A short documentary history of the Block in Redfern
Material from the Gary Foley Collection

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Broadcast: 15/07/2004

Conflicting police reports emerge at Hickey inquest

Reporter: Matt Peacock

MAXINE McKEW: First tonight to the coronial inquest into the horrific death of young Aboriginal boy Thomas, or 'TJ', Hickey, as he was known.

The inquest finished taking evidence today.

It was his death which sparked one of Australia's worst street riots earlier this year in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern.

The 17-year-old boy was impaled on a metal fence after coming off his bicycle.

The Aboriginal community at the time blamed his death on the police, who they said had been chasing Hickey.

But that claim was flatly denied by the police, the NSW Premier and even the Prime Minister.

Now, evidence has emerged which casts serious doubt on the police version of events.

Matt Peacock reports.

MATT PEACOCK: This year's riot at Redfern.

One that shocked police, the community and the nation for its ferocity.

The most alarming feature - the young age and fury of the rioters.

NEWS REEL: There is a large group of Aboriginal persons throwing rocks, bricks and beer bottles at cars.

MATT PEACOCK: And the spark that ignited the powder keg?

A boy on his bike and his gruesome death.

Seventeen-year-old Thomas Hickey, or TJ, was pedalling flat out when he went down this drive.

His bike hit the fence and Hickey landed on its blunt metal spikes.

ROY HICKEY, TJ HICKEY'S COUSIN: He come around this corner here, sharp around here, don't know what he hit there to come off his bike but this is where he was impaled on the fence here and then when I come across the park from over there the police had him laying down on the ground here and one officer stood up and he had blood all over his shirt. Another woman officer was there, she had blood on her shirt, but there was about 10 officers sitting around him trying to revive him and all that there and the ambulance come, put him in the bag, put on the trolley and wheeled him away and then I went and got in my car and went and picked Gail up from the Block and took her to the hospital where TJ was.

MATT PEACOCK: Within hours, the word had swept around Redfern's Aboriginal community - TJ was being chased by the police.

A claim the police denied, then and now.

BILL MORONEY, NSW POLICE COMMISSIONER: And so it was a matter of happenstance that Mr Hickey rode past the police.

They didn't give him a second thought, they were intent on identifying the person responsible and arresting the person responsible for the vicious assault on an elderly woman outside Redfern Railway Station at about 6:30am on Saturday morning.

SHANE PHILLIPS, REDFERN COMMUNITY LEADER: I think it would be really good if the police would actually just say, "Look, there was a chase and unfortunately an accident happened from it".

MATT PEACOCK: Few, though, seem to believe the Aboriginal claim.

BOB CARR, NSW PREMIER: There were no sirens or squealing tyres and, indeed, it took the police and the vehicle some minutes to return when they were alerted to the bicycle accident.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I don't see any evidence though that he was being pursued by the police.

I think the allegations that have been made against the police are unreasonable.

MATT PEACOCK: But at the coronial inquiry, conflicting police versions of events preceding Hickey's death have emerged.

The assault at the railway station the police were focused on that morning was a bag snatch in a crime-ridden area notorious for its heroin problem.

Two police vans, Redfern 16 and Redfern 17, were involved in patrols to find the suspect.

They were still cruising the area when they encountered Hickey.

The teenager came speeding past the first paddy wagon, Redfern 16, somewhere near the top of Cope Street from the direction where there'd been a reported sighting of the bag snatcher.

As the boy sped off to the south, the paddy wagon went around the block turning right and right again into Renwick Street.

Their colleagues in Redfern 17 were coming up Renwick Street and caught sight of Hickey crossing the carpark that joins it to Cope Street.

The two police vans passed.

R16 followed the teenager south down Renwick Street, R17 turned right and started to go around the block.

Renwick Street ends in a cul-de-sac but a footpath follows directly through to Phillip Street.

Hickey rode down the path, the police wagon mounted the kerb and followed the same path.

The end of the Renwick Street footpath is blocked by a gate.

The teenager shot out through a pedestrian gateway, crossed Phillip Street and pedalled down the driveway next to the Housing Commission building.

It was around the next corner his bike hit the iron fence and Hickey was mortally wounded.

Meanwhile, R17 had arrived in Phillip Street at the bottom of the footpath.

A witness pointed in the direction that Hickey had ridden, the paddy wagon did a U-turn and drove down the driveway next to the building where they found the boy impaled.

While doctors at the Sydney Children's Hospital fought a losing battle to save Hickey's life, the four police from R16 and R17, shaken by witnessing the horrific fatality, gathered at Redfern Station to write their individual statements.

They compared notes.

By then they knew of the rumours that they'd been chasing the teenager.

Had they been, they would have been in breach of police procedures, which don't permit paddy wagons to engage in pursuits.

The police in R16, constables Maree Reynolds and Michael Hollingsworth, recounted how they'd seen Hickey pedalling in front of them as they headed south down Renwick Street.

Significantly, neither mentioned mounting the kerb and following him down the footpath.

It took both police a full week when they were interviewed by an investigating officer before they remembered driving down this pathway.

Eyewitnesses say they drove nearly to the bottom.

One man says the blue light was flashing.

They both deny it.

Constable Hollingsworth has refused to testify before the current inquiry on the grounds that it might incriminate him in relation to possible police disciplinary proceedings.

In allowing Constable Hollingsworth not to testify, the coroner said that no inference adverse to him should be drawn.

His Honour explained his decision this way.

"There is always a forensic need "for an honest, accurate and reliable account from material witnesses.

"Would I get that should he step into the witness box?

"Frankly, it is difficult to feel confident that I would "because the versions he has given are contradictory."

Constable Hollingsworth's colleague, Marie Reynolds, did testify.

But she used the phrase "I don't recall" so often in court it prompted an icy response from counsel assisting.

ELIZABETH FULLERTON, COUNSEL ASSISTING THE CORONER: "For those of us who have heard police officers give evidence over many, many, many years, the claimed failure to recall is sometimes not, in fact, an honest answer.

MATT PEACOCK: So, while a significant part of the police story is muddy or unavailable some witnesses that day do have a clear account.

TJ Hickey's cousin, Roy Hickey, who's lived and worked in the area for 15 years, is amongst them - seeing the boy shoot out of the pedestrian gate moments before tragedy struck.

ROY HICKEY: I was coming down Phillip Street here and as we got to the section where the driveway is over there, TJ shot out in front of me.

He just went flying past me and as he went past me I turned to my right and as the police wagon pulled up at the fence here.

MATT PEACOCK: The Coroner may need to make sense of other aspects of the police account.

R17 had progressed down Pitt Street to Phillip.

Constable Allan Rimell said that he turned right into Phillip Street because he didn't like the speed bumps to the left.

When a witness pointed in the direction that Hickey had gone, he immediately turned around and followed without seeking details because, he said, it was good community relations.

Both he and Constable Ruth Rocha said they didn't realise when they found Hickey that he was the same boy that they'd seen earlier on or that he'd been on a push bike.

Yet their first radio report specifically mentions the push bike.

POLICE OFFICER'S RADIO REPORT: Behind No. 1 Phillip Street, male impaled on a fence off a push bike.

MATT PEACOCK: The evidence at the inquest indicates no-one was anywhere near Hickey at the moment of fatal impact.

He had reason to flee the police.

Only that week he'd been listed as a high-risk offender.

He had a warrant outstanding for an assault and a stick of marijuana in his shorts.

The question that the Coroner has yet to determine is whether he was fleeing a police chase.

For his cousin and many in Redfern, there was never any doubt.

ROY HICKEY: They do chase them all the time out there for little, petty things like warrants and that there and even around the area down the Block they chase a lot of people around there, too.

In their paddy wagons, they chase them across the Block down there, which they say they don't do and I just say that they shouldn't be chasing like that there.

MATT PEACOCK: What lessons do you think have been learnt from all this?

ROY HICKEY : I don't think they learnt any lesson.

It will go on all the time.

Keep going the same way.

Nothing will change.

MATT PEACOCK: The 7.30 Report approached the police for an interview, but no-one was available until the parliamentary inquiry into the riot is concluded later this month.

The force still seemed sure of its ground, an internal police inquiry found no breach in procedures, despite the inconsistencies in police statements.

Alan Hollingsworth has since been promoted to the rank of Senior Constable.

Whatever the inquest findings, TJ Hickey's death is likely to remain a symbol of the gulf between the NSW force and the Aboriginal community it polices.