Aboriginal boy locked up for taking ice-cream

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The Independent Online

A 15-year-old Aboriginal boy was held in custody for 12 days and flown nearly 1,000 miles to face court for trying to steal an ice-cream.

A 15-year-old Aboriginal boy was held in custody for 12 days and flown nearly 1,000 miles to face court for trying to steal an ice-cream.

Authorities spent about £4,000 transporting the boy, known only as Joshua, to Perth from his home in Onslow, a tiny coastal town in Western Australia. At the Children's Court in Perth, the judge said he was astounded and described Joshua's treatment as "over the top, to say the least".

According to The Australian newspaper, the boy had been in trouble several times in the past. In February the president of the Children's Court, Judge Dennis Reynolds, placed him on 12 months' probation for multiple charges of aggravated burglary. Those offences were his "third strike" under Western Australia's tough burglary laws.

Thus was the full force of the law brought to bear on Joshua when he was found to have stolen a hazelnut roll ice-cream from a supermarket in Onslow, hiding it down the back of his shorts. Challenged by an employee, he at first denied taking it. Then he owned up and produced the ice-cream, which was returned to the shop owner.

Onslow police refused to give him bail, The Australian reported, and drove him to the nearest sizeable town, Karratha, 200 miles north, where he was locked up in the police station. The next day he appeared before two magistrates, who remanded him to appear in court in Perth, the state capital.

Joshua was escorted by police on the flight to Perth and then incarcerated in a juvenile detention centre. When he appeared in court before Judge Reynolds, he pleaded guilty to one charge of attempted theft. The judge said the police might have acted out of desperation, but added: "I don't think he should be here."

The boy was sent home without any fresh sanctions. But his lawyer, Peter Collins, lambasted police for locking him up rather than using tactics more appropriate to his age and situation. "The approach taken on this occasion smacks of overkill," he told the court.

Mr Collins said the case was another example of a young Aboriginal offender falling foul of police repeatedly, "and whose punishment for that is to be over-policed for the most innocuous breach of the law, to a point that eventually cost him his liberty".

The Aboriginal Legal Service said the case showed the rough justice meted out to black Australians compared with their white counterparts. Statistics show that young Aborigines are far more likely than white youths to be arrested and held in custody.

Dennis Egginton, director of the legal service, said: "There is this feeling that these young people are somehow a menace to society.

"But really they are a product of society, and society has to take a responsibility to put these kids back on the rails."

Joshua's family support is said to be non-existent. His father says he can no longer cope, while his mother is an alcoholic with a violent partner, living in a small flat with nine other people. She was forced to leave her home after water and power services were disconnected because of unpaid bills.

Joshua's treatment was condemned by the state's justice minister, John D'Orazio, who called it disgraceful and ridiculous.