Darren Johnson was locked out of his home living under strict conditions which made working impossible. He believes he should have been compensated more.
Darren Johnson was locked out of his home living under strict conditions which made working impossible. He believes he should have been compensated more.

Riot victims say they deserve more compensation

Darren Johnson spent 10 months locked out of his Palm Island home living under strict conditions which made working impossible.

He was subject to random police raids and daily court appearances, all because he was a bystander amid the Palm Island riots.

Earlier this year, he was one of hundreds of residents to receive a payout as part of a class-action lawsuit spurred by the police brutality following the Palm Island riots in 2004.

But when Mr Johnson's $4500 cheque came his wife Rani sent it back. This was 90 per cent of his $5000 total payout.

Now calling Hope Valley home, the Johnsons are fighting for their fair share of the $30m awarded to the victims of the lawsuit, with the husband and wife believing they should have been entitled to more.

27 Nov 2004 The burnt-out Police Station and Court House on Palm Island. P
27 Nov 2004 The burnt-out Police Station and Court House on Palm Island. P

The pair are challenging how the money was divided between Palm Island claimants.

The class action was launched following the landmark court decision in 2018 which found police were racist to Palm Islanders in the aftermath of the highly publicised riots.

Mr Johnson, a lifelong Palm Island resident born in Townsville, had not been involved in the riots, but watched as the chaos unfolded. He heard his name had been included in a list the police planned to arrest, and instead of waiting for the door to be knocked down, Mr Johnson handed himself in.

For the next 10 months, Mr Johnson lived under strict bail restrictions: attend court every day, report to the police station every day, do not go near any other persons involved in the riots, do not return to Palm, do not attend rallies and follow a six-to-six curfew.

Mrs Johnson said the compensation her 55-year-old husband received did not go far enough.

"He was put into 'general damages' and that was just for $5000," she said. "They said that because he gave himself in, it wasn't related to what happened on that day, and that affected us for nearly a year.

"People got a hell of a lot more money who were just stuck in Townsville for the day. One day of their life.

"Transparency and some answers, why wasn't there a group that related to his circumstances?"

Mrs Johnson said her husband had struggled to work while on bail because of the strict conditions.

27 Nov 2004 The burnt-out Police Station and Court House on Palm Island.
27 Nov 2004 The burnt-out Police Station and Court House on Palm Island.

"It was really hard, I had to stay at home and work because he was a CDP participant (work for the dole), he couldn't find a host organisation in Townsville," she said.

"He was working at the Aitkenvale Hostel, which was open at the time, but because one of the bail conditions was that the rioters were not allowed to be in proximity to one another, and Lex Wotton and his family moved into Aitkenvale Hostel, he (Darren) wasn't allowed to do his CDP days there.

"He couldn't get paid … we did manage to get him at Thuringowa Council … but when the courts started, he had to be at court every day so he couldn't do his two days."

Mrs Johnson, who worked for TAFE at the time of the riots, said the Special Emergency Response Team which rounded up rioters had confiscated her work vehicle and the TAFE building.

"There were mixed emotions … some people were dobbing in others, and it sort of put me in danger because they had my vehicle and they went through my office, they thought I was … telling on everyone, it was a really bad time," she said.

"I've seen a few of the arrests, I was in the middle of one and it was frightening."

Mrs Johnson said she was pleased Palm Islanders had been compensated for the horrific way they were treated, but this was almost a year of their lives the Johnsons will never get back.

"Not only me, my father-in-law, he suffered just as much," Mrs Johnson said.

"They knocked the doors down at his place at all hours.

"They just walked in and shined the torch."

The Johnsons have hired Wren and Co Lawyers from Sydney to find out how the money was divided between claimants.

Kas Wren said from a legal perspective, the firm was still investigating options for the Johnsons and said anyone in a similar situation should get in contact.

>>Email Kasturi.wren@wrenco.com.au.

Originally published as Riot victims say they deserve more compensation



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