There was a disturbance outside the Flinders Hotel last Sunday, one of the hottest days on record, after a young police constable was alleged to have assaulted a man amongst the crowd of drinkers outside the hotel.
During the night, the large crowd at the Flinders Hotel moved onto the streets outside the pub because of the heat. Most of the people were in Hill Street, the lane between Flinders Street and Bourke Street. Some others were on the pavement of Flinders Street.
Drinking on the street is illegal in NSW but in summer it happens in many pubs in Sydney and is generally ignored as long as it results in no disruption.
Graham Blacker of All Australian Boy, who was present throughout the incident, said that while the crowd was causing no trouble it had at one point completely blocked off Hill Street. He said that a car that turned into the lane did have trouble getting through and that people put cans on its roof and jostled it to some extent.
A short time later Graham saw a paddy wagon driving down the opposite side of Flinders Street and realised it was about to do a u-turn and come back. He said that he suggested to people on Flinders Street that they move into Hill Street. Everyone except three people did this.
Graham said that when the paddy wagon pulled up, a young constable jumped out and began to demand very aggressively that everyone move off the street.
Other witnesses said that when people didn’t move fast enough the constable said something like You shits get off the road, and If anyone wants to take me on here I am.
They said that while they were upset at his tone, they began to comply. Graham said everyone left the street and crowded on the footpaths. Craig Johnston who was also present said that after everyone was on the footpath the constable yelled something. Others said the constable yelled, don’t throw cans at us. Craig, Graham and other eyewitnesses spoken to, said they saw no cans thrown.
At this point the constable advanced on a Fijian man and began dragging him out of the crowd. Craig said he didn’t clearly see what happened but saw the Fijian man stumble and fall. Graham said that the constable in fact knocked the man to the ground by hitting him with his open palm. Other people have confirmed Graham’s account. They said the constable then hit the man at least one more time. Craig said he believed the constable punched the man between one and three times.
All witnesses said that while the Fijian man was definitely drunk he was not offensive or abusive and was not actively resisting arrest. The crowd became instantly hostile and swarmed back onto the street demanding to know why the man had been seized and why he was being punched. Many in the crowd said they were extremely angry and several were yelling -˜poofter basher’ at the constable. An older policeman who was with the young constable in the paddy wagon at this point came forward and helped the young constable drag the Fijian man to the paddy wagon. Several people followed the two to the paddy wagon, continuing to demand why the man was being held. Graham said several expressed fears about the man’s safety in the Darlinghurst cells.
At this point the young constable again began abusing the crowd, said Graham. It was at this point, he said, the crowd began throwing barrage of beer cans and glasses at the paddy wagon. Graham said the mood was very ugly by then and that they nearly began rioting. Graham said he had never felt like that but if it had gone any further he would have joined in.
At this point according to several at the scene, the young constable backed off and went and got in the paddy wagon while the older constable tried to calm everyone down. Craig said he believed the constable may have then called for reinforcements, as shortly after two paddy wagons and at least one car arrived carrying several policemen and women.
Peter van Nierop, another eyewitness, said one of the women constables was a bit aggressive but that most of the others were fairly calm. Graham said that all the later police arrivals were very pleasant and defused the situation. People began moving back into the pub and onto the footpaths.
Several people later rang Darlinghurst police station to complain about the young constable’s behaviour. They also got his number which has been passed to the Sydney Star.
Graham Blacker said one of his friends rang the police station. They hung up on him. When the man rang the police station again he was put on hold for five minutes. After waiting that time he gave up.
The Sydney Star spoke to the duty sergeant at Darlinghurst Police Station on the Wednesday after the incident. According to the sergeant there is no record of any trouble. He said, the only information we have here is that people were on the footpath and were asked to move. Which they did.
When questioned about the detaining of the Fijian man, he said he had no information. The Sergeant, in comment about the allegations that constable 7310 had hit the man said, I wouldn’t think that would be right.