‘Come on people, we can’t accept this’ — Lex Wotton, 26 November 2004, at Palm Island Community Meeting after Mulrunji was killed by Snr Sgt Hurley.
Guilty walk free while innocent are convicted
You only have to read the articles in the mainstream media to know that Lex Wotton was falsely tried in Brisbane’s District Court over the past three weeks (6 – 24 October 2008).
As the guards took Lex Wotton into custody on 25 October 2008, Lex shook hands with the people who supported him during a long and gruelling trial and thanked us for hanging in there. He was then taken to prison by correctional services staff, as a political prisoner.
In the words of Sam Watson, “It’s business as usual in the sovereign state of Queensland.”
The following is an analysis of what led up to this situation in Queensland where the guilty walk free while innocent are convicted.
- Palm Island – then and now
- An Aboriginal death in custody : the case of John Pat
- Bad News — analysis of media
- Lex Wotton family strong
- Unlawful assembly
- Springbok Tour
- Palm Island
- Defence Weaknesses — where the legal team fell down
- 26 November 2004
- Roy Bramwell breaks down
- Who is a leader?
- Police sought to divide the Community on Palm
- Angry but organised — the political response
- Lies, lies and videotapes
- The Jury
- Lex Wotton’s Demands
Palm Island – then and now
Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell. — Hurricane, Bob Dylan
The Townsville Correctional Centre replaced the old Townsville Prison at Stuart Creek.
As any Murri will tell you, most aboriginal men who live on Palm Island will at some time in their lives spend time in that prison.
Stuart Creek, as it was called, was a 19th century bucket-in-your-cell prison.
There are people doing life sentences there for doing nothing. Palm itself is a prison and has a long history of being used as a penal settlement by the colonialists. In 1957 the Palm Island people went on strike against these penal conditions and again in 1984 to win conditions for the workers on th island and their families. This struggle is the subject of a film called Protected by Allesandro and Fabio Cavadini.
Emily Dunn, June 27, 2007 wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald:
“Telling tales of an island bad times never left”
AS A schoolboy, Lex Wotton remembers watching his father on film in Protected, the story of the 1957 strike on Palm Island against protective legislation curtailing the freedoms of its mostly Aboriginal population in the former penal colony.
Under the legislation Aborigines needed permission to marry or to walk out onto the reefs bordering the Queensland island. Wotton, 40, said that screening opened his eyes to the way “things were different on Palm”.
“There are numerous things that people haven’t documented but this [film] was one thing that brought what was happening to the indigenous people to the attention of the wider community,” Wotton said.
25 October 2008.
An Aboriginal death in custody : the case of John Pat
The article below gives some background information about this most notorious case of an Aboriginal death-in-custody and the way Aboriginal people have been treated on their own land by their guests; the white people of Australia (See http://www.maryg.net/johnpat.html).
The town of Roebourne is in Western Australia, situated 1200 km north of Perth in the Pilbara Region, It lies in the traditional lands of the Ngarluma people. Whites first settled there in 1864. Roebourne was substantially affected by the mining boom of the 1960s, which saw nearby Karratha become the regional centre. By the early 1980s Roebourne had a population of 1200, with about 800 of Aboriginal descent.
On 28 September 1983, four police officers and an Aboriginal police aide returned to Roebourne from a police union meeting at Karratha. They were off duty, and had each drunk six or seven glasses of beer at the Karratha Golf Club. Upon their return to Roebourne, they called in at the Victoria. One Aboriginal, Ashley James, was threatened by one of the off-duty policemen when he sought to make a purchase at the bottle shop. A barmaid later testified that police swore at James and threatened to get him when he left the hotel: ‘”We’ll get you, you black cunt“.
James himself later testified that one of the police subsequently accosted him outside on the footpath, and told him to ‘get fucked’. James then claimed that he fought back, and was then attacked by the other police. A brawl began with Aborigines and police trading punches. A sixteen-year-old Aboriginal youth, John Pat, joined the fray, and according to witnesses, was struck in the face by a policeman and fell backward, striking his head hard on the roadway.
Witnesses said one of the off-duty police went over to Pat and kicked him in the head. Pat was then allegedly dragged to a waiting police van, kicked in the face, and thrown in ‘like a dead kangaroo’ Pat and three other Aborigines were driven to the Roebourne police station.
Observers across the street from the station alleged that the Aborigines were systematically beaten as they were taken from the police van. One after another, the prisoners were dragged from the van and dropped on the cement pathway. Each was picked up, punched to the ground, and kicked. According to one observer, none of the prisoners fought back or resisted. One witness from across the street said she could hear the sound of loud blows, and ‘come on, fight, you bastard’.
One of the prisoners said he had spent a week in hospital as a result of his injuries. Another said his head had been slammed repeatedly on the concrete until he passed out. John Pat, however, was taken to the police lockup, and a little over an hour later, when police sought to check on him, he was dead. A subsequent autopsy revealed a fractured skull, haemorrhage and swelling as well as bruising and tearing, of the brain.
He had sustained a number of massive blows to the head. In addition to the head injuries, he had two broken ribs and a torn aorta, the major blood vessel leading from the heart. The autopsy also showed that John Pat had a blood alcohol reading of .222.
To listen to Mark Bin Bakar’s musical arrangement and performance of the Jack Davis poem, click ‘John Pat’ to load it up.
You have an all-white court: a white judge, white lawyers, a white jury deciding on the merits of a case that involves very deep Aboriginal cultural issues.
From an ABC report: ‘There is no justice for Aboriginal people within the courts of Queensland‘ – Sam Watson
Mr Watson indicated Mr Wotton would be speaking with his lawyers about the possibility of an appeal against the conviction.
He also said that there would be major rallies in all major Australian cities to protest against the death.”
Lex Wotton family strong
There was no better example of strength and resolve outside the court after the guilty verdict than that shown by Wotton’s family, especially his mother, Aunty Agnes. Her grandchildren were crying, Cecilia (Lex Wotton’s wife) could barely stand, his sisters, Fleur and Agnes Jnr were in shock, but Aunty Agnes kept saying “Common now, be strong, we are going to get through this”. This is a person, an elder of 64 years who had been harrassed, charged by police along with 23 others who were arrested and taken from the island. But Aunty Agnes was eventually acquitted. Lex Wotton’s sisters were strong as well, his sister Agnes saying later that night “I thought I was going to break down, but I feel strong, Lex has made me strong”.
Unlawful Assembly in Queensland
Thirty-one years ago the largest mass arrest of people in Australian history occurred in Queensland. The Bjelke Petersen government was in power. This government ruled with an iron fist. Aboriginal people were subject to the racist Queensland Acts which confined many Murris to aboriginal reserves under the strict control of government authorities and the churches (see map for the divisions controlled by church and state) .
In 1977, ordinary people rose up against these laws and other laws used against workers, women and aboriginal people. Aboriginal people were the worst hit by the repressive policies of the Bjelke Petersen regime. At a rally in opposition to uranium mining and export on 22 October 1977, four hundred and eighteen (418) people were arrested near King George Square in what the marchers called the ‘valley of death’ in Albert Street. At the time, Michael Shanahan was in his final year of law at Queensland University. The assembly and march were declared illegal by police. Police rioted in the street against the ordinary people and arrested and detained 418 people for many hours in nearby lockups, watchouses, and in crowded vans and paddy wagons. This only because people tried to exercise the right to demonstrate.
Some years before this, in 1971, police attacked demonstrators assembled in front of the Tower Mill motel. Country police, used to jailing Murris, attacked the crowd on behalf of the establishment who wanted to see the Springboks (during the White South African apartheid regime) play against the Green & Gold.
The games went ahead at the exhibition grounds in Brisbane with police assistance (shown below).
They were arrested and convicted. This was under the Crimes Act 1900 (s247), the judge told the jury:
I can sum up the legal position quite simply. There is no Australian law or statute which gives any person the right to damage the property of another in order to give effect to any United Nations resolutions or declarations upon racial discrimination. It is no defence to say that merely to say that the damage was caused by way of protest against apartheid… expression of views may be ventilated if unaccompanied by damage or violence.
The trial had been attended by a large number of builders labourers; there were several hundred either in or near the court. Before the court was opened on 23 August 1972 Jack Mundey addressed the several hundred builders’ labourers who were present outside the court and in the course of this address he told them that it was a serious situation that Bob Pringle and John Phillips were to be sentenced. He asked that the people in the court be quiet so as not to arouse any ire by the authorities against the two convicted.
And the court was quiet.
Both men were released with fines and after the court. Jack Mundey said after the court was adjourned that the reason they were not jailed was becasue of the solidarity of the building workers assembled at the courthouse:
I think that once again it (the judgement) showed that the judge himself was a racist. It shows you the extent to which racism exists within our society and it shows a tremendous problem we have, all Australians, to overcome this deeply ingrained racism … Jack Mundey went on to speak about the White Australian Policy about what he said was ‘the disgraceful treatment of the aborigines over 184 years’ and ‘while we cannot influence all strata of society we ourselves of the industrial working class have a very big problem to overcome racism amongst our workers’.
For this the judge found Jack Mundey in contempt of court but did not send him to jail. [From Attorney General for NSW v. Mundey NSW Law Reports 1972 Vol 2 pp887 – 917. Judgment was given in the Common Law Division by Justice Hope dates of hearing were Nov 15-17, 20, 21, Dec 21 1972]
Thirty-six years later Judge Michael Shanahan has declared to a jury that an assembly on Palm Island after the death of Mulrunji was unlawful. The Queensland justice system was unfair in 1977 and it is unfair still, Queensland law is unjust. It stated in 1977 and still states that you only need three (3) people to make a riot. To be in a ‘riot with destruction’ carries a maximum life sentence.
The law opposes what the judge calls ‘unlawful assembly’, especially when people are upset that one of their brothers has been killed by the police. The judge in this case has described when people came together in Police Lane on Palm Island to ask the police why Hurley had not been charged with Mulrunji’s murder and had not been sent from Palm Island. The judge said that an unlawful assembly, what he called ‘an agitated movement of people’; ‘accompanied by noise’; where people ‘are emotionally aroused’; and that may bring ‘fear of injury to a person (or) property’; He declared that this is ‘a breach of the peace’.
Defence Weaknesses — where the legal team fell down
While waiting for the jury in the court one of Lex Wotton’s barristers, Mr King, admitted to a tactical error made by the defence during the trial. The defence took a decision early in the trial to have David Hume’s video entered into evidence during cross examination which meant, under Queensland law, the defence would not get right of reply to the crown barrister in summing up to the jury. During the trial I told a journalist that I could not see any riot on the videotapes shown in court. After some discussion he said that I was mistaken because ‘it (my argument) was just semantics’ But that is what the law is, brother – semantics, no Justice, just a game.
The defence underestimated the aboriginal witnesses brought by the police. The death of Mulrunji caused division in the Palm Island Community. The police exploited this. The defence especially underestimated Terence Kidner who came to court with police minders. He was fearful of going back to jail, the police made sure of this. So when he was cross examined by the defence, he stuck to his story that Lex Wotton had given him a petrol tin and told him to burn Hurley’s house. The defence barrister tried to have his evidence excluded from the trial because a psychologist said Terence Kidner was unintelligent. But the defence just could not understand his words. He was sticking to the story the police gave him. His evidence needed to be contradicted. Why wasn’t he protected from police influence?
There was no way the defence was going to win this case, it is too political. If the state let Lex Wotton go free then that means the defence barrister, Clive Steirn, was right when he accused Queensland police of “lying through their teeth” to convict his client. The police union and their Minister Judy Spence were never going to let that happen.
26 November 2004
The people were upset and mourning the loss of their brother. Yet the judge says that this could be an unlawful assembly and a breach of the peace. A funeral procession may contain noise, emotion, agitation. Yet people cannot question the death of their brother. How can this be? How many rocks were thrown on the roof of the police station? How many police were injured? One said he had a bruise under his gun belt and it was caused by a rock. How do we know this is true?
Roy Bramwell breaks down
Roy Bramwell was present in the Palm Island police station when Hurley killed Mulrunji. The court allowed a video of Roy Bramwell into evidence but only on a limited basis ‘to provide background’.
All the officers of the court spoke as if many of the witnesses to these events were still alive and did not explain. Roy Bramwell’s brother Patrick is dead, Mulrunji’s son is dead, his mother is dead. There was no explanation why Roy Bramwell would not be giving evidence. Not only did they show disrespect to a man who had died and his family but they have demeaned the aboriginal witnesses in the trial as being simple, unintelligent, lacking understanding. The judge, defence lawyer and prosecutor have been joking at the expense of aboriginal witnesses while Palm Island people witness from the back of the court.
Yet when Roy Bramwell spoke to the crowd on Palm Island, standing there alone at the microphone, he broke down crying as he told the crowd what he saw in the watchouse on 19th November 2004. He described how Snr Sgt Hurley had repeatedly punched Mulrunji while he was lying on the floor of the watchouse. At the same time Hurley was abusing Mulrunji saying: “Do you want more, Mr Doomadgee, do you want more?” Roy Bramwell went on to say: “If I’d have stood up and said something they’d have took me in the cell and done the same thing to me.”
A policeman killed a man in custody and walks free and yet the people mourning his death are still accused of riot with destruction. Many have already been sent to jail with sentences up to four years and now Lex Wotton faces even more.
The police accuse Lex Wotton of destruction of the police and courthouse, a police car and Hurley’s house. No one says he actually did those things. They say he was the ‘principal’ actor by inciting people to do those things. The crown have accused him of being the leader. The crown prosecutor got up in court and said ‘the police gave an honest account of what happened’.
Who is a leader?
Then the prosecutor Cowen asked the jury what is a leader? A person who ‘gives clear concise instructions’. Mr Cowen says that Lex Wotton needed a mob to attack the police. But that was not a mob. It was people upset about the death of Mulrunji. The prosecutor says that Lex Wotton used the microphone to incite the people, yet he spoke only a few words and then sat down to listen to the others speaking on that day (26 November 2008).
The words he spoke were: “I’ve spoken to young people” “Things are gonna burn” — why is this not just a statement of fact?
After the mayor, Erikah Kyle, reads out the autopsy report saying that Mulrunji’s death was an accident Lex Wotton said “Let’s do something more than this”. Why not? Everything had been swept under the carpet and all that was being offered was acceptance of this report and for due process to be followed. Due process that excused Hurley and his police mates.
“We’ll decide when” Lex Wotton said. Why should people under threat be forced to submit? Yet the prosecutor suggests this is an example of ‘pre-planning’ of ‘riot with destruction’.
The police verballed Lex Wotton putting so much abuse in his mouth as to make him sound like a animal not a human being. YET IT WAS THE POLICE WHO WERE hurling ABUSE at THE PALM ISLAND RESIDENTS. This never came out in the trial. The jury was shown a video shot by a police cameraman with the sound turned off and the abuse by the police could not be heard. Another thing that did not come out was the fact that Lex Wotton had two shoulder reconstructions and could not have possibly wielded the Stilsons (pipe wrench) in the way that the police claim. They set out to make Lex sound like a brute savage.
Police sought to divide the Community.
Of the 17 witnesses brought by the crown to prosecute Lex Wotton, seven witnesses were aboriginal or Torres Trait Islander. The government had sought to divide the local council as Lex Wotton describes in the video above. Not only that the police were actively seeking out aboriginal informers. They sought to inflame the situation on the island after Snr Sgt Hurley killed Mulrunji. And now they have brought informers from the commmunity into the court to testify against their brother. Shame on them.
Angry but organised — the political response
People should be angry at the verdict, they have a right to be angry, but we must direct that anger with purpose and organisation. As one indigenous person said leaving the court at 10 pm “there is never any justice for the black man”. At the same time, a Torres Strait island woman held up a banner shouting outside the court the words of the banner “No more deaths in custody!”
Lex Wotton did not “incite a riot on Palm Island in 2004″ as the the ABC reports. The ABC reports of the charge were even wrong. Typical of the shoddy journalism in this trial and poor decision by a conservative jury. The hungry media only turned up in big numbers right at the end to feed on the result.
Lies, lies and videotapes
We didn’t see a video of Hurley bashing Mulrunji, or of the kick to the body by a policeman as Mulrunji lay dying on the cell floor of the police station. The video of the death cell exists. We do not hear the media clamour for that video. The coroner saw this and knew Hurley killed Mulrunji and then said so.
While the justice system is unfair how can we accept the verdict against Lex Wotton? Especially while the murder by police is not condemned.
It was released by the court yesterday without any reference or respect given to the people who made it or the people who are subjects of it. Such footage showing people on Palm Island upset at the death of Mulrunji was a telling feature of the jury’s consideration. They asked on Wednesday to see all three videos (one each made by police, media and indigenous persons) again. The court had viewed them several times. The jury ignored those aspects of the videos that exculpated Lex Wotton, they ignored admissions and lies by the police. They ignored the reason people on Palm were so upset. The brother Mulrunji had been killed by a policeman.
I looked at the jury for three weeks during the trial. It is hard to tell what people are thinking, nay impossible. But you can observe how they look and what they do while sitting in the courtroom. This jury was 6 women and 6 men. Seven (7) were young (under 35 years). How many of these people had ever had a relationship with an aboriginal person?
Some did not look at the police, at least not very much, while police were giving evidence, they did not look while police were giving contradictory evidence to the video, other police, or witnesses from Palm. Most of the jury looked down when facing the gallery which had Lex Wotton’s mother, sisters, sons, and daughter along with supporters every day of the three week trial. It looked to me as if some had already made up their minds that Lex was guilty by the middle of the second week. Were they thinking that the police do not lie that the system of justice could not be wrongheaded. Did they think, as one journo from the Australian put it with such senstitivity during the Hurley trial, that in the end the all white jury needed police more than the black fella?
The bailiff kept the jury away from the aboriginal and non-indigenous supporters when the jury went outside the court-house for meal breaks. At one of these time when Lex’s family were sitting within eyeshot of the jury the bailiff shepherded the jury away.
During the hours of deliberation, which lasted from 11:50 am on Thursday, 23 October till 9:30 pm on Friday, 24 October, especially at the end, it was clear that someone was holding out. At 5:30pm on Friday the jury told the judge via a note that they would only be another half an hour. However by 9 pm they were still saying the same thing. When the jury foreman was asked by the judge he look up to his right and behind him where two women sat. Were they the ones holding out? We may never know. Whatever happened it only took another half hour or so and it was all over. What resistance there was had gone. It is almost as if the jury had gone out the back to somewhere in Alabama in the 1950s to come to its verdict.
But how can people be resigned to a death in custody?
Lex Wotton’s Demands
Lex Wotton had three modest demands in the week after the death of Mulrunji.
- Hurley should be charged
- Hurley should be removed from the island immediately
- An independent investigation should be undertaken by the Criminal Misconduct Commission (CMC)
How can people be resigned to police brutality and lies, to court indifference, to a jury’s ignorance, to a state led by self interest and exploitation?
As Lex Wotton said on the day the autopsy report claimed Mulrunji’s death was an accident “Come on people we can’t accept this.”
Lex Wotton will be sentenced in Townsville on 7th November 2008. The sentence is likely to be harsh, five years perhaps with some of the period suspended to diffuse anger in the community with ‘liberal kindness’.