Coroner’s findings on Mulrunji’s death

Click here to read the Mulrunji Inquest – Findings.

I have just finished reading all the findings of Coroner Hine and it is clear that he has supported largely the comments of the second coroner Clements. However the third coroner to deal with Mulrunji’s death rejects the second coroner’s findings that Hurley’s punches killed Mulrunji.

Coroner Hine says that Hurley and Mulrunji fell but is unable to determine whether Mulrunji’s death was the result of a deliberate act or an accidental fall.

The coroner found that policemen Hurley, Leafe, Bengaroo lied and that Robinson sought to protect his mate in the investigation that followed.

Coroner Hine blames other government agencies, namely the Queensland Police Service and the Crime and Misconduct Commission for the failings of the investigation into Mulrunji’s death in custody. Counsel assisting the coroner, Ralph Devlin,  had this to say:

“Counsel Assisting submitted that the Coroner give consideration to making two comments under this provision connected with the death under investigation under the rubric of the administration of justice and the prevention of future deaths, namely:

a. The failure of the CMC to immediately take full responsibility for the investigation of the death from the time that it was first reported to it; and

b. The failure of the CMC to limit the conjoint representation of police witnesses by the Police Union of Employees [the Police Union], during the investigation.

The Crime and Misconduct Comission is yet to formally release Insp Webster’s investigation into Mulrunji’s death — yet several leaks of the CMC report have been made to the press.

Time permitting, I will give a full analysis of the coroner’s findings at a later date.

In the meantime, you can read the report for yourself at the link above.

For the time being I wish to refer the reader to pertinent paragraphs of Coroner Hine’s report.

But before I do here is a short video I made in February 2010 about the third inquest and what it was likely to achieve:


Ian Curr
May 2010

Cause of Death

365. I find that Senior Sergeant Hurley then punched Mulrunji three times to the face before dragging him limp into the cells. Sgt Leafe came out after the yelling by Hurley as he states that he did not hear any such thing. Consequently there was time for Hurley to punch Mulrunji as alleged by Mr Bramwell and to sink the knee in at the same time before he returned. There is no doubt that Mulrunji was a “Dead weight” at that stage.

366. In view of the reasons stated I consider that I am unable to make a definite finding and I am of the opinion that an open finding would be more appropriate. If the two main witnesses of the incident, namely Bengaroo and Bramwell, had not continually changed their versions and fabricated evidence I (sic) would have been possible to make a proper judgment. … On the other hand, there is sufficient compromising material to deny the possibility of a positive finding that what occurred in the corridor of the police station was an accident.

In relation to my finding under Section 45(2)(b) of the Coroners Act 2003, The deceased died of fatal injuries which resulted from some force to the abdomen of the deceased either accidentally as the deceased and Christopher Hurley fell into the Palm Island watchhouse or by deliberate actions of Hurley in the few seconds after they landed, but it is not possible to ascertain whether the force was deliberately inflicted or accidentally suffered. The four fractured ribs, liver laceration and portal vein rupture occurred as a result of this single injury.

Police Lies

356. I accept that there was a fall and in the course of that fall that Hurley fell on to Mulrunji there is still the possibility that the fall was not sufficient to cause the injuries and there is still sufficient evidence to find that Hurley also then stood up and sunk the knee in.

The only real evidence that supported that later proposition was Hurley’s denial that he fell on to Mulrunji and the evidence that I accept that he was angry and punched Mulrunji.

There is another possible explanation for that denial.

Whist both hypotheses are available on the evidence, having regard to all the evidence before me I am unable to find whether he lied because he was concerned about the public reaction of the community to the death in custody and any possible perception he had done anything wrong or that he denied falling on to Mulrunji out of a consciousness of guilt from having sunk the knee in.

[Editor’s Note: Police often lie and embellish in court. Lawyers know this. And police virtually always get away with it. When have we seen a Qld Police officer pulled up by a magistrate saying: ‘I warn you, it seems to me that you have just perjured yourself’. When do we see DPP indictments for perjury against police? Never. Yet police lie in court on a regular basis. Hurley is a trained witness, he is never going to break down and say ‘I dropped my knee’. Police like Hurley make their bread and butter by preying on indigenous people in remote communities. Wake up, Mr Hine, Hurley is not concerned – he had the police union, his police  mate, Robinson, police commissioner Atkinson, police minister Judy Spence, DPP all willing to back him up.]

332

I accept the truth of what Mr Bramwell said he saw in relation to the punching of Mulrunji by Hurley.

I do not accept that the injuries to the side of the head occurred in the fall but as a result of blows inflicted by Hurley on Mulrunji after they had fallen to the ground.

There is a possibility that Hurley also ‘Dropped the knee in” at this stage.

Earlier Coroner Hine indicates that he does not believe Hurley.

325

I accept the evidence that shows that Hurley used abusive language in an angry manner after he rose from the floor of the corridor.

Hurley did not state that he used any words in the first interview conducted on 19 November 2004 and the similarity of those words to the words Mr Bramwell recalls he used in striking the deceased to provide an innocent explanation of them in the video re-enactment of 20 November 2004 is highly suspicious.

This leads me to the conclusion that Hurley did indeed use the words attributed to him by Mr. Bramwell.

Yet on my first reading of Coroner Hine’s findings I note that the Coroner himself is confused and incherent. For example, paragraph 213 makes no sense.

The paragraph reads as follows:

213

It may be possible that the exact manner of a violent and complicated fall may not be remembered by one of the participants in the ., however, It seems improbable that he did not realise that he fallen onto Mulrunji at all.

The severe force required to cause the injuries spoken of by all the medical experts convinces me that Hurley must have realised that he had indeed fallen onto the deceased rather than directly onto a concrete floor if it was the severity of the fall that caused the fatal injuries I note the Hurley in his Video interview of 20/11/04 stated at line 195 that Mulrunji was already low when he came in the door and therefore he may not have had such a heavy fall from a standing position as suggested by the medical evidence.

He also said in his interview with Sergeant Kitching on 19 November 2004 at line 326 “I can only presume we fell over the step because when we were at the station I can remember that we were on the ground.”.

This does tend to show that he may not have realised what had occurred during the fall or that the fall was not particularly heavy.

Paragraph 214 is missing altogether.

Perhaps the coroner should be asked how and why the errors in paragraphs 213 & 214 occurred?

Para 215 goes on to say this:

215

Even as late as his evidence at the re-opened inquest, Hurley was not prepared to say that he had fallen onto Mulrunji.

When cross-examined by counsel for the Attorney-General, he said:

Yes? – “…… if I sat here today without the medical evidence, I would say again, that I fell to the left of Mulrunji.”
You still can’t say, “I remember coming in contact with him”, can you?– Correct.

Right. So, you’ve come into – some part of your body has come in contact with Mulrunji’s abdomen so violently as to cleave his liver across his spine; right?– Yes.

And you’ve missed it?– Yes.

You’ve just not noticed?– Yes.

This man has an injury that is usually seen in head-on motor vehicle accidents and plane crashes.

You’ve seen that in the medical evidence?– No, I didn’t know about a plane crash. I didn’t know that he said head-on – head-on motor vehicle accident.

I just thought the doctor said a motor vehicle accident. I accept that.

You have inflicted that injury, you say, accidentally, by falling upon this man?– Yes.

That’s your theory?– Yes.

And you just missed it?– Yes.

You actually get up, you say, afterwards, actually believing that you never contacted him at all?– Correct.”

At para 216 and 217 Coroner Hine finds that:

216

I am satisfied that both Hurley and Leafe did not realise the massive internal injuries which Mulrunji had suffered at the time.

But I find that Hurley was concerned that if it was reported to the Palm Island Community that he had fallen on Mulrunji or assaulted him there would be severe repercussions.

Sergeant Leafe’s telephone call to his wife is confirmation of his fear of retribution if word got out.

217.

As a consequence, Hurley decided to tell everyone that he had fallen beside Mulrunji, and not on top of him or if he had applied the force deliberately he again would not mention it.

Later, when the autopsy results were announced, he was trapped. He had by then given a number of statements and participated in the re-enactment video and could not thereafter change his version of what had occurred.

What is the coroner saying? The coroner is saying Hurley has lied from the outset and that fellow police have assisted him to lie. He is also saying that PLO Bengaroo lied as did Roy Bramwell.

If that is the case why has the coroner made no mention of referring the matters he raised to the DPP for charges to be laid against Hurley and his police accomplices for perverting the course of justice? Well history has taught us the answer to that question.

The corner makes some recommendations but the government lacks the political will to implement them.

Ian Curr
15 May 2010

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Analysis of evidence at inquest prior to release of findings by Coroner Brian Hine

It is over five and a half years since Mulrunji was killed by Snr Sgt Hurley on the floor of the Palm Island Watchouse. A little after 9:30am tomorrow in District Court No 3 in Townsville, the third coroner to deal with this injustice — Brian Hine, will begin reading a long document analysing Mulrunji’s death in custody.

The coroner may address three issues:

Was the killing intentional? There is much evidence for this. Roy Bramwell says so. The degree of force required to cleave Mulrunji’s liver suggests it. Hurley has a long history of violence against aboriginal persons.  ‘Similar fact’ evidence since 1988 that Hurley demonstrates that he is a ‘go in hard’ cop that has beaten people and then had his mates cover up for him. Det. Robinson is one who has willingly done this for him. Senior police have assisted in covering this up. We have Hurley’s own admission in his trial that he caused Mulrunji’s death.

Was the killing accidental? We only have the denials of Hurley and Steadman for this.

Was there a cover-up? There was evidence presented at the ‘third’ inquest that showed this. The coroner’s office performs an important public service but it falls down on issues of class and race — aboriginal people and poorer workers do not receive justice in this system.

Suppression of Evidence
There have been suppression orders in place since the beginning of the coronial inquiry into Mulrunji’s death on 19 November 2004. The Crime and Misconduct Commission CMC has had evidence since the outset of the cover-up by police. They are yet to publish their findings. It is not only that they have not published the report by Insp Webster. The coroner suppressed the release of 2 boxes of files, including 279 annexures to Insp Webster’s report and 66 x 45 minute tapes. These tapes contain recorded interviews with Hurley, other police and members of the community have all been suppressed. These tapes had not even been transcribed by the commencement of the third inquest (i.e. by 19/1/2010). All the lawyers in the coronial inquiry have access to these documents but are sworn to secrecy. The lawyers game is one of secrecy and deception. But they are not the only ones to benefit by this hypocrisy, the CMC leaked their own version of the police cover-up last week — for what purpose?

Findings of fact
Some specific points that the coroner may rule on are:

  1. A key point which was returned to frequently in the ‘third’ inquest was how Roy Bramwell could have seen Hurley hitting Mulrunji when they were hidden by a filing cabinet. Roy Bramwell said there was a mirror on the wall which was angled to show the corridor in which Mulrunji and Hurley were.
  2. Constable Steadman said that he had cooperated willingly with Hurley’s defence lawyers but claimed he had co-operated with the Prosecuting team [in Hurley’s manslaughter trial] when the Police Commissioner had ordered all police officers to do so.
  3. Mr Boe asked if Hurley regretted anything. Hurley said there was no use regretting things done in the past. He has arrested people for similar offences.
  4. Coroner Clements specifically stated that Mulrunji should not have been arrested – the offence could have been dealt with without arrest. From the Deaths in Custody Recommendations onward, there has been a focus on minimising arrests.
  5. Hurley: the re-enactment is not a true record as I obviously somewhere had contact with Mulrunji. Mr Davis (for Att.Gen.): That is based on the assumption that you are telling the truth and you did not apply force. Mr Davis: You have accepted that you must have accidentally fallen on Mulrunji with such force to cleave his liver. Hurley: Some part of my person must have come into contact with Mulrunji, Yes. Mr Davis: Contact quite violently, so violently that his liver has been split. So you cannot give evidence that you came into contact with Mulrunji because you can’t remember. So you came into contact with Mulrunji with such violence that his liver was pushed against his backbone and almost cleaved in two and you missed this. You get up actually believing that you never came into contact with Mulrunji at all. Snr. Sgt. Hurley: Yes [extract from from notes taken at the Hine coronial inquiry].
  6. Medical evidence about Mulrunji includes damage to his right eye, cheek and jaw, four fractured ribs, liver cleaved in half and portal vein ruptured. Hurley cannot explain the injuries. He denies Roy Bramwell’s evidence of seeing what appear to be three punches. He denies responsibility for the death of Mulrunji. Hurley: I accept the medical evidence. I accept that no-one else was in a position to inflict these injuries. [extract from from notes taken at the Hine coronial inquiry].
  7. Cranny acted as lawyer for five men until September 2006 when Coroner Clements report was published.  They were Snr. Sgt. Hurley, Sgt Leafe, Constable Tongs, Constable Steadman and PLO Bengaroo. After that he continued to act for Hurley and the Police Union in-house solicitors acted for Leafe and Steadman. Cranny said that when Sgt Hurley was charged, the Police Union solicitors advised Leafe and Steadman not to co-operate with the Crown. [extract from from notes taken at the Hine coronial inquiry].

Conclusion
This inquest was brought about by an appeal by Snr Sgt. Hurley to reject coroner Christine Clements finding that he intentionally killed Mulrunji on the floor of the Palm Island Watchouse.

A Coroner lacks the power to bring Hurley to justice. He cannot institute prosecutions, he can’t initiate civil actions. He can make recommendations. But it is unlikely they will never be acted upon by this government or the current bureaucrats in charge. The Royal Commission into black deaths in custody made 339 recommendations in 1991 but they sit there, yet to be implemented.

Regardless of what Coroner Hine says it is unlikely he will ever get Hurley to pay the piper.

Even less likely is that this government will address the systemic failure of the criminal justice system for aboriginal people. The police union remains a defender of violent murderous police. The police commissioner gives bravery awards to police who covered-up the killing. The court and jury system has jailed Lex Wotton who stood up with his community to stop these racist attacks. Lex is up for parole in July 2010. He should be released immediately. Aboriginal people should be in charge of their own affairs and should be accepted as the first Australians upon whose land we walk.

Government should support aboriginal struggle for self-determination not obstruct it by legal suppression and police cover-ups. Ministers should be accountable for their failure to bring justice for Cameron Doomadgee and for his Island community on Palm.

Ian Curr
16 May 2010

2 thoughts on “Coroner’s findings on Mulrunji’s death

  1. Halle Browne says:

    The reason people commit perjury at Inquests is because they are allowed to do so. It’s that simple. This is done all the time and the court allows them to get away with it. What’s the point of having an Inquest if people are allowed to tell lies after taking an oath? Good waste of tax payers money and wasted expertise of the judicial system. We need an independent body to take on the role of investigations, NOT the CMC. Usually this organisation is made up of police going up through the ranks. Another type of protecting their own.

  2. Just to let readers know that I am reading the Mulrunji Inquest – Findings delivered by Coroner Brian Hine on 14 May 2010 at Townsville. I hope to analyse the findings in detail. It is a 161 page document that is sometimes incoherent [at paragraphs 213 – 217]. This may take some time.

    I am curious to hear if people think this is a worthwhile or/and if anyone is interested in an objective analysis of facts described in the coroner’s findings.

    If people have any comments about this please place them below in the box provided or send mail to Workers BushTelegraph by emailing workersbushtelegraph@gmail.com

    Meanwhile here is the timeline of events since Mulrunji was killed by Hurley.

    Ian Curr
    Editor Workers BushTelegraph
    07 3398 5215
    May 2010

    Timeline in the Palm Island case
    ***************************
    2004
    * November 19: Cameron Doomadgee, 36, dies in custody at Palm Island police station after being arrested for ‘being drunk and causing a nuisance’.

    2006
    * September: Deputy Coroner Christine Clements finds Sen Sgt Chris Hurley responsible for Doomadgee’s fatal injuries.

    * December 14: Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare determines Sen Sgt Hurley has ‘no case to answer and the death was a tragic accident’.

    2007
    * January 26: Former NSW chief justice Sir Laurence Street reviews case and advises there is ‘enough evidence to prosecute Sen Sgt Hurley’, who is officially suspended.

    * February 5: Sen Sgt Hurley faces Supreme Court charged with ‘manslaughter and assault’.

    * June 20: Jury acquits Hurley on manslaughter and assault charges.

    * November 2: Cameron Doomadgee’s widow Tracey Twaddle and his five sisters launch a $900,000 civil lawsuit against Sen Sgt Hurley and Queensland police.

    2008
    * October 9: Sen Sgt Hurley launches an appeal in Townsville District Court to have the deputy coroner’s findings overturned.

    * December 18: District Court Judge Bob Pack sets aside deputy coroner’s inquest findings, saying medical evidence did not support the ruling, and orders inquest reopened.

    2009
    * June 16: Court of Appeal says Judge Pack is correct in ordering inquest be reopened, but says judge’s reasoning in ordering findings be set aside is “flawed”.

    2010
    * March 8-9: Reopened inquest before Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine holds hearings on Palm Island.

    * March 10-12: Inquest moves to Townsville; Sen Sgt Hurley apologises to Doomadgee family but maintains he did not regret his actions on the day.

    * April 8: Peter Davis SC, representing Queensland’s attorney-general, urges Magistrate Hine to find Doomadgee’s death was the result of a deliberate act of force.

    * May 6: Media reports indicate a leaked copy of a CMC report into the actions of police investigating the death in custody will recommend disciplinary action against seven officers.

    * May 14: Magistrate Hine rules that police colluded to protect Sen Sgt Hurley.

What do you think about this article?