It took Queensland police two days to officially inform the Wyles family, who lived in an adjoining suburb, that their son had been killed.
Hasenkamp was charged with a driving offence – “driving in a manner dangerous causing death” – and, after pleading guilty, received a four-year sentence, with a minimum non-parole period of 15 months. He spent only 11 weeks in custody before being sent to a work program camp in western Queensland. His whereabouts are unknown; earlier this year he was living on Magnetic Island, a short ferry ride from Townsville.
The Australian yesterday contacted Hasenkamp’s family, but they declined to comment. The Wyles family has not known his whereabouts since receiving a letter from the Department of Corrective Services in June last year saying he was to be released.
For two years Errol Sr and Sonja Wyles’s pleas to have the investigation into their son’s death reviewed and further charges laid fell on deaf ears. Politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats from Queensland to Canberra said although the death was unfortunate, there was nothing more that could be done.
“In the end we were sick and tired of being let down,” Errol Wyles Sr says. “People were saying no, we were going through government agencies and there were brick walls all over … we were ready to let it go.”
The Wyles family had just about given up hope when a meeting with Sydney solicitor and human rights advocate Stewart Levitt changed everything.
Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare is believed to be considering whether the case should be reviewed after a detailed submission and petition arguing that Hasenkamp should be charged with manslaughter or murder was submitted by lawyers from two states.
In Sydney tonight, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser will help to launch the Errol Wyles Justice Foundation, which will provide legal redress for Aboriginal victims of crime and injustice and promote the protection and equal treatment of indigenous people. A register of racist incidents across the country will be compiled.
“The foundation stands for basically delivering justice in significant cases which have ramifications for the relationship between black and white Australians,” says Levitt, the foundation’s director and the Wyles family’s lawyer. “We are targeting cases which have political, social or historical significance, and when the victims are prepared to speak out, be courageous and be good representatives for their community, and where there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable excuse for Aborigines to suffer in a particular situation and the injustice they have faced is symptomatic of a broader and deeper social malaise.”
It has been a long and arduous journey for the Wyles family. “We are supposed to have faith in the justice system and all those other government departments, and when they turn around and say they can’t help you, you wonder why they are there,” Wyles says. “You wonder why Aboriginal people don’t have faith in the system: we are almost at the bottom of the ladder for just about everything, you have to work double as hard to try and get somewhere.”
The Wyles family believes the investigation into their son’s death was inadequate. Wyles says although there were up to 40 people at the party on the night Errol Jr was killed, police took statements from only 25 people.
“With our case, I think the police did a bad job investigating, I didn’t think they did a thorough job at all,” Wyles says. “Shouldn’t they have statements from everybody? Or were they just picking and choosing? Nineteen out of 25 statements include references to him (Hasenkamp) saying that he was trying to run (Errol Jr) over.”
There is also evidence from witnesses that Hasenkamp was looking through the back window while reversing.
The actions of police on the night are certainly baffling. According to Townsville teacher Linda Davis, who was hosting the party, officers contacted Hasenkamp’s family home within 30 minutes of the incident, using her phone. The Hasenkamps lived within a short drive of where Errol Jr died.
But police did not arrive there until four hours later, well outside the two-hour limit within which police can force a driver to take a breath test. It will never be known if Hasenkamp was drunk at the time.
Months after their son died, the Wyleses were bewildered to discover that Hasenkamp would be charged with only a traffic offence, as prosecuting authorities were not arguing the collision was deliberate.
The Queensland DPP has defended the actions of its Townsville crown prosecutor, saying that interviews with key witnesses suggested Hasenkamp’s dangerous driving was intended just to scare young Errol and hisfriends. Not true, says Wyles. “He used his car as a weapon, pure and simple,” he says. “We could not believe the charge that they were going to give him. He ran over our son twice and it looks to us like he’s being protected by the police.”
Allegations about Townsville police’s investigation were referred to the Queensland Police Service ethical standards command and found to be unsubstantiated.
The Wyles case is one of several claims of racial discrimination that have emerged from Townsville in recent years. The city has one of the country’s highest populations of indigenous people and is only a short distance from the Palm Island Aboriginal community, which has been plagued by trouble since Mulrunji Doomadgee’s death in custody sparked riots in 2004. Earlier this year, the trial of Palm Island’s alleged riot ringleader Lex Wotton was moved to Brisbane on the grounds he could not get a fair trial in Townsville.
Wotton – a friend of the Wyles family who is also represented by Levitt – will be present at tonight’s launch of the justice foundation.
Allegations of systemic racism in Townsville are nothing new. The Queensland parliament was told in 1989 of an alleged incident involving Townsville Mayor Tony Mooney, then a deputy mayor, who drove away from the scene of an accident in which he struck an Aboriginal pedestrian. When he was chased and brought back, he smelled of alcohol. Mooney rejects the allegation.
The Errol Wyles Justice Foundation has uncovered cases in Queensland that highlight significant ongoing problems in dealings between Aborigines and the police.
In addition to representing Wotton, the foundation is defending Shane McNamee, who was allegedly beaten up while in custody on the charge of possessing alcohol in Doomadgee, a remote Aboriginal community in the Gulf of Carpentaria. After he was detained at the local watch house, officers allegedly assaulted him, leaving him with facial injuries and one eye swollen shut.
A Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission report later established that there was evidence to support a charge against a senior constable at the station. One of the officers has since been stood down on drugs charges.
The foundation is also taking a leading role in the fight to regain wages and entitlements denied to Aborigines by governments in years past. The amount of money withheld is thought to run into hundreds of millions.
“You can’t ignore the fact that Aboriginal people have been virtually occupied people and denied human rights over 150 years,” Levitt says. “The key aim of the foundation is to recognise that only by restoring self-esteem and dignity, which the Aborigines last had when they were autonomous, can they play a fully contributory role in our society.”
The Wyles family is proud their son’s name will be attached to efforts to achieve justice for indigenous people. “I have very positive feelings about the foundation, I think it is going to make a lot of changes for Aboriginal people, and I think it is all about building bridges between cultures,” Wyles says.
“Errol should never have been killed all because someone didn’t like the colour of his skin. We love our son and we are going to keep fighting … obviously the foundation is not going to give us back our son but maybe it will give us some sort of closure. We are victims of this as well and it’s going to be with us forever.
“We are not on a witch-hunt or (seeking) vengeance, it is just the right thing: we need to recognise the crime that’s been done here, it should not be any lesser because it was an Aboriginal boy.”
The Errol Wyles Justice Foundation dinner takes place tonight in the Marriott Hotel at Sydney’s Circular Quay.