Palm Island death judge steps down

Ian Munro
December 28, 2006

CONTROVERSY surrounding the Palm Island death-in-custody case intensified yesterday with the resignation of the former judge assigned to decide whether a police sergeant should be prosecuted.

But Pat Shanahan's resignation from a two-man review panel failed to satisfy critics, who called for the case to be reviewed outside Queensland.

Civil liberties campaigner Terry O'Gorman said an interstate director of public prosecutions should decide whether Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley had a case to answer over the death two years ago of Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36.

"There's a perception that there's something amiss," Mr O'Gorman said. "That perception has to be dealt with and the only way it can be dealt with is by the arm's-length process of an interstate DPP (director of public prosecutions). Any second opinion from within this state would not have any credibility because it would be seen as part of the same legal, political, judicial elite."

Mr Shanahan, a former chief judge of Queensland's District Court, was appointed last week to review chief prosecutor Leanne Clare's decision not to lay charges over Mr Doomadgee's death.

Her decision came despite a finding by Deputy Coroner Christine Clements that Senior Sergeant Hurley was responsible for Mr Doomadgee's injuries.

There were immediate calls for Mr Shanahan to stand down from the review because he was a member of the panel that recommended Ms Clare's appointment as Director of Public Prosecutions six years ago. Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine denied pressuring Mr Shanahan to quit.

Mr Shine said he had directed Crown Solicitor Conrad Lohe to find a replacement for Mr Shanahan quickly to ensure the review's findings could be presented to Parliament in February.

Kirby Anderson, a spokesman for Mr Shine, said there was nothing to stop Mr Lohe appointing someone from outside Queensland.

Mr Doomadgee died of internal injuries on November 19, 2004. Rioting broke out after an autopsy revealed he had suffered four broken ribs and that his liver was cut almost in two as it was forced against his spine during a scuffle and fall at the police watchhouse.

Medical evidence suggested the fatal injuries could have been caused by a knee or elbow connecting with Mr Doomadgee's abdomen in a fall if Senior Sergeant Hurley landed on top of the dead man. But Senior Sergeant Hurley initially told investigators he fell to Mr Doomadgee's left.

Deputy State Coroner Clements found that Mr Doomadgee was subjected to an unwarranted arrest and that Senior Sergeant Hurley had caused the fatal injuries with a series of blows as Mr Doomadgee lay on the floor. Ms Clare refused to proceed with charges, however, and said the death resulted from a complicated fall.

Mr O'Gorman said the office of the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions should not be involved in any prosecution. If the case proceeded to a committal hearing, and then to a trial, it should be prosecuted by an outsider.

With AAP