Hurley facing fresh Palm Island investigations

Annie Guest and staff ABC News Jun 19, 2010

Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley - Mulrunji Doomadgee inset
Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley
Mulrunji Doomadgee (inset)

The Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) says the police officer at the centre of a death in custody in north Queensland six years ago is facing new investigations.

The CMC has confirmed it is investigating compensation claims Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley lodged when the Palm Island Police Station and residence were burned down during rioting in 2004.

The riots broke out after Cameron Doomadgee's death in the watch-house and it is alleged Senior Sergeant Hurley received more than $100,000 in three claims.

The crime fighting watchdog is also investigating findings from a coronial inquiry that Senior Sergeant Hurley colluded with a fellow officer and changed his evidence after becoming aware of a witness statement.

The CMC says it is considering all the material and whether there is a case to answer.

The case is back in the spotlight after the CMC released a report this week condemning the police investigation in the death.

It found a lack of reliable evidence meant it could not ascertain whether Senior Sergeant Hurley deliberately or accidentally caused Mr Doomadgee's death.

The Police Union will not comment on the two new inquiries.

Indigenous leaders say the CMC should take matters into its own hands and charge the police officers accused of unprofessional conduct over the death.

The CMC has given Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson 14 days to recommend disciplinary action against the six officers over the investigation into Mr Doomadgee's death.

A lawyer for two of the officers has lodged an injunction, arguing Commissioner Atkinson should disqualify himself from deciding if they will face disciplinary action.

Aboriginal community worker Sam Watson says CMC chairman Martin Moynihan should take action himself.

"The CMC has the power under existing legislation to initiate those charges themselves," he said.

"If they had any integrity and courage and guts they would have charged those police and brought them straight before the court."

Independent investigation

Meanwhile, there are growing calls for a dedicated national body to investigate state police in the wake of the scathing report.

Nigel Powell helped establish the landmark Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in Queensland in 1987.

The former policeman also worked for the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption.

"One of the greatest problems that police face when they're investigating their colleagues - whether they've worked with them or not - is the potential in the future that they'd have to go back and work with those colleagues; maybe even be underneath them - who knows?" he said.

Mr Powell says a new organisation is needed to ensure police are investigated properly.

"The only way to do that is to have a completely independent body; not within the state but on a federal basis," he said.

Mr Powell says despite the existence of the Australian Crime Commission and the Australian Federal Police, no body exists to specifically investigate police at a state level.

"Now, how do you fund this? Can you imagine the amount of money that is spent by the state police forces and the state oversight bodies in investigating the complaints against police? It is phenomenal," he said.

He says the body would have to train its own investigators.

Mr Powell also acknowledges a greater emphasis on cultural change within state police departments.

He has support from former chairman of the National Crime Authority, Peter Faris QC, who has long believed Australia's corruption fighting efforts need overhauling.

"There should be a nationally coordinated body or group of crime commissions," he said.

"It would have the Australian Crime Commission, which exists of course sitting at the top and then each state or territory would have its own crime commission."

Mr Faris, who specialises in criminal law, says it would enable a career path and adherence to what he calls the golden rule - that investigators examine interstate rather than local matters.

"The Federal Government should immediately take control of this and treat it as an Australia-wide problem and assist financially and procedurally in setting all this up," he said.

Qld Premier has questions to answer in the wake of the Doomadgee report

Siobhan Barry, Natalie Poyhonen and Nicole Butler ABC News

Cameron Doomadgee
Cameron Doomadgee

Queensland Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek says Premier Anna Bligh has questions to answer in the wake of a report into how police handled Cameron Doomadgee's death in custody six years ago.

The Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) has released a critical report that found the initial police investigation into the 2004 Palm Island death, and a subsequent internal review, were neither impartial nor thorough.

Disciplinary action has been recommended against six officers, including four for official misconduct.

CMC chairman Martin Moynihan says the investigation and review point to a culture of cover-up within the police service, which Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson has tolerated.

Mr Langbroek told ABC Radio's The World Today program the report raises questions about the systems set up by the Government to investigate issues such as these.

"This is partly to do with the process set up by this government where government departments can investigate each other, where the CMC refers issues back to the ethical standards units in health and in police," he said.

"That has led now to a situation where the Police Commissioner offered to let the CMC conduct its investigation some years ago and the CMC under the stewardship of another chairperson referred it back to the police to investigate them.

"That's what Queenslanders are concerned [about], whether the process is working properly."

Mr Langbroek stopped short of calling for Mr Atkinson to be sacked, but he says Ms Bligh has questions to answer about his reappointment.

Mr Moynihan today contradicted claims by Ms Bligh, who last week told Parliament she had sought his approval before reappointing Mr Atkinson to another term as Commissioner. Mr Moynihan says he was advised after the event.

"I think very obviously the Premier has some very serious questions to answer as to whether she has misled the Parliament on a very clear cut question that I put to her just last Friday," Mr Langbroek told The World Today.

"That was: was the chairman of the CMC consulted before the appointment of the police commissioner? She assured the House that he had been. Today he has directly contradicted her and today the Premier needs to answer those questions and needs to do it via recalling Parliament."

Ms Bligh has released a statement, rejecting completely any suggestion she misled the Parliament.

She says she was advised by Police Minister Neil Roberts that he had spoken personally to the chairman of the CMC, and that the chairman agreed with the appointment.

Mr Roberts has backed the Premier.

"I advised the CMC of the Government's intention, indeed the Premier's intention, to make that statement, and specifically asked if there was any impediment to that statement being made, and the answer was no," he said.

"If I had the time over again, I would have rung the CMC chair earlier than what I did. So I accept responsibility for the lateness of that discussion."

'Police have changed'

Commissioner Atkinson responded to the findings against him and the service he presides over via a video on YouTube.

"I have always acknowledged the initial investigation into the death of Cameron Doomadgee could have been handled better," he said.

"But the police service has learned a great deal from that. We have changed the way we do things. In fact, since that time the ethical standards command of the Queensland Police Service has conducted some 50 investigations relating to deaths in custody.

"To my knowledge none of those investigations have been the subject of criticism by any of the coroners or by the Crime and Misconduct Commission."

In the video, Commissioner Atkinson says some people will never believe that justice has been done regarding Palm Island.

"We are committed to having this matter resolved. But it's important that that be done in a considered, fair and evidence based way," he said.

"It is time to bring this matter to an end so that everyone involved can move on - we need to have that happen - this needs to be brought to a close."

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers says it was a difficult and complex case.

"At the end of the day mistakes are made," he said.

"What we're forgetting is this was an Indigenous community, Palm Island - not a lot of police there. It is different to the rest of mainstream Australia. Policing an Indigenous community comes with different, different issues to the rest of the community."