3 November 2023

Results of police investigation into footballers' arrests should be made public

| Ian Bushnell
Join the conversation

Latrell Mitchell and Jack Wighton leave court after all charges were dismissed. Photo: Albert McKnight.

It hasn’t been a good year for the ACT’s contracted police force.

Already under pressure over response times and a perceived lack of presence in the suburbs, ACT Policing found itself the centre of unwanted national attention, first through the trial of Bruce Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins at Parliament House and the aftermath when the trial was aborted, and now the court appearance of two high-profile NRL stars, who just happened to be Indigenous men.

READ ALSO Proposed airport road would slay future of earless dragon, environmentalists say

The case against Jack Wighton and Latrell Mitchell over their so-called brawl in the city in February this year was a train wreck for the police, with all charges dismissed after a senior officer admitted giving false evidence and having a “memory problem”.

The court also heard how he had led a group of nine police officers in a discussion after the incident to compile a statement about what had happened, something he admitted was “definitely not the best way to do things” when challenged about it by Wighton’s lawyer.

CCTV footage clearly shows the South Sydney footballers, a little worse for wear, engaged in a bit of push and shove but not a blow was struck.

The police arrived late, with whatever was happening having run its course. The swarming arrest of Mitchell by multiple officers appears an overreaction.

ACT Policing has launched its own internal investigation into the incident, before which police kicked Wighton out of Fiction nightclub, where the pair had been celebrating his birthday.

Canberra Raiders CEO Don Furner, who made representations to police and the DPP on behalf of his former charge Wighton, said the whole matter could have been avoided.

No doubt police in hindsight would agree.

The whole affair again throws a spotlight on how the ACT’s police operate and raises questions about whether something systemic is at play.

The public expects the police to keep public order and protect people from violence in the city.

In July they went public, issuing a warning to partygoers after a couple of bad weekends when there were violent, alcohol-fuelled incidents.

But what happened with the two footballers does not engender public confidence.

Not only does it appear to be an overreaction but there appears to have been a breakdown in procedure and due process that was found out in court and in the glare of national media.

The police, so often criticised for just doing their job, once again found themselves under fire not just for sloppiness but for the vexed issue of Indigenous incarceration and its often tragic consequences.

It is right that there is an investigation, and the results should be made public.

READ ALSO Bail presumption removed for dangerous drivers who ‘put innocent lives at risk’ on Canberra’s roads

It is hoped that the incident will also prompt a review of how police go about keeping the peace in the city or elsewhere so similar incidents do not occur again.

Other less famous defendants have likely not had the means and support to contest charges, or as much to lose as these professional footballers whose licence to play could have been on the line.

The police deserve the community’s thanks and respect for the tough job they do, but those involved in this sorry episode owe it to their colleagues as much as anyone to do better.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

The AFP are not under the control of the ACT government or community, but by the Federal Government who don’t seem to be interested in their actions in the ACT. It is apparent that the contract needs to change to enable us to properly manage these government employees so they serve the territory’s needs as required. This includes more training in a variety of areas as has been made clear over the last year. They seem to forget that they police us by consent. They are not our bosses, or our superiors, but our employees.

There are clearly significant problems with the AFP in Canberra. I served for 10years in the ACT. The Assistant Commissioner needs to take responsibility, it looks like failure of training, failure of supervision and overall break down in management. There needs to be action taken to sort this mess out.

Vinson1Bernie4:29 pm 06 Nov 23

Yes the whole story should be told of the footballers actions in the station

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.