Mulrunji review up in air

Rosanne Barrett and Emma Chalmers

December 27, 2006 11:00pm

UNCERTAINTY lingers over the Mulrunji death-in-custody case after the resignation of the man who was to review the controversial decision not to charge the policeman involved.

Retired judge Pat Shanahan was appointed only last Friday to review Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare's file into the death of Mulrunji on Palm Island in 2004.

Ms Clare ruled there was not enough evidence to charge Senior-Sergeant Chris Hurley over Mulrunji's death.

Mr Shanahan stepped aside yesterday after it emerged early this week he had been on the three-person panel that voted for the promotion of Ms Clare to her role in 1999, sparking conflict-of-interest accusations.

Attorney-General Kerry Shine said finding a replacement could take more than a week.

Premier Peter Beattie yesterday acknowledged it would be difficult.

"There's not a line-up of people from here to Cape York wanting to do this review," he said.

But Mr Beattie said the review was expected to hand down its findings at the first sitting of State Parliament in February.

Crown Solicitor Walter Sofronoff has the task of finding a replacement.

Indigenous leaders and civil liberties groups welcomed Mr Shanahan's decision to stand aside.

Activist Sam Watson said Mr Shanahan had made the right decision, but again called for the review to be held interstate, " far from the political machinations in Queensland".

Australian Council of Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said there were precedents for conducting reviews interstate, including the cases of swimming coach Scott Volkers and Queensland magistrate Di Fingleton, both reviewed by the NSW DPP.

"It just seems to be downright stubbornness to not go interstate," he said.

Palm Island Mayor Delena Foster welcomed Mr Shanahan's decision but said the saga needed to be resolved and justice done in a timely manner.

Mr Shine said Mr Shanahan contacted him early yesterday morning with his decision.

He still did not believe there was a conflict of interest and said, given the former chief judge's 26 years as a judge, he would have been an excellent choice.

Opposition justice spokesman Mark McArdle called the saga an "absolute mess".