Lex Wotton jailing is an outrage!

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The 24th of October 2008 goes down as a shameful day in Australian history. On this

day, an all-white jury found Lex Wotton guilty of riot with destruction. When Lex

was sentenced two weeks later, supporters from around the country rallied outside the

Townsville court. He was sentenced to six years’ jail with a minimum two-year non-
parole period. While family members expressed relief that the sentence was not longer,

Lex Wotton is an innocent man who should be freed immediately.


Photo by Peter Murray

Absolutely justified. The large, militant community protest that Lex, along with 10% of

the population of Palm Island, took part in was a righteous response to a death in custody

and what looked likely to be another cover-up. If the recommendations of the Royal

Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had been implemented in full, Mulrunji

would not have been in police custody, let alone dead on the floor of a cell with his liver

split in two. The first inquiry into his death declared it an accident — having failed to call

witnesses who had seen the police officer, Chris Hurley, punching Mulrunji.

Flawed investigation. The way the police conducted the investigation into the death was

scandalous. Police command appointed Darren Robinson, a mate of Hurley, to lead the

investigation into Mulrunji’s death. On Robinson’s arrival at Palm Island, Hurley picked

him up at the airport and took him to his home for a meal and a few drinks — before

the investigation even began. Later, during Wotton’s trial, Robinson admitted to lying

during a previous investigation into allegations against Hurley! Even District Court Judge

Michael Shanahan was prompted to comment, in sentencing Wotton, that Robinson’s

appointment “could hardly have given the perception of objectivity and independence.”

Double standards. Chris Hurley was eventually made to face court on manslaughter

charges over the death of Mulrunji, but the all-white jury acquitted him. Hurley was

then promoted and is now an inspector. He received $100,000 in compensation for

property loss and had all of his legal bills paid by the Queensland Police Union. Twenty-
two police officers were recently given bravery awards for their role on Palm Island,

including the less than truthful Robinson. The Freedom Socialist Bulletin spoke with

Stephanie Miller, Townsville Aboriginal activist, who said,“I am angry, like everyone in

the community, that Hurley has received compensation. The people of Palm Island are

the ones who deserve compensation for the trauma they were put through by the police

raids! Hurley and the police have been rewarded for their murderous actions. The bravery

awards are a sick joke — they have no honour! Some Vietnam vets are going to return

their medals because of this. Good on them for taking that stand.”

The 18 December decision to set aside the coroner’s findings that Hurley was responsible

for Mulrunji’s death and to re-open the inquest into the death is the latest development.

This highlights, yet again, that capitalist law cannot deliver justice for the people of Palm

Island.

In a surprising but welcome move, Mike Reynolds, the Member of Parliament for

Townsville has called for a royal commission into the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee.

Reynolds rightly argues that the decision and the “convoluted and tainted” chain of

events “would leave Indigenous people with a bitter taste for decades to come.”

Any investigation must have broad terms of reference and also probe the wrongful jailing

of Lex Wotton and the ongoing harassment of members of the Palm Island community by

police.

Not alone. Lex is not the only community member who faced charges arising from the

protests. His mother, Agnes, faced rioting charges that were later dropped. In March

2007, a jury acquitted four other Palm Islanders charged with riot. A special report in

National Indigenous Times (November 13, 2008) gives many examples of harassment of

these defendants and their families, which back claims that they are “marked men.” In

one chilling instance, William Blackman was charged with public nuisance — the same

charge that led to Mulrunji’s arrest in 2004. During his arrest the police pushed him to the

ground, face down, and kneed him in the back. He was then capsicum sprayed and taken

to the watch house, where he was denied a shower and forced to spend all night without

bedding on a concrete floor. The public nuisance charge was dismissed, and Blackman —

unlike Mulrunji — survived to speak out about his treatment.

The Freedom Socialist Bulletin is pleased to feature an exclusive interview with Lex

Wotton, who tells his story so eloquently. We’re also delighted to interview Warren

Smith from the Sydney Branch of the Maritime Union of Australia. This union’s

solidarity with Lex Wotton provides a model that others should emulate.

No justice, no peace! The movement to free Lex Wotton, win justice for the Palm

Island community and stop Aboriginal deaths in custody is going from strength to

strength. Across Australia, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are mobilising, and

support is coming in from around the world. Raise the campaign to free Lex Wotton

in your union or on campus. Collect signatures on the international petition being

circulated by the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne (for a copy, email

alison.thorne@ozemail.com.au). Write to Lex and let him know that he has your support:

Lex Wotton,Townsville Correctional Centre, PO Box 5574 MSO, Townsville, QLD

4810.

As Stephanie Miller says, “Brother Lex should not have been charged and sentenced at

all. He has been made the scapegoat by the police to take attention away from what really

happened to Brother Mulrunji!” We must both free Lex and expose and hold to account

those responsible for the brutal, racist killing of Mulrunji.

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