Coroner to rule in heatstroke/burns killing of Aboriginal elder in police van

UPDATE 12 June 2009 P.M.: Coroner Alistair Hope has handed down his findings in the case. The ABC reports, in “Coroner’s damning findings on elder’s prison van death”:

West Australian Coroner Alistair Hope says an Aboriginal elder who died after being driven for 360 kilometres in a prison van in 40 degrees heat suffered a “terrible” and “wholly unnecessary” death.[…]

Mr Hope said Mr Ward suffered a terrible death that was wholly unnecessary and avoidable and he died as a result of a litany of errors.

He accused the people driving the prison van of collusion and giving false evidence.


The Coroner is to hand down findings today[1] in the case of an elder killed in the back of an oven-like police van. I wrote much more detail on the killing here: “United Nations: Elder’s heatstroke death in police van possible torture or inhuman punishment“.

Stay tuned.

Also, tune in to Four Corners on Monday 15th June at 8:30 pm, where Liz Jackson will be looking at the case in “Who Killed Mr Ward?“:

We hear from the Justice of the Peace who refused Mr Ward bail, allowing him instead to be transported the 400 kilometres to a Kalgoorlie jail.

Liz Jackson: “You weren’t made aware of the fact that he’s well respected, well connected?”

Justice of the Peace: “No. No. He was an Aboriginal in a very drunken state or very groggy state. That’s all I knew him as.”

[1] Note: link includes a photograph of the deceased man

Categories: indigenous, law & order, violence


6 replies

  1. This story is so upsetting to me still that I couldn’t think of anything to comment earlier. I’m glad the coroner has ruled so clearly that what happened was so totally unacceptable and that the explanations are so obviously dodgy.

  2. Further update in The West: Hope is referring this to the director of public prosecutions, and says that the department of corrective services, transport contractor GSL and the officers that transported Mr Ward had all breached their duty of care.

    Mr Hope suggested that evidence from the two GSL officers transporting Mr Ward was unreliable at times, untruthful and even had “a sinister aspect”, querying whether they had colluded to put a shirt on Mr Ward to conceal that he had experienced difficulties with the heat during the trip.

    The article has quite a bit more on the systemic failures that provided the context for this particular killing, and includes opinions from the Aboriginal Legal Services of WA about the failure of WA government & corrective services to carry out recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

  3. Wow, is this thread quiet.
    Further update from the ABC includes that the family are considering a civil suit, plus:

    Meanwhile, Amnesty International has welcomed the Coroner’s report. Amnesty Indigenous rights campaigner Rodney Dillon believes the inquest’s findings expose violations of Australia’s human rights obligations.
    “It shows how little respect they have for Aboriginal people in this country and I think there’s going to have to be huge gaps and bridges made here,” he said. “When people have got power over our people in remote communities like this, this are the sort of things that happen and I’m really glad that this Coroner has made some of these statements.”

  4. Thank for the update, Lauredhel.
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed (but not holding my breath!) that the rest of the legal system will act appropriately following these findings.
    Also, can I just say that the idea that “well respected, well connected” would, could or should make a difference (yes, I know it’s out of context, but still…) is almost as much of an indictment of Australian culture as the response to the question.
    (Well, I can almost sorta kinda see why well-respected would make a difference in deciding whether a person got bail, but well-connected should absolutely NOT! It may do, but it shouldn’t!)

  5. Wow, is this thread quiet.
    I think that many of us, like Tigtog, just find it hard to find the words, in light of how horrifying this case is.
    I hope the people responsible for this get put away for a Very Long Time.

  6. Also, can I just say that the idea that “well respected, well connected” would, could or should make a difference (yes, I know it’s out of context, but still…)

    I’m watching 4 Corners right now, and the context was that community ties are generally considered in the course of a bail hearing. They are saying that this man was denied bail in an improperly conducted hearing in a cell, by a JP who had not trained, straight after being woken up and still groggy and affected by alcohol.
    The JP is not representing himself well in the interview.
    Inquest findings are here.

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