The Dingo and the Logo…
With a Northern Territory police officer currently facing a murder charge, it is interesting to look back on a similar situation 40 years earlier…
It’s official: the dingo did it, the CLANT column ‘BALANCE’ said in 2012.
The-then CLANT President, Russel Goldflam, wrote:
Coroner Morris is to be thanked for finally putting to bed the Territory’s most notorious homicide case (the Chamberlain case), but her findings have raised a delicate question for the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory, CLANT.
Now that our familiar logo has been authoritatively declared to be a feral felon, is it time for CLANT to ditch the dingo and adopt a more fitting icon? I, for one, think not: the CLANT dingo, as has often been represented, represents the unrepresented accused.
Now that he’s been conclusively convicted, he represents not just the unrepresented accused, but the representative unrepresented accused, the great majority of whom, notwithstanding the well-known presumption to the contrary, are, later or sooner, indeed, in fact and in law, found to be guilty.
Much of the media interest in this latest (and last?) chapter of the Chamberlain saga has been about the media interest in the preceding chapters of the Chamberlain saga.
‘Ravening, slavering pack’
We all know now that back then the media behaved like a ravening, slavering pack of wild dingoes. That particular feeding frenzy had already started building when I first arrived in Alice Springs in early 1981, but the local papers at the time were in even more of a lather about another then recent violent death, the so-called “Ti Tree Incident”. (Note 1)
On 20 July 1980, shortly after dark on a dirt road 200km north of Alice Springs, Constables Clifford and Warren, in what Royal Commissioner Elliott Johnston later described as “a rather extraordinarily dangerous” manoeuvre, drove their police van onto the wrong side of the road, forcing an approaching green station wagon containing about seven Anmatyerre men to stop.
They had been drinking. When I say “they”, I mean both the police officers, and the men in the green station wagon.
After arresting the driver for drink driving, the police proceeded to unlawfully apprehend and detain some of his passengers. While doing so, officer Clifford struck one of them on the head with a baton, and threatened more of the same. In fear of being further assaulted, three of the men then attempted to escape, a struggle ensued, and Clifford was himself struck on the head with the baton.
Clifford drew his privately owned pistol, and fired three shots. The first shot wounded Freddie Pepperill in the chest. The third shot killed an Anmatyerre man later referred to only by his skin name, “Jabanardi”. (Note 2)
No criminal proceedings were initially commenced against either of the constables, but five of Jabanardi’s countrymen were charged with various offences against police arising out of the incident, and committed for trial. Four days after the committal, the Alice Springs Star (now long since defunct) published the following editorial:
What price law enforcement? With the ‘Tea Tree Incident’ hearing complete and five persons charged it’s high time for the people of Alice to re-think their apathy to the police and their role in law enforcement. The ‘Tea Tree Incident’ saw a lot of ‘flak’ leveled against the local police, and very little support. Police these days find themselves in the ridiculous position of having to try and uphold the law – THEN BE CRITICISED FOR DOING SO. Can the police be blamed for an increasing reluctance to act!!!
Why should the police attend a drunken and rowdy brawl, when they will have to follow the lengthy routine of arrest and charge – THEN be criticized as racist and brutal. We EXPECT the police to act – but do we ever say thanks – do we ever stand up and say ‘Well done!’? It’s high time we did.
The ‘Tea Tree Incident’ illustrates just what the police have to contend with … interstate lawyers being brought in at massive expense to cross-examine the police for doing their best under rather uneven odds. Come on ‘Alice’, it’s high time to pay tribute to the effort of our police. (Note 3).
Muirhead J found this and other similar reports in the Alice Springs media to be not only inaccurate, but also ‘disgraceful’, ‘inflammatory’, ‘mischievous’, and so prejudicial to the Anmatyerre accused that he moved their jury trial to Darwin. (Note 4)
Significantly, Muirhead J also found that many of the inaccuracies in this reporting must have come from police.
Following what was later found to be a seriously inadequate police investigation of the death of Jabanardi, an inquest was conducted a year after the event, resulting in Constable Clifford being committed on a charge of murder. No application having been made to move his trial to Darwin, he was tried by an Alice Springs jury. He was acquitted.
– from the CLANT column ‘BALANCE’, by Russell Goldflam 26 June 2012
Note 1: The summary of events and findings is derived from Elliott Johnston, Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: Death of Jabanardi (at Ti Tree) (1991), which in turn relied on and adopted the findings of fact made at inquest by Coroner Galvin.
Note 3: Cited in The Queen v Pepperill (1981) 54 FLR 327, 331.
Note 4: 3 The accused were subsequently acquitted on most counts, and sentenced to modest penalties on the remainder.