Lex Wotton: vilified by media

by Pamela Curr, Campaign coordinator, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Dear Friends,

This is not a refugee story- It is a story about Australians- Indigenous Australians. However there are similarities between the way refugees and indigenous Australians are treated by the Australian media that remind us just how racism works.
Look at these two reports below to see the way in which the media can twist and part report on an incident on people whom they seek to vilify and demonise.

Please read the two reports and you will see how the trial of Lex Wotton is being presented in the Murdoch press. In the Courier Mail the journalist reported only the mornings proceedings where the prosecution lawyers examined the evidence of the police witness. In the afternoon when the defence lawyers examined this prosecution witness- she was either absent or chose not to report what was effectively the demolition of the evidence given by this prosecution witness.
Then read the full report of this evidence written by a journalist from the National Indigenous Times and then draw your own conclusions.

Read the headline in the Courier Mail- this is a trial in progress- surely the Court should be the one to pass the verdict not The Courier Mail! You may feel inclined to remind the Courier Mail of this.

Pamela Curr


Wotton ‘ordered torching of cop’s house’

By Christine Flatley
October 15, 2008 04:50pm
Article from: AAP

ACCUSED Palm Island rioter Lex Wotton ordered another man to burn down a police officer’s house, a court has been told.

Terrence Kidner today gave evidence in the trial against Mr Wotton, who is accused of inciting the riot in November 2004, following the death in custody of 36-year-old Cameron Doomadgee.

Mr Kidner told the Brisbane District Court Mr Wotton had handed him a petrol tin and told him to “burn up” Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley’s house.

The court was told the residents of Palm Island, off Townsville, were “upset” about Mr Doomadgee’s death, and that they blamed Sgt Hurley.

Sgt Hurley was later cleared by a jury of any responsibility.

Mr Kidner today said Mr Wotton had told him to pour the petrol into the house, and that he had obeyed because he had been frightened by Mr Wotton.

“He was going off … he was wild,” he said.

“He just said go and burn it.”

Mr Kidner told the court he also saw Mr Wotton trying to smash windows at the police station.

During the trial the court was told Mr Wotton also gave police officers one hour to leave the island or be killed.

Detective Sergeant Darren Robinson gave evidence about rocks being pelted at police as they were holed up in the barracks.

He said the angry mob burned down the courthouse and police station, causing officers to fear for their lives.

The trial continues.

Key police witness accompanied to trial by officers, court hears
Issue 163 - 02 Oct 2008

            NATIONAL, October 16, 2008: A key police witness in the trial of
accused Palm Island rioter Lex Wotton was accompanied to court by two
officers even though he was not in custody, it emerged during the recall of
a witness late yesterday.

            Terrence Kidner is testifying in the trial of Mr Wotton in the
Brisbane District Court. Mr Wotton is accused of riot with destruction after
the Palm police station, courthouse and a police residence were torched by
local residents.

            It followed the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee a week
earlier. Mulrunji had been walking home on the morning of November 19, 2004
when he was arrested by the most senior officer on the island, Snr Sgt Chris
Hurley, for public nuisance. Within an hour, Mulrunji was lying dead on the
floor of a police cell, having sustained massive internal injuries.

            Mr Kidner told the court earlier yesterday that as the riot on
Palm Island erupted on November 26, Mr Wotton handed him a drum of petrol
and ordered him to torch the home of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.

            He also testified that Mr Wotton had tried to calm the crowd
during the uprising. He acknowledged that he had been drinking on the
morning of the riot, but was only "tipsy".

            Mr Kidner completed his evidence shortly after lunch, but was
recalled to the stand later in the day to give more testimony.

            During the second session, counsel for Mr Wotton, Clive Steirn
SC told the court that Mr Kidner had "two minders" with him, and that he was
brought to court by a Detective Sergeant Thomas.

            Mr Kidner agreed he was afraid of going back to prison for his
part in the riot, and that he feared he would be in more trouble with police
if he did not give the same testimony in the Wotton trial that he gave at
his own court appearance.

            Mr Kidner told the court he served 10 months of a four year
prison sentence (suspended after 16 months) for his part in the riot. He
said he could not recall how he pled in the case (Mr Kidner pled guilty).

            Mr Kidner acknowledged that by implicating Lex Wotton in the
riot, he knew would not get in as much trouble. The court heard he had
received a reduced sentence for his crime because his trial judge accepted
that he had acted under the instruction of Mr Wotton.

            Mr Kidner had earlier testified that some Palm residents had
falsely accused him of other offences during the riot, and that he "played
the same game" of blaming others when he gave his statement to police.
However, he denied any suggestion that he had lied about Mr Wotton to try
and lessen his role in the riot, and maintained that Mr Wotton gave him the
drum of fuel.

            During the second session, Mr Kidner was taken through some of
his earlier evidence. He was challenged about when he says he arrived at the
scene of the uprising.

            He had earlier told the court that on the day of the riot, he
first saw Mr Wotton outside the police station, confronting officers. But he
accepted late yesterday that he did attend a community meeting prior to the
riot, and saw Lex Wotton address the crowd.

            At that meeting, Mr Kidner said, Mr Wotton told the crowd that
they should burn down Snr Sgt Hurley's house.

            Video footage of the meeting - played to the court earlier in
the trial - records Mr Wotton responding to an announcement by Mayor Eryka
Kyle that police had confirmed Mulrunji Doomadgee's death was an accident.

            After taking the microphone, Mr Wotton simply said: "That's not
an answer. C'mon people. We all wanted this. We all wanted to know. Will we
accept this as an answer? I'm not going to accept it and I know a lot of you
others don't either. Things gonna burn. I know, I've spoken to the young
people. We'll decide when. I'm not going to accept this. Let's do something,
more than this."

            Mr Kidner also maintained that after helping to torch Snr Sgt
Hurley's home he left the area and went home.

            The jury was shown some stills of video footage showing
firefighters arriving to try and extinguish the blaze at the police
residence. Mr Steirn put it to Mr Kidner that he was seen trying to stop
firefighters from reaching the house.

            Mr Kidner denied he was there, but later placed an 'X' on a
photograph, acknowledging that the video footage recorded him at the

            There were considerable language difficulties throughout Mr
Kidner's testimony - he has a very thick Aboriginal accent, is illiterate
and speaks relatively few words. His answers were short and frequently had
to be repeated so that court officials and the jury could understand him.

            Judge Michael Shanahan regularly had to intervene during the
testimony to ensure Mr Kidner had understood the questions asked of him, and
that the jury and court officials understood the answers given.

            At the completion of Mr Kidner's evidence, Judge Shanahan warned
the jury that Mr Kidner was an "accomplice" in relation to crimes committed
on the day of the uprising, and that the jury needed to "treat his evidence
with care".

            Judge Shanahan told the jury they could accept Mr Kidner's
testimony in its entirety if they so chose, but that in weighing up his
evidence they should consider whether or not he was truthful, or had lied to
paint himself in a better light.

            Mr Wotton's trial continues today. A Palm resident who witnessed
the riot, Virginia Coutts, is currently testifying.

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