the Goss Labor Government and
researcher for the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission.

LES MALEZER: This is an administration of justice problem and I think the whole system has to take
responsibilities.

PETER BEATTIE, QLD PREMIER: So rather than a reduction, I think in the long-term this will restore
and encourage public confidence in the system.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But the Queensland Police Union argues quite the opposite, that today's
turnaround has damaged an important public office.

DENIS FITZPATRICK: Queenslanders today should be very concerned about the blatant political
interference in our justice system. Until now the office of DPP has been independent, but the
political intervention in this case now means that that independence might - should well be
abolished.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: So far the only street protests have been by the Indigenous community against
police and prosecutors, but the Police Union says the boot could soon be on the other foot and it
has not ruled out taking strike action.

DENIS FITZPATRICK: At this stage we're not ruling anything out and I would remind you all it's not
just noisy minority groups who could march on parliament.

PETER BEATTIE: I think Queenslanders could be confident in the quality of the police that serve
this community. It's important that they accept Sir Lawrence Street's decision and that
recommendation. And I would urge the Police Union to do so.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: As Queensland joined the rest of Australia in celebrating 218 years of European
settlement today, Premier Peter Beattie has been given a new challenge. Aboriginal anger over
perceived injustice in the Mulrunji case may have dissipated, but the gulf between Indigenous
communities and police has, if anything, widened. And Indigenous advocates argue the longer term
solution is not the outcome of the court case, but a commitment to tackling the underlying causes
of Aboriginal disadvantage.

LES MALEZER: There is a deeper problem behind all this but we are seeing, at least, I think, to
give credit, we are seeing the Government do something positive here. We have to encourage them to
continue to be positive but now we have to say there's more to be done, please get on with the
other things.