Sean Parnell, FOI editor | May 28, 2008
CHRIS Hurley - the policeman acquitted of manslaughter over a Palm Island death in custody, only to face a civil claim from the victim's family - received a confidential $100,000 payment from the Queensland Government after the incident.
When autopsy results revealed on November 24, 2004, that Cameron Doomadgee, known in death as Mulrunji, had died of "an intra-abdominal haemorrhage caused by a ruptured liver and portal vein", Palm Islanders rioted and burnt down the police station, watchhouse and officer-in-charge's residence.
The officer, Senior Sergeant Hurley, was not on the island at the time. Having arrested the drunk and abusive Mulrunji and hauled him into the watchhouse, Sergeant Hurley was handling Mulrunji when the islander suffered his fatal injuries.
Two weeks after the riots, Sergeant Hurley lodged a claim with the Queensland Police Service for reimbursement of the cost of replacing belongings lost in the fire. Details of the claim were never publicly released.
The documents, released to The Australian after a Freedom of Information request a year ago, show that two weeks after the riots, on December 10, 2004, Sergeant Hurley sent his superiors a memo with a list of personal property believed to have been in the three-bedroom residence when it was burnt down. "This list is as exhaustive as possible from memory alone," Sergeant Hurley wrote. The total of the items on the list came to $102,955, but the items were exempted from release under FOI and will remain secret.
Sergeant Hurley sent a similar memo to the district office the same day, with a smaller list of police property and some personal items, including a Parker pen he valued at about $100, a torch valued at $80, two coffee mugs and a 2004 hardcover diary.
"In relation to my personal property, as you area (sic) aware the OIC residence was also totally destroyed during the riot hence I have no proof of purchase for my personal items," Sergeant Hurley wrote.
"I am prepared if necessary to complete a statutory declaration."I respectfully request permission to replace these items and have the Queensland Police Service meet the cost," Sergeant Hurley said.
The claim went as high as a deputy commissioner and was paid in full on February 11, 2005, with the QPS expenditure voucher declaring the payment to Sergeant Hurley to be "loss of property compensation".
Andrew Boe, who is representing Mulrunji's family in the civil case against Sergeant Hurley, was outraged when told of the payout.
"The ex-gratia payment to Chris Hurley, by government, for his material losses in the riot should be contrasted with the losses sustained by Mulrunji's spouse and family as a result of his death at Hurley's hands, which presently remains uncompensated," Mr Boe said.
"It is difficult not to be offended by the irony."
The average sum of household contents insured in Australia - by singles, couples and families of all socioeconomic levels - is $70,000.
Palm Island is considered one of the poorest areas in Australia, and has a high crime rate.
A police spokesman yesterday revealed the other 10 officers who lost property in the fire were paid only $17,579.90 in total.
The spokesman again refused to list the items claimed for compensation by Sergeant Hurley.
"Senior Sergeant Hurley did not provide a statutory declaration and the service had no concerns with the claim," the spokesman said.
Sergeant Hurley and the other officers who lost property in the riots benefited from a public appeal run by the Queensland Police Union.
The Australian applied under FOI a year ago for access to documents related to the case. While the QPS recommended certain documents be released, Sergeant Hurley had his lawyers demand an internal review and then took the case to the Office of the Information Commissioner.
The Office of the Information Commissioner has now backed the original decision by the QPS, also endorsing the original exemptions used to delete certain information from release.
The QPS payment was made shortly before the start of a coronial inquest into the death, which led Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements to find: "Hurley caused the fatal injuries."
The then director of public prosecutions, Leanne Clare, opted not to lay charges, but after political intervention and a review of the case by former NSW chief justice Laurence Street, Sergeant Hurley was charged on February 5 last year with manslaughter and assault.
He was found not guilty by a jury in the Townsville Supreme Court on June 20, and has since taken legal steps to have Ms Clements's findings struck off the record.
A QPS spokesman was unable to comment on the case last night, and Sergeant Hurley's lawyer, Glen Cranny, declined to comment.