'Cop Punched Aborigine Who Died In Custody'

by Ian Woods

Sky News

A new inquest into the death of an aboriginal man in an Australian police station has been told he was punched on the ground by an officer who had his knee on his chest.

Mulranji Doomadgee died in a police cell on Palm Island off the coast of Queensland in 2004. He had suffered massive internal injuries including his liver being cut almost in two.

Sergeant Chris Hurley had arrested him for being drunk and abusive. Following the original inquest, he was charged with manslaughter, but an all-white jury took only four hours to acquit him.

The police union then applied for a new inquest to be held to try to exonerate the officer from any blame.

Following the death of Mr Doomadgee, Palm Island erupted in rioting, and police reinforcements had to be sent from the mainland to restore order.

A video was shown at Sgt Hurley's trial in which he gave his version of events, with the part of the prisoner played by a fellow officer. He said that as he dragged Mr Doomadgee into a cell, both men tripped and fell.

But on the opening day of the new inquest, a prisoner who was in the police station at the time, testified that he saw a scuffle reflected in a wall-mounted mirror.

Video shown at trial of officer accused of killing aboriginal Mulranji Doomadgee in police custody on Palm Island off Queensland, Australia, in 2004.

Scene from the video shown at Sgt Hurley's trial

Roy Bramwell said he saw Sgt Hurley put his knee on the prisoner's chest and punch him.

He admitted he changed his story from when he first gave a statement, saying he felt intimidated. He was not called to give evidence at the trial.

The island's location, 40 miles from Townsville, should make it a tropical paradise. But Palm Island has long had a reputation for violence and deprivation.

Nearly a century ago it became a penal colony, and aborigines considered troublesome by the authorities were exiled there.

Very few of the 2,000 islanders have jobs, and a decade ago the Guinness Book of Records called it the most violent place on earth outside a war zone because of its high crime rate.

The mayor, Alf Lacey, said: "Someone's died in police custody and all the answers we need are to find out who was responsible."

The inquest will move to the mainland later in the week, when Sgt Hurley will give evidence.

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