Cronulla riot ‘hero’ Craig Campbell still paying the price 13 years on
Craig Greenhill’s photo of Craig Campbell beating people back during the Cronulla riot. (ABC News)
For many people, Craig Campbell is a hero.
It was during the Cronulla riots, 13 years ago today, that he dispersed a crowd that was beating up two young Middle Eastern men on a carriage at the train station.
“The crowd was sort of circulating around, chanting and cheering,” witness and photographer Craig Greenhill told 7.30.
“And then there was two guys who decided to go in there and attack them.
“No one was standing up for them until Craig Campbell came.
“I think he’s a hero of the Cronulla riots.”
‘It all turned ugly…’
Mr Campbell was a police officer with over 15 years of service in 2005.
“I joined the NSW Police because I wanted to do something for my community,” he told 7.30.
But he had a bad feeling about that now infamous day.
“It just started out as an 8:00am shift, let’s go and see what it’s going to be like,” he said.
“I drove up towards Woolooware train station and see this girl walking down — and this is like 8:30-9:00am — with a [Vodka] Cruiser in her hand, drinking it.
“I just said to the boys, this is going to turn to sh*t by lunchtime … and it did.”
There were already tensions between local white Australians and young Lebanese-Australian men from the western suburbs.
Then reports that a lifeguard had been assaulted became a catalyst for the riots.
“It all turned ugly … when I saw three people of maybe Mediterranean backing, walking along the beachfront,” Mr Greenhill said.
“They got spotted by the crowd — about 1,000 of the crowd decided to turn on them, start chasing them.
“And then there’s whispers, ‘There’s a train-load of Lebanese coming to Cronulla’.
“And then, slowly but surely, everyone turned and started to run up to Cronulla train station.”
It was there that Mr Greenhill witnessed the sickening attack on the two youths.
‘He was an old-school cop, he just took control’
Photographer Craig Greenhill saw Craig Campbell protect the young men who were attacked. (ABC News)
Mr Campbell was one of the first police officers on the scene.
“[The young men] were getting hit with bottles and being kicked and punched and everything,” he said.
“I used my baton to move people on.”
“He was just going hell for leather, smacking anyone in sight. And he dispersed most people really quickly,” Mr Greenhill said.
“He got to the guy that was getting beat up in front of me, and grabbed him and held him.
“Without him … he was an old-school cop as I see it, and he just took control.”
“I had to get the two young blokes out of there to safety … I had to get them medical attention,” Mr Campbell said.
“I had no option. What were we going to do? Say, ‘Excuse me can you please move back so we can get these two young blokes out that you’re trying to beat to death’?”
The photos that Mr Greenhill took were used as evidence in court and put Mr Campbell on the front page of newspapers around the world.
Off the force
Locals hailed Mr Campbell for his actions.
“The people of Cronulla were so disgusted with these redneck idiots that they were actually coming into the Cronulla police station with homemade biscuits and cakes and boxes of lollies and everything, just going, ‘Here, thank you very much for doing what you’re doing’,” Mr Campbell said.
And initially his superiors in NSW Police were of the same mind.
Mr Campbell was nominated for a Commissioner’s Commendation for Courage.
But that was revoked when it was determined he used excessive force in getting the two young men to safety.
“Some bloody carpeted-corridor shuffler decided I used excessive force,” he said.
Two years later he suffered a breakdown and in 2009 he left the force with chronic PTSD.
‘He suffered, we suffered’
Dr Jamal Rifi rallied the Muslim community to help Craig Campbell after he left the police. (ABC News)
Appalled by his treatment and grateful for what he did, the Muslim community rallied around the former officer.
“What he did was extraordinary,” community leader Dr Jamal Rifi told 7.30.
“What he suffered from was also extraordinary.”
Dr Rifi initiated the Craig Campbell Cohesion Cup, a charity soccer match, to help him get back on his feet.
“Craig is the symbol of what NSW Police force stood for — someone who stood his ground, defended innocent people from thugs,” he said.
“He suffered, we suffered.”
Mr Campbell still bears the scars, but they are healing.
“I am so grateful for [the Muslim community] because I was struggling at the time,” he said.
“That really helped me out a lot.”
He now lives a quieter life in rural NSW.
“This is the best place for me to be,” he said.
“The people I’ve met here are just incredibly great, generous, nice people.”
But that fateful day in 2005 will always be with him.
“I’ve lost my job that I always wanted to do, I’ve lost my 30-year marriage, my house, everything … everything I worked for since I was like 14,” he said.
“That’s a big burden to carry.”