By ERWIN CHLANDA
The police is withholding information from the public about an incident in the town area that placed several children and a large number of road users in lethal danger.
The incident on Sunday night was witnessed by the writer and Alice Springs News Online reporter Kieran Finnane who reported it to the police.
We published the story on Monday morning and at 7:47am emailed the police media, giving a detailed description of events, and asking for further details, as well as CCTV images.
At 1:13pm we were told: “Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding this incident. Unfortunately we’re unable to provide you with any CCTV or photos. Hoping to have further information available either later today or tomorrow.”
When we had heard nothing by 7:09am the following morning (yesterday), more than 35 hours after the event, we asked the police for urgent information and sent a link to our original report.
At 9:13am we were told that “police are still investigating so we can’t comment”.
At 1:45pm came this email: “The offenders are in custody. Police cannot comment further.” We were not told whether charges had been laid.
At 4:18pm we were told: “As the matter is before the court, police are unable to comment as it may interfere with court proceedings.” At that time it was too late for us to cover the court hearings.
Media have an arrangement to listen to court recordings, providing that the court has given consent. This is what we tried to arrange for this morning. However, to apply for consent we have to quote the name or court file number of the defendant or defendants.
Police are withholding that information.
This is notwithstanding that the court may suppress names from publication, something we of course always comply with.
However, the public could be informed about the nature of the offences, the risk the public was exposed to, the locations, the age of the alleged offenders, the circumstances of the police work, and whether or not children were bailed and on what conditions.
Police told us they are “unable” to give us CCTV images – just as the Chief Minister touts “24 CCTV cameras will be installed at locations in Nightcliff, Palmerston and Tennant Creek with the awarding of a $1m tender – part of the Territory Labor Government’s plans to tackle alcohol-related crime and anti-social behaviour.”
What does “unable” mean? Do police not have the the images? If not, after spending millions on the equipment, how can that be the case? CCTV material was freely available from the police on many occasions, such as the attack on the Kittles car yard and the Sadadeen servo ram raid.
We were told late today: “Police will not provide you with this CCTV footage / images. The CCTV footage of the incidents you refer to were released as part of ongoing investigations seeking assistance from the public in identifying persons of interest.”
We were also told: “Police are still investigating so we can’t comment”and “when any investigation is underway, we are unable to provide any comment.”
That claim is patently absurd. Police forces in the free world keep the public informed about investigations. In the NT, nothing will be said about any investigations until they are completed? No answer.
Charges being laid are public information. Once matters come before the courts, only what is given in evidence may be reported.
Readers contacting us also want to know why no police media release was issued in this case.
Police have discontinued the practice of journalists being able to ring the Alice Springs shift or station sergeant between 5am and 6am, for a first hand account of the night’s events.
Reporters now have to deal with the Darwin-based media section. It has a member in Alice Springs but most of our negotiations about the joyriders were handled by Darwin staff.
These new restrictions on information coincide with growing public concern about juvenile delinquency in Alice Springs, and criticism levelled at Families Minister Dale Wakefield for her handling of the issues.
Meanwhile a media release this afternoon says eight vehicles were stolen over night, with the culprits still unknown.
“It is alleged unknown offender/s stole a vehicle from a home on Dixon Road sometime between 10pm and 5am. The vehicle was recovered by police today,” the release says.
“Police received a report of an unlawful entry of a residence in Araluen where unknown offenders stole a wallet, car keys and a vehicle sometime between 1am and 5:30am. The vehicle has been recovered by police.
“Around 3:30am police received another report of an unlawful entry of a business in Wilkinson Street where six vehicles were stolen.
“Five of the vehicles have been recovered, however Police are seeking public assistance in locating one vehicle which remains outstanding, a 2017 white Toyota Troop Carrier Landcruiser, South Australian registration S85 3AQV.”
PHOTO: CCTV cameras in the immediate vicinity of the car being dangerously driven by the children on Sunday.
UPDATE March 15, 8:50am: Four more youths arrested.
Police said this morning that four youths are assisting them with enquiries following reports of an alleged unlawful entry, a vehicle being stolen and subsequent police pursuit in Alice Springs overnight.
“Police attended to a report of an alleged unlawful entry of a business in Wilkinson Street and observed a vehicle driving away from the premises around 1:20 this morning,” says a media release.
“The vehicle, which was identified as being stolen from a business in Wilkinson Street on March 14, failed to stop for police and a pursuit was initiated.
“Police successfully deployed Tyre Deflation Device on Ilparpa Road and the vehicle and four of the occupants were apprehended near the south Stuart Highway.”
They are three males aged 13, 14 and 17 and a 15 year old female.
By ERWIN CHLANDA