Monday, July 5, 2010

Top cop in coverup of police killing

QUEENSLAND Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson tried to block the release of a report into the death of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee. Mr Atkinson tried to stymie the Crime and Misconduct Commission's report into the investigations of the 2004 death of Mr Doomadgee, warning that it would stifle co-operation and harm the relationship between the crime bodies.

In correspondence obtained by The Australian, Mr Atkinson also pushed to shelve the CMC's report for ever, suggesting the then 200-page draft be kept even from officers accused of bias and "protecting their own".

Instead, Mr Atkinson supported a now-discredited internal review by two senior officers, who recommended "managerial guidance, correction and chastisement" for the four police who conducted the initial investigation. The internal review was ordered after Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements slammed the death-in-custody probe as lacking "transparency, objectivity and independence".

Release of the correspondence, in files submitted as part of an application for an injunction by two of the officers named by the CMC, will put Mr Atkinson's reappointment under even more pressure. Mr Atkinson has until tomorrow to act on the CMC's recommendations to file disciplinary proceedings for misconduct against the four original investigators and give consideration to launching disciplinary proceedings against the two officers who reviewed their work.

In its report, released last month, the CMC was highly critical of Mr Atkinson and said he needed to take responsibility for a "corrosive culture" that led to the "seriously flawed" Doomadgee investigation, as well as several other high-profile misconduct cases.

In a January 18 letter to then acting CMC chairwoman Ann Gummow, Mr Atkinson asks that the anti-corruption watchdog reconsider its intention to publish the report, then a draft. In his letter, Mr Atkinson said the CMC should dump its pursuit of disciplinary action and instead opt for managerial guidance and "intervention" - or face consequences.

"Given the nature of my proposed alternative course of action to resolve the Palm Island investigation issues, I ask that publication now be reconsidered," Mr Atkinson wrote. "Publication would likely have adverse consequences for the management of any future intervention, as public criticism of officers may affect their willingness to engage and accept responsibility; and for the adoption of open and frank dialogue between senior QPS (police)/CMC officers and initial Palm Island investigation officers".

Mr Atkinson then issues a further, more general warning to the CMC about the fall-out if the report were to be published:

"I have raised above the potential for the relationship between the QPS and CMC to suffer some harm from any publication and also my disappointment with the lack of consultation, indeed any formal consultation, with the service on this review since November 2008 - I view this most seriously," he wrote. "The process and public comments attributed to the CMC are a concerning precedent and I wish to avoid a future situation where the views of our agencies are reduced to writing and exchanged only formally - this is counterproductive."

The incoming CMC chair, Martin Moynihan QC, who took over in February, rejected Mr Atkinson's proposals. "The CMC will not compromise its 'overriding responsibility to promote public confidence' in reporting or commenting on events such as those which occurred on Palm Island following the death of Mr Doomadgee," Mr Moynihan wrote in March.

Queensland Police last night confirmed the authenticity of the letter, saying it was part of a "substantial amount of correspondence" between the commissioner and CMC over the past seven months. "It is not appropriate to comment while these processes are ongoing, but it may be at some future time," police said in a statement.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service chief executive Shane Duffy, who made the initial CMC complaint about the death-in-custody investigation, said he was stunned Mr Atkinson had tried to block the release of the report. "It is a disgrace. If this report wasn't released it would have caused an uproar not only in the indigenous community but the wider community about integrity and transparency of police in this state," he said. "The findings have been clear that there was an attempted cover-up by police and now this, another attempt at cover-up."

The correspondence also suggests Mr Atkinson intends to refuse to take disciplinary action against the two senior officers - acting chief superintendent Robert Gee and Inspector Mike McKay - who conducted the review of the initial death-in-custody investigation.

In one letter, Mr Atkinson slams the CMC probe as a "desktop review". Mr Atkinson said he supported the "spirit and intent" of the findings of Mr McKay and Mr Gee, who made up the Investigation Review Team, and their 2008 report into the initial death-in-custody. That report has never been publicly released.

Mr Atkinson told the CMC that the two officers - who were not named in the final CMC report - had shown their "well-established integrity, professionalism and commitment" when doing the review. "Potentially now, without any discussion or consultation they are about to have their reputation and careers significantly harmed," he wrote. "This is grossly unfair. I cannot abandon these officers and would have to consider the options available to me in that regard."

In its report, the CMC said Mr Atkinson had "ultimate responsibility" for the two-man team's report, handed to the CMC in 2008. At the release of the report, Mr Moynihan warned that the CMC would commence disciplinary proceedings through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal if it were not satisfied with any action taken by Mr Atkinson against the six police officers by July 6.

It was now up to Mr Atkinson "to acknowledge the flawed and unacceptable conduct of the officers", he said. "He must step up, take strong, decisive action and restore the confidence of the public, and its own members, in the police service."

Doomadgee's violent death, within an hour of being arrested for public nuisance by Palm Island police boss Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, sparked riots during which the police station servicing the Aboriginal community off Townsville was burnt down. Sergeant Hurley was acquitted in 2007 of Doomadgee's manslaughter.

A third inquest into the death found last month he had fatally injured the heavily intoxicated Doomadgee during a scuffle at the Palm Island lock-up, but coroner Brian Hine said no finding could be made on whether this was accidental on deliberate.


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