Child charged for squirting sauce on furniture

A child was arrested and charged for squirting tomato sauce on furniture in a residential care home despite procedure dictating arrest should be used as a last resort, a royal commission has heard.

Where is the royal commission up to?

  • Hearings on the management of detention centres have wrapped up
  • Commission now hearing evidence on issues pre and post detention
  • Next hearings will focus on child protection and alternatives to detention

Lawyer for the Northern Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) Dr Peggy Dwyer told the commission a girl, who was represented by the agency, was charged with malicious damage for squirting the sauce on a piece of furniture while in a home.

Dr Dwyer recounted the matter while questioning superintendent for custody and judicial services Ian Lea on how this could have been allowed to happen given the emphasis on arrest as a last resort for juveniles.

“Isn’t this an example of a case that should have been dealt with other than by way of arrest and charging, correct?” Dr Dwyer asked.

Superintendent Lea replied: “Ideally, yes.”

Dr Dwyer also said NAAJA had made “repeated representations” to prosecutors to withdraw the charge but it was ultimately taken to a hearing where the charge was dismissed.

“I’m surprised that conversations weren’t held [with the charging officers],” Superintendent Lea said.

The commission heard there had also been a similar incident where another child had been charged with malicious damage after they broke a $5 wastepaper bin.

Political attitudes influence police behaviour

Superintendent Lea was also asked about the impact political attitudes towards crime had on the way police approached their job.

NT Police Superintendent Ian Lea was asked whether he thought children should have been arrested over squirting sauce.
PHOTO: NT Police Superintendent Ian Lea appeared before the royal commission. (Supplied: NT Royal Commission )

Dr Dwyer asked what impact the “tough on crime” approach allegedly heralded by the previous Country Liberal Party government had on police attitudes.

“Was it difficult in those circumstances to maintain an appropriate culture amongst your police [when] faced with a different culture promoted by the government and certain newspapers?” she said.

Superintendent Lea replied: “I think in that area there’s a creation of community expectations which I think can affect the thinking of some of our people.”

“But it is constantly reinforced that arrest should be the last option and I know people from my office have questioned individual police officers to say ‘OK why did we go down this pathway?'”

Superintendent Lea later said any political tone about crime and media coverage could impact the way police officers viewed and judged community expectations on crime.

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