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Fury over freddo charges. -

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Today, under intense pressure the Western Australian police commissioner dropped the court
proceedings against a twelve year old aboriginal boy charged with receiving stolen goods. The boy
received a chocolate frog from a friend, the excessive charges prompted a public outcry and the
question was posed as to whether a white child would have been charged in similar circumstances.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: When a 12-year-old Aboriginal boy in Western Australia was charged with
receiving stolen goods, to wit, a chocolate frog worth 70 cents and a cheap novelty sign, there was
a fierce debate to follow. Inevitably, given the disproportionate number of Indigenous Australians
in gaols, including juvenile detention, the question was posed as to whether a white child would
have been charged in similar circumstances.

Western Australian Police defended their actions, but under intense pressure, the Police
Commissioner today dropped the court proceedings. Still, he argues that the youth should face some
consequences for his actions. Ros Thomas reports from Perth.

PETER COLLINS, LAWYER: This sort of thing goes on a daily basis in Western Australia, and it
receives very little attention, and the individuals who for the most part are on the receiving end
are Aboriginal juveniles.

ROS THOMAS, REPORTER: It was, by any measure, the most trivial of offences, a 12-year-old boy from
the Western Australian wheatbelt town of Northam accepting a chocolate frog allegedly stolen by a
friend. The supermarket didn't ask police to prosecute over the 70 cent crime, but officers
arrested and charged the boy and sent him before the Children's Court.

PETER HALLIDAY, WA WHEATBELT DISTRICT POLICE: All police want is the behaviour to stop and to
change, and it's not only for the betterment of the community, but it's also for the betterment of
that child.

PETER COLLINS: I think the chances of a white child being charged in these circumstances are very
low, almost to the point of non-existent.

ROS THOMAS: Late today, the Western Australian Police Commissioner agreed, and in a humiliating
backdown, announced the charges against the boy would be dropped.

KARL O'CALLAGHAN, WA POLICE COMMISSIONER: We prosecute thousands of people every month. Sometimes
mistakes are made, and the main thing is that we fix those mistakes pretty quickly, and that's what
we've done here today.

ROS THOMAS: But yesterday it was a very different story. Acting Superintendent Peter Halliday said
he had reviewed the actions of the police involved and was satisfied his officers had taken the
proper course of action.

PETER HALLIDAY: When they don't work, it's entirely appropriate that we escalate matters to the
Children's Court.

ROS THOMAS: The boy, the youngest of nine children, had no criminal record and had never faced
charges before. But he had had several brushes with the law and had received several informal and
formal cautions from police about his anti-social behaviour. The last warning, just three days
before his court appearance yesterday in Northam. He pleaded guilty to two charges of receiving
stolen goods - the chocolate frog and a novelty sign from a local store.

PETER HALLIDAY: Cost doesn't become relevant. If taking a matter of a child before the Children's
Court stops a child offending in the future, yes it is worth the cost.

ROS THOMAS: What do you make of the fact that police chose this child and this offence, receiving a
stolen 70 cent Freddo frog, to pick a fight over?

PETER COLLINS: Well I think it's outrageous. I think it's so silly.

ROS THOMAS: Peter Collins is the boy's lawyer and has been with the Aboriginal Legal Service for 14
years. He says this is just a very public example of the chronic over-policing of Aboriginal people
in Western Australia, juvenile and adult alike.

PETER COLLINS: He's like a lot of young Aboriginal kids that I've appeared for over the years.
Incredibly shy, very reticent. He's got a mum who's a really decent woman, who struck me as being a
really responsible mother. But she's a single mum, she's got nine children.

PETER HALLIDAY: No, this is not embarrassing for WA Police. As I said, there's a number of
diversionary practices employed in all cases. If we continue to use the same diversionary tactics
and they don't work, then it's a matter of we need to try something different.

ROS THOMAS: West Australian Police in their defence say that this is not about the value of the
chocolates stolen, but the fact that they had issued a number of cautions and they hadn't worked.

PETER COLLINS: No argument that the police can advance to me will convince me that a 12-year-old
boy had reached the end of the line with diversionary processes when you're talking about a Freddo
frog.

ROS THOMAS: The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Criminology suggest that seven out
of 10 white juvenile offenders are dealt with by way of a caution. But police hand out cautions to
only three out of 10 young Aboriginal offenders.

MICHELLE SCOTT, WESTERN AUSTRALIAN CHILDREN'S COMMISSIONER: Western Australia has one of the
highest rates of detention of children in the country. On a daily rate, there's about 132 children
in detention in Western Australia. If you compare that to Victoria, there's about 48; and if you
compare that to South Australia, there's about 42. So something is going wrong here in Western
Australia.

ROS THOMAS: Michelle Scott is the Western Australian Children's Commissioner. She says she's been
appalled for years at the way police are failing to comply with the Young Offenders Act, laws
passed in Western Australia in 1994 which say children should only be brought before the courts for
the most serious of offences. Instead, the rate at which WA Police are diverting children away from
the court has declined 13 per cent in the last five years.

MICHELLE SCOTT: The police are not cautioning children, particularly Aboriginal children, as they
are in other states. We're also not diverting children into diversion programs rather than
detention.

ROS THOMAS: While the young boy at the centre of this controversy is now technically off the hook,
he'll still be required to face a juvenile justice panel to assess his recent poor behaviour. But
the Western Australian Police Force will not have a bar of any talk its actions in this case have
been racist.

KARL O'CALLAGHAN: They don't highlight racism at all. What they do highlight is a high rate of
offending amongst particular groups in the community. That's a community problem that has to be
sorted out.

PETER COLLINS: I think it's an admission that they've got it wrong here, that their approach was
misconceived from the word go.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Incidentally, according to the news wires, the boy in this case has pleaded not
guilty to those two charges of receiving.

Ros Thomas reporting from Perth.