Palm case 'like Biko'

ABORIGINAL leader Noel Pearson has likened the death in custody case of Mulrunji Doomadgee to the murder of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko at the hands of South African police.

Mr Pearson made the comparison to the beating to death of the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in police custody as he called yesterday for an official corruption inquiry into the November 2004 death of Doomadgee in the Palm Island watch-house.

Two weeks after Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare announced that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would not be charged over the death of Doomadgee, Premier Peter Beattie conceded that resolving the problems facing indigenous people had proved harder than he thought.

Ms Clare deemed Doomadgee's death to be a "tragic, tragic accident", even though Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements found Sergeant Hurley responsible three months ago.

"The last time the world was told equivalent nonsense about the death of a black man being an accident was when Steve Biko was bashed by the apartheid South African police and thrown out of a multi-storey building," Mr Pearson told The Weekend Australian.

"I repeat the words I have heard from so many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in recent weeks: that it is totally unacceptable to have a situation where a man is arrested in the morning on a back street in Palm Island for using two swear words, is taken to the police station, and within an hour suffers a violent, horrible death, with his liver torn in two."

Biko died in September 1977 shortly after being taken into Pretoria prison. Police claimed he died on a hunger strike despite massive head injuries suggesting he had been brutally clubbed.

State Attorney-General Kerry Shine has taken the file from Ms Clare and initiated a review, which now may not be completed until March because one of the two legal figures appointed to conduct it stood down this week because of a perceived conflict of interest.

Mr Beattie said it was proving difficult to find a replacement for former District Court chief judge Pat Shanahan, and while he did not believe the Doomadgee family's bid for a separate, judicial review would assist their cause, he appreciated they needed "closure" - as did Sergeant Hurley. "Any death in custody is a dramatic thing, and in this case justice has to be seen to be done - and that is why the Attorney-General has sought an independent review of Leanne Clare's decision," he said.

But Mr Pearson warned the review would not go far enough, and what was required was a public inquiry by the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

"The CMC has a clear statutory obligation ... to commission an open inquiry into all aspects of what occurred on Palm Island from the time of the wrongful arrest and detention of Mulrunji to his violent death in the police cell; the botched investigation; the subsequent riot and actions of riot squad police; the ignoring of the recommendations of the Black Deaths in Custody royal commission - and of course, the amazing declaration by Ms Clare that she discovered that Mulrunji died by tragic accident."