On 6 November, thirty people gathered outside the Australian High Commission in Holborn, London to support Aboriginal, Lex Wotton on trial following a protest after a death in custody in Australia.
Lex Wotton led a protest in November 2004 outside a police station on Palm Island, Queensland, over the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee, a Palm Island resident who was arrested a week earlier for ‘public nuisance’. Within an hour of his arrest, he was dead. The death was subsequently pronounced as accidental, caused by Mulrunji tripping over. Upon hearing these findings, angry members of the community gathered, setting fire to police buildings. Lex Wotton was part of the large crowd of local residents which took part in the Palm Island uprising which ultimately resulted in a number of police buildings being burned down.
The results of a later post mortem by the State Coroner confirmed that Senior Sergeant Hurley, the officer-in-charge who arrested Mulrunji, was responsible for his death and Queensland police were ‘willfully blind’ in their investigation. Hurley was charged and later acquitted of manslaughter and, in spite of these findings, no police officer has ever been disciplined for involvement in Mulrunji’s death. Some police officers were, however, awarded medals for their bravery in policing the Palm Island uprising.
Lex is one of over twenty Aboriginal people to be prosecuted for their part in the incident. The actions of Queensland Police Union have been widely criticised by local people including the Mayor and MP for aggravating racial tensions. The court has also faced criticism for insensitivity and misrepresentation in having a White judge and entirely White jury decide on the case.
The protest outside the Australian High Commission in London was one of many taking place in Australia (Alice Springs, Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney,) Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. The following day, 7 November 2008, Lex was sentenced to six years in prison for rioting with destruction. Lex intends to appeal against his conviction.