|Transcript of PM on ABC Radio - Tuesday, 6 July , 2004 18:38:00|
Day two of Hickey inquest
Reporter: Liz Foschia
DAVID HARDAKER: Two police officers who came across an Aboriginal teenager impaled on a fence in Sydney earlier this year have told an inquest they weren't following him at the time. It's the second day of the coronial inquiry into the death of Thomas Hickey in February, in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern. At question is whether police actions on the day played a part in the 17-year-old's deaths. As Liz Foschia reports.
LIZ FOSCHIA: Constables Alan Rimmell and Ruth Rocker were patrolling Redfern, on the lookout for a bag-snatcher, when they came across the broken body of Thomas Hickey, or TJ as he was commonly known, at the end of a laneway.
Constable Rimmell, who was driving the police wagon, told the inquest at first he thought it was a jumper or a backpack hanging from a fence - then he realised it was a body.
Around five minutes earlier, while driving down a nearby street, they'd spotted a young boy on a pushbike travelling at fast pace across a car park.
Constable Rocker says he was standing up on his pedals, but she told the inquiry she immediately discounted him as the man they were looking for:
"I said that's not him. He's too young and too skinny."
She didn't remember her partner saying anything in reply.
Yet they then took a path that would follow the direction in which the teenager was heading.
To, at sometimes audible, disbelief from the courtroom, packed with TJ Hickey's family and friends, Constable Rimmell continued to insist he was just randomly choosing his path - at one stage explaining his decision to turn right ... because he didn't like to turn left as a rule.
John Stratton, SC, representing the Hickey family pressed him:
"Do you say it was entirely a coincidence that your path took you by the nearest direct route to where the boy would end up?"
"Isn't the truth of the matter that you were chasing this boy on the bicycle?"
"Isn't that the truth?"
The issue of whether police were pursuing Thomas Hickey is a crucial one. The coroner is attempting to discover whether the teenager, in fleeing the officers, rode in such a manner as to endanger himself.
Constable Rimmell told the inquest as he and his partner continued to patrol, a man in the car park of the Salvation Army centre signalled him and told him someone had just gone down a nearby driveway.
Without asking any more questions he turned his caged wagon around and followed the driveway to a fence, where they came across the boy he later discovered was TJ Hickey. He says he did not at first connect the Aboriginal teenager with the one they had spotted just minutes earlier on the pushbike. Questioned repeatedly, he continued to insist that he hadn't even noticed the bike nearby. Counsel assisting the coroner, Elizabeth Fullerton SC then played back Constable Rimmell's radio call: "Urgent. We have a man impaled on a fence off pushbike. Require ambulance urgently."
At that, there was a collective groan from the courtroom.
Constable Rimmell began to back pedal, saying he couldn't recall honestly whether he had seen a pushbike at the time, but he repeated his claim that they had not been following TJ Hickey.
Along with Constables Rimmell and Rocker, another patrol car had followed the path the teenager had ridden that morning.
The two officers in that wagon are due to give evidence tomorrow as the inquest continues.
DAVID HARDAKER: Liz Foschia.