Royal Commission needed into TJ's death

February 21, 2010

"The law is an ass", said Mr Bumble, in Charles Dickens' classic, Oliver Twist. And more than 150 people agreed as they rallied yesterday on the same site, six years to the day, where 17-year old Aboriginal boy, TJ Hickey, was impaled on fence in Waterloo.

He later died. "His crime was being black", said his mother, Gail Hickey, as mourners fell silent for six minutes, one for each year since his death.

At 11.15am on February 14, 2004, TJ was on his pushbike when a caged police truck prowling in the area spotted him. He left the area but was pursued, and according to eye-witness accounts, was hit by the police vehicle. He flipped over the handle bars and was impaled.

A formal statement from a young witness says she saw the police car cause TJ's bike to "go wonky". Constable Hollingsworth at the scene extracted the lanced boy's body from the fence and applied first-aid.

He didn't call an ambulance, and turned away a police rescue team that might have saved his life using professional medical procedures.

TJ's listless, languid body, once bursting with youthful pride, joy and hope, was then badly leaking blood from open wounds to the neck and chest. He died the next day in hospital at 1.20am.

Nothing implicating him in any wrong-doing was alleged as a result of the incident.

Protests following the incident were described by ABC radio's PM program on August 17, 2004, as "one of Australia's worst race riots, which lasted for nine hours, leaving 40 police officers injured."

Attempts to erect a memorial on the site have been thwarted by the NSW police force, the Housing Commission, which owns the footpath, and political leaders.

Police claim a simple statement of fact: "TJ Hickey was impaled upon the metal fence opposite arising from a police pursuit ... In our hearts, you will stay TJ", implicates them. They deny any wrong-doing.

Now there are moves to demolish the fence. "We have a right to remember", said Redfern Aboriginal elder Jennie Munro. Others have likened any demolition to trashing the Hyde Park ANZAC memorial.

A coronial inquest found "the police vehicle travelled most of the way down the walkway in some proximity to the bike … Constable Reynolds was quite a poor witness with an extraordinary lack of memory … I do not have the benefit of a … version from the driver of the [police] motor vehicle … I get no assistance at all from the three versions of Constable Hollingsworth … They did … follow the boy … It is regrettable that Constables Reynolds and Hollingsworth were not completely candid."

"The inquest was fundamentally flawed", said Indigenous Social Justice Association president Ray Jackson. It failed to hear all relevant evidence. Legal attempts to re-open the hearing or appeal to the NSW Supreme Court have failed or been frustrated. "Justice has been 'whited-out'", he said.

TJ's mother has lodged a United Nations' Human Rights Committee claim, seeking the justice unavailable in Australia. Her claim is based on the legal opinion of Melbourne human rights lawyer Emrys Nekvapil.

The claim, lodged in Geneva by the Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre on February 11, cites breaches of articles 2, 6 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which require an effective investigation.

The coroner was not objective, some witnesses were not interviewed, neither key eye-witnesses nor Hollingsworth gave any evidence at the inquest, and alleged images shown on TV of TJ's rear buckled, bike wheel weren't tendered, the claim states.

Additionally, the family claim their government-appointed counsel misrepresented them. They claim "collusion between the state government and the NSW police", stating the Coronial Inquest "was not independent, adequate, prompt, transparent or protective of TJ Hickey's rights. Most importantly, it was not and could not have been conducted by a body independent of the police force."

Gail Hickey is claiming unspecified financial compensation, demanding new legislation and a Royal Commission. "Money is not my main motive", she said, adding: "It's about justice for all. Black rights are human rights."

On February 15, an application was lodged by the Australian Heritage Institute with NSW planning minister Tony Kelly for an interim heritage order on the site to halt the proposed demolition, based on its social and historical significance.

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