Bellotti family fights for justice

July 13, 2011
Photo by Alex Bainbridge.

The family of Rex Bellotti Junior have called a rally for July 23 in Albany where Aboriginal youth Bellotti, then 15 years old, was run over by police driving on the wrong side of the road in March 2009.

The family organised the protest to call for a public inquiry into alleged police misconduct and the failure of the state government and the Western Australian police to provide adequate compensation and support for Bellotti and his family. State politicians and legal bodies have left the family to fend for themselves.

It demonstrates that a case involving an Indigenous boy and a police hit-and-run is “too hot to handle” for the Western Australian justice system.

At a June 1 rally outside state parliament, Bellotti Support Group (BSG) convener Shilo Harrison invited the state MP for Albany, Peter Watson, to address the gathering.

Watson, who coincidentally was on the steps of parliament at the time, responded by asking why he should want the opportunity to speak, and suggested he wasn't appropriately dressed to feature behind the microphone.

His parting words, reflective of the dismissive attitude the family has suffered, was “would you accept it if I said I simply do not want to, would that be okay?”.

In Albany, police have not provided a reasonable explanation for why two officers were driving on the wrong side of the road towards a group of Indigenous youths, at a speed that led to Bellotti being run over.

Their stated reason for not stopping to assist the victim, whose right femur was broken and legs severely lacerated, is that they feared escalating the tension with those who witnessed the incident.

That Bellotti is alive today is due purely to chance. The emergency first aid given by an off-duty paramedic who was coincidentally passing kept Bellotti from bleeding heavily on the side of the road.

Police did not gather statements from witnesses, as they should have under standard police procedure. In fact, key testimonies were not taken for over a month, and not until the story had first been publicised by the Sunday Times newspaper.

Witnesses refuted the allegation by police made to local media that Bellotti had jumped out in front of the van. Why the police van in question was not impounded for forensic analysis after the incident, and why, unlike other new models of police vehicle, this van was supposedly not fitted with GPS and CCTV equipment, has not been explained.

A police internal inquiry in October 2009 concluded that while errors in police handling had occurred, it was “satisfied that every effort had been made by the WA Police to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into these matters”.

However, in November 2009, the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) slammed these “satisfying” conclusions.

It said: “Given the injuries suffered by Rex Jr, it would be hard to accept that the lack of obtaining statements is merely ‘an oversight’.”

Bellotti's father, Rex Bellotti Senior, told the National Indigenous Times in June 2009 that “police investigating police again” couldn't possibly achieve justice for his son, and has since been calling for a public inquiry into the matter.

The two officers involved have never been publicly investigated, let alone charged with any criminal offence, such as causing grievous bodily harm.

Questions too have been raised as to the conduct of medical officers in charge of Bellotti Jnr's care.

Hearing of the incident, Bellotti Jnr’s parents drove to Albany Regional Hospital only to find the ambulance carrying their son had not yet arrived.

After more than 15 minutes, the family decided to drive to the scene and passed the ambulance on the way. Bellotti Snr described the ambulance as being “in no hurry whatsoever” travelling only 50kmh in an 80kmh zone. He told Green Left Weekly, “we both thought, there and then, Rex Junior was dead because of them travelling so slowly”.

It took 13 hours for Bellotti Jnr to arrive in surgery at Royal Perth Hospital, despite the family being informed there was a six-hour window before his soft tissues and leg muscle would begin irreparable deterioration.

While in hospital a deeply distressed Bellotti Jnr was told by staff, without prior consultation with the family and without any cultural consideration, that his leg would be amputated within 24 hours if his condition didn't improve.

To the aspiring young footballer the news was predictably upsetting. For Bellotti Snr, this only proved that “this doctor had no respect for us, period”.

Since his initial admission to hospital, Bellotti Jnr has undergone more than a dozen medical procedures aimed at saving his left leg.

During his time at Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital, staff left scalpels and scissors on numerous occasions within reach of the young man who was at risk of self-harm. He was even subjected to a body search when pain killers from the ward went missing.

According to a statement by Royal Perth Hospital made to the family, Bellotti Jnr signed himself out of treatment. But no documentation has been forthcoming to prove this, nor was any follow-up treatment appointed.

This is despite his medical condition remaining so unstable that his leg may still be amputated. In the meantime, the young man has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression.

The campaign for justice for Bellotti Jnr and his family has been strengthened with the formation of the Bellotti Support Group and the family's appeal to the broader community for assistance.

[For more information about the BSG or the campaign, please contact Darryl Kickett 0417 984 581, or Shilo Harrison 0428 233 498.]

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