26 February, 2010

Racial tensions

In the mid-90's tensions had been rising in Sydney between youth gangs of two racial groups, namely Pacific Islanders on one hand, and local Aborigines on the other. By November 1995 there was undoubtedly some bad blood between the two.

At about 9:30pm on a Tuesday night, a group of Islander boys including Sautia and Norman were hanging around in Lethbridge Park, and wandered into a nearby shop. While they were in there looking around, the staff members were having some problems with three young Aboriginal men. The staff eventually asked the three men to leave the shop. Sautia and Norman then took it upon themselves to personally escort the three young Aborigines from the premises themselves. Naturally, this caused a bit of resentment, and a fight broke out outside the shop. Sautia, Norman and another friend of theirs Tarawa were in the fight on the Islanders side, and among the Aborigines were Morgan and Anthony.

The fight was eventually broken up, but not before Tarawa was hit by a bottle, apparently thrown by one of the Aborigines. Two of the Islander boys then back to Nikau's house, a friend of theirs, and told them what happened to Tarawa. Everyone was pretty fired up, so Nikau and the other two went over to a mate's place in Emerton, called Stenschke. After hearing the story, Stenschke said they were all going back to the Lethbridge shops, where the boys said Tarawa had been attacked. While they were there Nikau picked up a kitchen knife and put it down his pants. One of the others told him to put it back, but he refused.

Nikau, Norman and the others arrived at Lethbridge Park. Some were carrying metal bars, and Nikau still had the knife. Morgan, Anthony and other Aboriginal boys were already in the park, and when they saw the approaching group of Islanders, they grabbed some fence palings and ran off into a laneway. They didn't get much further, as the Islanders caught up with them and they were set upon.

During the fight Nikau ran towards Anthony, one of the Aboriginal group, with the knife in his hand. Nikau yelled at him, accusing him of throwing the bottle that hit Tarawa earlier. Anthony turned around to run, but Nikau caught up with him and stabbed him in the back. Sautia and another Islander then laid into Anthony with an iron peg.

Morgan, who also managed to suffer some quite serious wounds, was the only one besides Nikau to make a statement about the incident. Morgan didn't see Anthony get attacked with a knife from the rear, but said there were about four Islanders around Anthony holding him by the arms, while Nikau stood between them, punching him repeatedly.

Nonetheless Anthony was stabbed in the left lung, and his aorta and pulmonary artery were severed. He died at the scene. Morgan was lucky not to suffer any permanent damage.

After the fight, Nikau and the others returned to Stenschke's house in Emerton. At that point Nikau realised he no longer had the knife. He searched for it, but could not find it. He said "I never meant to get him that bad, but it went straight through."

Nikau was charged with the murder of Anthony, and the malicious wounding of Morgan. He pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter, and guilty to malicious wounding. The Crown accepted this plea, and he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of eight years for the manslaughter. For the attack on Morgan he received a fixed term of four years, to be served at the same time.

Nikau appealed his sentence, on the basis that the Judge had not given enough consideration to his youth, the fact that his inhibitions were significantly reduced by the amount of drugs and alcohol he had consumed before the fight, and also the ongoing racial tensions between the two ethnic groups that had led up to the fight.

The Appeal Court felt that while these factors go some way to explaining Nikau's actions that night, they certainly do not excuse them. The Court also noted that Nikau was already under a probation order when he committed this offence, and that the probation order had been imposed for, among other things, menacing a member of the public.

The Court felt proper weight needed to be given to the fact that one person was dead, and another was significantly injured, all because of the deliberate use of a knife in a public brawl. In particular the Court commented that "it was not going to stand idly by while members of conflicting groups worked out their social issues in street fights, armed with weapons". Nikau's appeal was rejected.

Paulo Nikau was due for release on 28 November 2003.


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