TJ Hickey: still fighting for justice after 12 long years

Issue 

TJ Hickey was a young Aboriginal man, just 17 years old. On February 14, 2004, TJ died as a consequence of a Redfern police pursuit.

TJ's bike was rammed by a police car and he was thrown into the air with great force. He landed on the spiked fence line at the corner of George and Phillips St, Waterloo, also with great force — as described in the final autopsy report that was not publicly presented in the Coroners Court.

No first aid was given by the first police officer on the scene, then-Constable Michael Hollingsworth, who was in the police car that rammed TJ. Instead TJ was roughly pulled off the spikes, thrown to the concrete and searched, while bleeding very heavily.

Basic first aid rules, in which all police are trained, insist that impaled victims must not be moved but must remain impaled until the Police Rescue Unit arrives to assist. When the Police Rescue Unit did arrive with medically trained and competent staff, Constable Hollingsworth sent them away, claiming that he was administering sufficient first aid to TJ.

Finally two ambulances arrived and took over. But instead of taking TJ to Royal Prince Alfred — the closest hospital — he was transported to the Prince of Wales Hospital at Randwick. TJ died in hospital early the next morning.

And so the history of every police death in custody was repeated. The innocent were convicted and jailed and the guilty were promoted.

That weekend, young people who blamed the Redfern police for his death were involved in the so-called “Redfern Riot” that was instigated by the officers at Redfern police station. The police officers involved in TJ's death were promoted. But the fighters for justice were arrested, some were convicted and a few were even sent to jail.

For 12 years the Hickey family has been campaigning for justice. But what did they get? Apart from constant and ongoing police harassment, they received a rigged coronial inquest. The family's chosen lawyer was replaced by a very compliant one, evidence and witnesses were suppressed, the police investigation was flawed, and they were callously ignored by successive NSW governments.

The family's attempts to get justice from the United Nations under several UN covenants failed due the suppression of facts by the government in its reply to the UN.

Even the attempt to fix a plaque at the site of the incident has been stopped by Redfern police and the department of housing because they don't agree with the wording on the plaque. Last year, Redfern police offered to provide a new plaque if the words were changed. But the new wording was a lie and TJ's mother Gail rejected the offer and insisted on the original plaque.

On this anniversary, Gail, the family, the communities where TJ lived, the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) and other supporters continue to call for justice for TJ and all deaths in custody.

The call for justice is no longer about the reopening of the original coronial inquest, which was corrupted by the NSW government and police and botched by the coroner. Now, justice only could be served by a new coronial inquest, based on a wider independent investigation into the facts, the appearance of previously blocked witnesses and the presentation of all other withheld evidence. Only a full forensic examination of the facts would allow the case finally to reach an honest and just conclusion.

But that is the long-term aim. In the interim, the police and NSW government should apologise to the family straight away — they should not have to wait 30 years, as John Pat's family did in WA. Also the family should be compensated for all the years of suffering police and government agencies' harassment. The TJ plaque must be affixed to the fence line to remember TJ and all NSW deaths in custody.

Recently, the NSW government, in its quest to offer more and more land to its property developer mates, has devised a plan in which a railway station for the Sydney metro will be built beneath the Housing Commission towers in Waterloo. The implication is that the towers and all the other Housing Commission buildings will be demolished and redeveloped.

The developers have said they would build, with state assistance, new “social housing” — privately-owned housing to be rented to needy people — to replace the existing public housing. This development needs its own fight, but it will also have a big impact on the TJ campaign.

Demolishing the towers will mean the removal of the fence line where TJ was impaled. So this year we are including the demand to preserve the Waterloo Housing Commission buildings and TJ Hickey memorial known as TJ Hickey Park.

Twelve years is too long to wait for real justice, although the families of other deaths in custody have fought for much longer. Most of these deaths would be treated as murders if they were independently investigated. We have seen the physical and mental damage done to these families. It is state-sanctioned torture by governments and their police force to allow these injustices to continue. Justice delayed is justice denied.

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