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Issue #1638      May 14, 2014

Eddie Murray to be remembered nationally

This year, one of the custodial deaths which launched the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, will be remembered, 33 years later, with a national day of action, rallies and marches and a three-decade-old-call for justice. Eddie Murray died while in police custody in 1981 and his family and supporters are demanding a new inquiry into his death, claiming missing clothes and a Coroner’s report which proved he suffered a broken sternum while in custody, were proof that he was murdered.

BRISBANE: “Still no justice! Stop Black deaths in custody!” were the themes of a rally held at Emma Miller Place on November 2011, to mark 20 years since the release of the report of the Royal Commission into Black deaths in custody in 1991. (Photo: Socialist Alliance Queensland)

Last year, three decades later, 16 year old Yindjibarndi John Pat was remembered with a national day of action. The coordinated campaign generated a Western Australian government apology for the death of John Pat by police officers. It is 33 years since the police custodial death of 21 year old champion rugby league player Eddie Murray in north west New South Wales town of Wee Waa. His father and mother, the late Arthur and the late Leila Murray campaigned to the end of their lives for public inquiries and proper investigation of their son’s death in the belief the Wee Waa police murdered Mr Murray.

The Murrays raised 12 children, ten who remain and within whom the death of their brother and the anguish and racism their parents endured in chasing down the justice, burns ferociously.

The Sydney president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, Ray Jackson, will be one of the coordinators of the campaign. Recently, Mr Jackson and the Association were awarded one of the highest human rights awards by the French government for their many years of work in assisting families affected by custodial deaths.

“It is important that we remember Eddie Murray, be it 33 years later. The remembrance, 33 years after the killing of Eddie at the Wee Waa police cells is not only for justice alone but also for the family, which desperately needs closure,” said Mr Jackson.

“For far too long far too many families of victims to custodial deaths have languished in limbo while truths have been hidden or covered up. We can never give up on the seeking of justice for the Murray family, for far too many families, they all need to know that justice is possible in this country. We must never give up on justice.

“We have to continue on with seeking the truth and not let the passing of time to be used against us. Every Aboriginal family and every non-Aboriginal family must be showed that justice is there for everyone, that it is possible.

“For Aboriginal people this is paramount because still for far too many the future looks dim, for there is a long history of justice being denied to Aboriginal people,” said Mr Jackson.

Anne Murray was the last member of the family to see Mr Murray alive. Ms Murray has been passed the baton in chasing down the justice for her brother. She said her brother was bashed to death by the police, his body washed down, his clothes changed, and that there has never been a better time – in less racist times than then – for a public inquiry but one independent from police involvement.

“I was the last member of my family to see my brother alive. I was on the corner of George Street (in Wee Waa) opposite the Imperial Hotel, with my baby in the pram.

“He was fine, happy as always.

“Next thing we get a call that he committed suicide in a police cell.

“It is not true, he was murdered, and everyone in Wee Waa knows it, we know it, the police who killed him know it and it is time Australia should know it. It is time after 33 years, with so much pain and anguish for my mother and father who have now gone, that the first (successful) prosecution of murderous and lying police officers takes place – and we can get it

“Times have changed where now there may be some hope for true justice in the Courts or for a full and proper investigation or some genuine independent public inquiry, with the evidence presented that in more racist times the evidence was glossed over.

Never give up

“If my family give up, which we will never do, then that first (successful) prosecution of coppers will keep on waiting and there will be more deaths in custody. We get that first justice and the black deaths in custody will stop,” said Ms Murray.

“When I next saw my brother, he was at the Coroner’s. He was not wearing his clothes. He was bare from the waist up and I could see marks around his neck and bruises on his chest. The pants the coppers dressed him in were too big and too long, hanging over his feet, he had no shoes or socks.

“I asked for his clothes, where are his clothes? They would not respond. In 33 years they have not responded. What happened to his clothes? What happened to his personal effects? His wallet has never been returned to us. Why?

“The clothes were the most vital forensic evidence, they could have determined what happened, they would have been covered in blood – proof that he did not suicide. Eddie would never take his life, that’s a dirty lie by them. He was liked and loved, a champion rugby league player. Obviously the clothes were hidden and then destroyed. We want to know by whom, it’s not hard as there weren’t many officers on duty. We get this investigated and we have the murderers.”

Mr Murray had been visiting his hometown – he lived and worked in Sydney and was playing rugby league for the Redfern All Blacks. He had come to the small cotton town to visit family and friends.

The Murray family were famous in Wee Waa, with Mr Murray’s father, Arthur Murray, leading the fight for award wages and conditions for the Aboriginal cotton workers and for an end to spraying cotton with poisons while workers were in the field. The Murrays had also been involved in the fight for Aboriginal housing in town so they did not have to continue camping on reserves five kilometres away.

Racist harassment

Mr Murray’s parents had often spoken of the racist harassment, including from police that the whole family faced. Mr Murray had been arrested seven times for allegedly being disorderly and convicted of offensive behaviour twice, but in a stark comparison, he had never been arrested by police while living in Sydney.

“When I saw him outside the Imperial Hotel he was wearing creamy pants, his red and white shirt with the writing across it, Walgett Leagues,” said Ms Murray.

Ms Murray said that the next day the family and on this occasion in the company of Lyall Munro Senior viewed Mr Murray’s body. They went to the police station. The police showed them the blanket they claimed Mr Murray tore strips from to hang himself.

“The cop pulled out the grey blanket he claimed Eddie hung himself with.”

“I tried to tear at it, and I turned around to the cop and said how did Eddie tear this when I can’t tear it, it needs scissors to cut through it. And I said to him that we can see by the nature of the broken threads that it has been cut by scissors.

“My brother did not hang himself.”

Ms Murray does not just want to campaign into the wind for justice, to just keep up the awareness raising, but backed by the family and a rising number of supporters she does want in addition to any cold case on her brother’s death, a full independent inquiry. Ms Murray is pitching a battle to pull up an independent investigation into her brother’s death in Wee Waa.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had suggested this but did not achieve it, the Newcastle Legal Centre called for this but it did not happen, the Police Integrity Commission did not want to know about it, and a NSW Parliamentarian called for it but to no avail. But Ms Murray believes that at long last it may well just happen.

Justice crucial

As a researcher into custodial systems, I have reviewed the death in custody of her brother, and it appears Mr Murray was murdered, call it manslaughter or grievous bodily harm leading to death, whatever, he died exactly as Roebourne’s John Pat did two years later, and as Mulrunji Doomadgee and Kwementaye Briscoe more than two decades later died – at the hands of police officers, and that violence should be accounted for. Until the police are brought to justice for these deaths then Ms Murray is right that there is no likelihood of a reduction of police deaths in custody.

Wee Waa is a small town, less than 1,700, 41 kilometres northwest of Narrabri on Kamilaroi Country. About 350 of the population are First Nations people. The Kamilaroi words Wee Waa mean “fire for roasting”. Like most of the rest of the nation, the town has a history of racial tensions.

The death of Mr Murray was one of the custodial deaths that led to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

On February 25, 2004, former NSW Senator, now Federal, Lee Rhiannon, chased down the call for a parliamentary inquiry into the death of Mr Murray but to no avail.

“(The police) detained (Mr Murray) for being drunk and disorderly. The police could have taken him home but instead kept him in custody. He was heard to cry out from his cell, ‘Why do you always pick on me? Why don’t you pick on the white people?’ Less than one hour later, he was dead.

“Before a police photographer arrived to take pictures of Eddie, his body had been removed from the cell in which he died. The next day his clothes were missing. When the Coroner looked into the matter, he found instances of unreliability in the evidence offered by police to the Court.”

The Coroner’s open verdict included that there existed the possibility of “death at the hand of person or persons unknown.”

But it happened in a police cell.

In 1997, Mr Murray’s body was exhumed and it was found he had suffered a smashed sternum – caused by blows to the chest. In August 2000, the NSW Minister for Police, Paul Whelan referred the case to the NSW Police Integrity Commission (PIC) but the PIC “declined the case”.

The national day of action will take place in every capital city and Wee Waa, with a major remembrance and call for justice to be highlighted at the Sydney Town Hall.

A national day of action will take place in each Australian capital city and also in Wee Waa to mark the 33rd anniversary of his passing on June 12.

The Stringer

Next article – Book review – TONY SPEAKS: The wisdom of the Abbott – A little but important book

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