During the ensuing unrest, authorities flew teams of armed riot police to the island and declared an effective state of emergency.
Wearing balaclavas and bearing firearms, the police raided multiple homes and allegedly held pregnant women and children at gunpoint. Of sixteen people eventually charged, eleven were acquitted.
Police Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley (on left) and Cameron Doomadgee.
The Federal Court found in December that police had breached the racial discrimination act, ruling that they conducted the operation “very much with an ‘us and them’ attitude”. The court said police would have had acted differently “if this tragedy occurred in a remote, close-knit, but overwhelmingly non-Aboriginal community”.
“I have found they [police officers] conducted themselves… with a sense of impunity, impervious to the reactions of Palm Islanders,” wrote Justice Debbie Mortimer.
“I have found that police acted in these ways because they were dealing with an Aboriginal community.”
The decision granted compensation to Lex Wotton, an islander who was jailed for inciting violence, as well as his wife and mother. The three received £127,000 in compensation, plus £125,000 in interest.