BY ALEC SMART
Search for ‘TJ Hickey’ on the internet and you’re likely to be directed to webpages featuring articles headlined ‘TJ Hickey, 10 years, no justice’, ‘TJ Hickey, 13 years, no justice’, and so on. The latest links are reminders that 15 years have now elapsed without a Public Inquiry that might satisfy the family of the Aboriginal teenager, who died in tragic circumstances in 2004 – likely chased (and possibly hit) by a police wagon.
February 14 is the date the Western world celebrates Valentine’s Day, an event laden with emotional significance as it exalts romantic love and courting.
However, February 14 also commemorates the date in 2004 that 17-year-old Kamilaroi Aboriginal ‘TJ’ (Thomas Junior) Hickey, the only son and eldest of seven children, was riding his bicycle when he was pursued and, according to some accounts, hit by a police vehicle.
Although police fervently dispute Hickey was chased or even hit, the boy suddenly lost control by the Waterloo Towers, catapulting off his bike and onto his back on a spiked steel fence.
Hickey sustained horrific injuries as the spikes penetrated his neck and chest, from which he died 14 hours later in Sydney Children’s Hospital.
Police administered first aid to Hickey at the scene, although his family assert he was lifted off the fence, counter to all medical recommendations, as removing impaled objects usually causes catastrophic bleeding.
Several witnesses, whose evidence was discounted at the coronial inquiry six months later, claim they saw Hickey’s red bicycle come into contact with the police wagon that was pursuing him. This, they claim, propelled him onto the blunt metal uprights of the walkway fence at the rear of the high-rise Turanga Housing Commission tower in Waterloo.
However, the primary pursuit driver, Redfern Police Constable Michael Hollingsworth – since promoted to Senior Constable and awarded the National Police Medal and Diligent and Ethical Service Medal – denied this. Police counter that Hickey hit a kerb whilst pedaling at high speed and this flung him onto the spiked steel fence.
At the time, Redfern Police were engaged in an operation to catch a handbag thief in the vicinity of Redfern Station, a kilometre away.
Although Hickey was discounted as the bag-snatch suspect (described as a man in his 20s), and the search by the police crews of four vehicles was called off at 10.57am, the occupants of police vehicle ‘Redfern 16’, constables Hollingsworth, 32, and Maree Reynolds, 26, decided to follow the 17-year-old as ‘a person of interest’.
Pursued or followed?
Perhaps Hickey, who had a warrant for his arrest in his home town of Walgett that the officers would not have been aware of, saw the police van as he cruised south along Renwick Street and panicked. He accelerated his bicycle into an 80-metre walkway that cut alongside the rear of Redfern Primary School and the police van gave chase, although much would be made at the subsequent inquiry as to whether they ‘pursued’ or merely ‘followed’.
TJ Hickey’s girlfriend, April Ceissman, told the Sydney Morning Herald shortly after his death that she was convinced police initiated a high-speed pursuit, “because people seen police chasing him. They chase anyone, ‘cos that’s what they do.”
At the opposite end of the alleyway, Hickey swung left into Phillip Street, then turned immediately south again into a driveway behind the Turanga tower at 1 Phillip Street. It was here that he collided with the spiked metal fence.
Only one eyewitness to the actual tragedy reported to the coronial inquiry, Danny Allen, who was walking from the opposite direction of the driveway down which Hickey was fleeing at 11.20am. Allen declared Hickey lost control of his bicycle and flipped over onto the fence.
Coincidentally, Roy Hickey, TJ’s mother’s cousin, happened to be driving past at the time in a community health bus. He told lawyers from the Aboriginal Legal Team that when he stopped and recognised it was young TJ, six police officers in attendance refused to let him near the bloody scene.
The crew of police vehicle Redfern 17 – Constable Allan Rimell, driver, and Constable Ruth Rocha, passenger – was the first to attend to the mortally wounded youth, because the coronial inquiry found Redfern 16 was impeded by a gate at the end of the path between Renwick and Phillip Street, arriving minutes later.
This raises the question, if a police vehicle was involved, as some allege, did Redfern 17 attempt to ambush the fleeing youth on Phillip Street and perhaps use their vehicle to nudge him from behind?
Yet Constable Hollingsworth, despite insisting his vehicle didn’t ram Hickey, refused to give evidence at the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Hickey’s death on the grounds he might incriminate himself.
Curiously, the Coroner, John Abernethy, excused Hollingsworth from testifying, although he could have issued a certificate under the Coroner’s Act exempting him from later prosecution or a police disciplinary hearing.
Under the Coroners Act 2008: “A police officer who has information that may be relevant to an investigation by a coroner into a death or a fire must give that information to the coroner to assist the coroner in his or her investigation of the death or the fire.”
Under the Uniform Evidence Act 1995 concerning privilege in respect of self-incrimination in legal proceedings: “A witness may give, or be compelled to give, self-incriminating evidence in certain circumstances and the court will grant a certificate excluding the admission of that evidence against the witness in any other legal proceeding .. Section 128 protects against self-exposure, by way of evidence, to criminal charges and civil penalties only.”
Unreliable or absent witnesses
Although Coroner Abernethy declared it was “regrettable that Reynolds and Hollingsworth were not completely candid from the very start..” and further criticised Reynolds as, “quite a poor witness with an extraordinary lack of memory of what I would have thought were significant events,” in August 2004 he ruled that Hickey’s death was a ‘freak accident’.
A significant proportion of the coronial inquest focused on whether Redfern Police were ‘following’ or ‘pursuing’ Hickey. NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney was interviewed on ABC radio at its conclusion and asked to explain the distinction.
He replied, “I think if you were to ask the person on the street … their interpretation of being followed and being pursued I think they are two distinct and clear actions.
“Being followed, I think, in the ordinary layman’s mind, creates a particular picture. Being pursued by police creates a completely different picture and clearly there was no evidence that Mr Hickey was being pursued in the normal definition of that word.”
TJ Hickey’s death sparked what is now known as the 2004 Redfern Riots, when furious community members, many indigenous, confronted the much-despised police with an array of weaponry, most of which took place around The Block housing estate adjacent to Redfern Station.
Angry residents were eventually subdued and dispersed with fire brigade hoses many hours later, although it was reported 42 police officers sustained injuries, one knocked unconscious by a flying brick.
In a June 7 ruling by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, the NSW Police Force were fined $100,000 for their officers’ injuries during the riot after pleading guilty to failing to ensure their welfare under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
A reserve on Waterloo Green west of the Waterloo Twin Towers housing commission high-rise, adjacent to the site where Hickey sustained his fatal injuries, was informally named TJ Hickey Park in his honour, but search for it on Google Maps and you won’t find a match.
In February 2017, NSW Minister for Housing, Prue Goward, announced that an authorised memorial will be built during the forthcoming redevelopment of the Waterloo housing estate, on the site where Hickey collided with the fence.
However, a memorial plaque with Hickey’s portrait, donated in 2005 by University of Technology Sydney’s Aboriginal Students’ Association, which the Hickey family wish to use, remains in storage. NSW Government will not accept it unless the words ‘police pursuit’ in the inscription are substituted with ‘tragic accident.’
Hickey’s mother refuses to yield to their request, and she also requests that the fence itself where the tragedy occurred is preserved in-situ for the proposed memorial.
A petition demanding a Public Inquiry into Hickey’s death, organised by the Hickey family and supported by Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), has amassed over 12,000 signatures.
Gail, TJ Hickey’s mother, told Alt-Media, “15 years is too long to wait. We hope Parliament will bring what my son, my family and myself finally deserve: justice.”
On Thursday June 20 at 10.30am a rally calling for a Public Inquiry into TJ Hickey’s death is planned at Hyde Park fountain. Organised by the Hickey Family and supported by the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), at 12.00 pm it will be marching to the NSW Parliament building to present the petition.