TJ Hickey: 13 years on and still no justice

February 8, 2017
Gail Hickey is still being denied justice for her son TJ's death after 13 years.

The family of TJ Hickey is still being denied justice, 13 years since the 17-year-old died after being impaled on a fence in Waterloo during a police chase.

The refusal by successive NSW governments to bring the police officers responsible to court — and allow the family some closure — is testimony to the endemic racism First Nations people have to endure.

NSW police refuse to concede their officers were responsible for Thomas James Hickey’s death. They claim it was an accident. 

Senior Constable Michael Hollingsworth was due to give evidence to a coronial inquiry in 2004, but was excused on the grounds that he could incriminate himself. The coroner said Hollingsworth had given three conflicting versions of events on the day of the incident, which had been submitted as evidence. 

Barry Toomey, QC, hired to defend Hollingsworth, told the inquest that while a certificate from the coroner would protect his client from the evidence being used against him in criminal proceedings, it would not prevent the NSW Police Commissioner taking action against him. Thirteen years on and the Police Commissioner has done nothing.

A civilian witness, Thomas Connar, told the inquest that he had seen Senior Constable Hollingsworth follow TJ down a parkway footpath in a police paddy wagon with its lights flashing shortly before the teenager was impaled on a fence in Redfern on February 14.

On February 14, around 11am, TJ had gone to get $20 from his mother and was then heading to the shops. He was on his BMX bike. After about 20 minutes, TJ’s friend April Ceissman became worried he had not returned and raised the alarm.

NSW police deny chasing TJ, which is an implausible scenario.

Ceissman was asked at the time why she thought the police would be chasing TJ. “Because people seen police chasing him. They chase anyone, ’cos that’s what they do,” she replied.

TJ was thrown off his bike and impaled on the walkway fence behind the Turanga Housing Commission tower. 

Gail, TJ’s mother, and family dispute the police version of events. Witnesses told them TJ’s bike was clipped by a police car, which then propelled him onto the fence where he was impaled. 

They now insist on an independent inquiry to hear from the police who the coroner exempted and from the forensic scientists who were not asked to give evidence. 

A year on from TJ’s death, Nicole Watson wrote: “That the law denies justice to Indigenous victims of police violence is no revelation.”

She quoted the Aboriginal Legal Service’s first president Hal Wootten, describing how the police operate in Redfern: “The simple position was that any Aboriginal who was on the streets of Redfern at a quarter past ten was simply put into the ‘Paddy wagon’ and taken to the station and charged with drunkenness, and that was something that was just literally applied to every Aboriginal walking along the street, irrespective of any sign of drunkenness in his behaviour.

This is why, when TJ died in hospital from neck and chest wounds on February 15, 2004, young people took to Redfern’s streets in anger and despair. They threw rocks and set things alight: a completely understandable reaction to the feeling of powerlessness and yet another death at the hands of police. Redfern railway station also sustained superficial damage.

Cheryl Hookey, a friend of Gail Hickey, said at the time: “The police have harassed our kids for too long. This has been happening since I was a kid; it’s been happening forever.

“We are not saying our boys are good boys, but even when there are no boys who have been in trouble, they are provoked into doing something. I have never been in trouble in my life, but when the police come I am frightened and run. If that’s what it’s like for an adult, what is it like for the kids?”

Gail Hickey, TJ’s mother, has not given up. She is determined to get justice for her son, and for all those demanding answers to the cover-ups of deaths in custody.

She does not want her son’s death to be in vain. She wants the plaque, donated in 2005 by Aboriginal students from the University of Technology Sydney, permanently fixed to the fence where TJ was impaled.

The plaque reads: “On the 14th February 2004, TJ Hickey, aged 17, was impaled upon the metal fence above, arising from a police pursuit. The young man died as a result of his wounds the next day. In our hearts you will stay TJ.”  

The family also want the “TJ Hickey Park” sign in the small park in Waterloo near the fence line to remain. The NSW government said it had received an objection and was threatening to remove the sign.

Last year Brad Hazzard, then the NSW Minister for Family, Community Services and Social Housing, told Gail Hickey that, while he was minister, the sign would not be moved. But he has been moved, and it is not at all clear what new minister Pru Goward will do. The housing commission flats are slated for demolition, as is that particular fence.

The Hickey family is organising the memorial protest with the support of the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA). It will take place on February 14 at 10.30am, starting where TJ was impaled.

The rally will march to NSW Parliament. “We are still demanding justice,” Raul Bassi from ISJA told Green Left Weekly. Bassi said the Hickey family is very concerned that TJ’s memorial sign will be removed and, if that happens, it will be harder for the justice campaign. 

“The whole area — the Towers, the greens, the fence line — is going to be redeveloped. A rail station, thousands of luxury units and a small amount of social housing will be built. Without our persistence, the TJ Memorial will also disappear,” Bassi said.

“This is why we are marching to Parliament: we want to take our calls to all NSW MPs, and we want them to come and talk to the Hickey family.

“The nationwide campaign to get young Dylan Voller released from prison in the Northern Territory shows the tide is turning. More people are demanding justice be done. 

“TJ’s family need your support too. Thirteen years has been a long and heartbreaking campaign and we will not stop until there is justice for TJ.”

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