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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Lorena Allam Indigenous affairs editor

Zachary Rolfe may have tried to pervert course of justice with open letter, inquest told

Zachary Rolfe at the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker in Alice Springs in November.
Zachary Rolfe at the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker in Alice Springs in November. Photograph: Aaron Bunch/AAP

Constable Zachary Rolfe may have made an “attempt to pervert the course of justice” in writing an open letter about his conduct, and media outlets that published it could be investigated for contempt, according to explosive evidence given to a coronial inquest.

The inquest into the shooting death of Warlpiri teenager Kumanjayi Walker resumed on Monday.

Walker, 19, was shot dead by Rolfe during a botched arrest in the remote Northern Territory community of Yuendumu in 2019. Rolfe was cleared of all criminal charges in relation to the shooting. He has been pursuing legal action to avoid giving evidence at the inquest, and wrote an open letter before leaving the country late last week.

Rolfe said in a 2,500-word statement published on Facebook that he was a “good cop” who “loved the job”, but that he had been “painted” as racist and violent.

Acting for the NT police, Ian Freckelton SC on Monday said the force was “extremely concerned” about Rolfe’s conduct.

“It seems to be some kind of a campaign mounted on behalf of Mr Rolfe that he be praised for his conduct and be given a medal for it,” Freckelton told the coroner, Elisabeth Armitage.

“He is persisting in a campaign, it would appear, to try to destabilise the Northern Territory police force [and] imputes a variety of slurs against the executive, including that they are ‘narcissists’, ‘liars’, ‘cowards’ and similar. He describes one senior member of the NT police force as a clown who has taken over a castle.

“We don’t know whether the motive of Mr Rolfe is to try to intimidate the two members of the executive who are going to be giving evidence before you this week.

“If that is his motive, it is an attempt to pervert the course of justice. It is an attempt to interfere with your inquest. As best we read it, that seems to be the aspiration of Mr Rolfe. It will fail.”

Freckelton said Rolfe’s lawyers had been served with a notice to give a response in relation to his conduct within seven days.

“Depending on what response is received, further action is going to take place, and if appropriate, swiftly,” he said.

Extracts from Rolfe’s open letter were published in The Australian and the Daily Telegraph, and it was reproduced in full on the “I support Zach Rolfe” Facebook page.

Appearing on behalf of Walker’s families, Andrew Boe told the court a group of reports contained “very false allegations about Kumanjayi which were denigrating of him”.

“They’re deplorable and hurtful to the family,” he said.

Boe said they must be publicly refuted through the inquest process.

He tendered as evidence Rolfe’s open letter, an opinion piece by Vicki Campion published in the Daily Telegraph on 25 February 2023, a USB containing a recording of Peta Credlin on Sky News speaking with Campion, and comments on the “I support Zach Rolfe” Facebook page, including a comment attributed to Rolfe’s mother, Deborah.

“The publications contain contemptuous remarks about this coronial investigation, and the inquest, and about your honour, and our submission is that they be refuted in court,” Boe said.

“And if appropriate, to refer these matters to the director of public prosecutions or the attorney general to investigate whether contempt proceedings should be brought against any individual or organisation.”

Boe read to the court a comment on the Facebook page attributed to Rolfe’s mother: “‘He writes so powerfully, and with such strength and emotion, I am very proud of him.’ She then directs readers to the I Support Zachary Rolfe page to read Const Rolfe’s letter in full.

“Now we understand Mrs Rolfe is a practising lawyer in the ACT. Consideration should be given by your honour or counsel assisting … to make a complaint about her conduct in being associated with these publications to the ACT Law Society.”

Freckelton also referred to a “deeply troubling” article in The Australian which he said contained material that was “nothing short of disgraceful and despicable”.

“It imputes particular behaviours to Kumanjayi Walker for which there is no evidence whatsoever,” Freckelton said.

“It is an appalling slur on a deceased man that were he alive he would be able to take very, very serious defamation proceedings in respect of this material.”

Armitage will hear from police officers and public servants over the next two weeks.

The inquest was expected to be finalised by the end of last year but could now run until August.

The NT supreme court ruled in December that Rolfe could be compelled to testify at the inquest, but his legal team has appealed. Rolfe has argued he should not be forced to answer questions that may result in disciplinary action at work.

Rolfe left Australia days after he said he had been issued another disciplinary notice and informed by command that they planned to sack him from the police force because of his mental health.

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