Palm Island cop denies race assumptions

Detective Inspector Warren Webber. (AAP)

Detective Inspector Warren Webber. (AAP)

The detective in charge of investigating a high-profile death in custody has denied going into the probe assuming the white arresting officer was not responsible for the Aboriginal man’s death.

Detective Inspector Warren Webber was sent to Palm Island after the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee on the local watchhouse floor in November 2004.

A Federal Court racial discrimination trial in Townsville on Monday heard he shared a meal and beer with Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, the arresting officer, on the first night of the investigation.

Sen Sgt Hurley also picked up the investigating team, including his friend, Detective Sergeant Darren Robinson, from the airport.

Det Insp Webber admitted the meal was inappropriate and that some community members thought the investigation was unfair.

Counsel for Palm Islanders Chris Ronalds SC accused him of going into the investigation with a closed mind.

‘As a white man and a police officer you didn’t believe … that a white police officer would have any responsibility for the death of an Aboriginal man in custody,’ she said.

‘That’s not true,’ Det Insp Webber replied.
A preliminary coroner’s report into Mr Doomadgee’s death sparked rioting, which led to the police station and Sen Sgt Hurley’s house being burnt to the ground.

Jailed rioter Lex Wotton launched the class action on behalf of Palm Islanders, alleging police actions before, during and after the unrest were racially discriminatory.

Among the complaints is that the declaration of an emergency situation and subsequent use of heavily armed police was excessive.

Det Insp Webber told the court he made the declaration from Townsville after hearing police lives could be in danger.

Once on the island, he saw community members holding “sticks and clubs” and shouting abuse towards a line of officers in front of the hospital.

The investigation led by Det Insp Webber has been criticised by prior inquests and reviews.

The Queensland Police Service eventually found he and other investigating officers shouldn’t face disciplinary action.

Sen Sgt Hurley was acquitted of Mr Doomadgee’s manslaughter in 2007.

The trial continues.

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