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Ms Dhu coronial inquest: CCTV footage showing 'inhumane' treatment to be released.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following content may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

Key points:

  • Treatment of Ms Dhu at police lock-up, hospital criticised by coroner
  • Recommendations include scrapping of jail terms for the non-payment of fines
  • Family dismisses coroner’s findings, says nobody has been held accountable

The West Australian coroner has ruled the treatment of Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu by police officers was “unprofessional and inhumane” prior to her death, and has agreed to release CCTV footage of her last hours in custody.

Coroner Ros Fogliani also ruled Ms Dhu’s death in custody could have been avoided if her infection had been diagnosed and treated.

Ms Dhu, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, died after being taken to Hedland Health Campus (HHC) on August 4, 2014 while being held at South Hedland Police Station.

She was taken into custody two days earlier because she had not paid $3,622 in fines.

Ms Dhu was taken to hospital by police officers three times within 48 hours after complaining of feeling unwell and being in pain, and died on the third trip.

An autopsy found she died of septicaemia and pneumonia caused by an infection from a broken rib.

Ms Fogliani issued a scathing assessment of the treatment of Ms Dhu by police, saying she had suffered a catastrophic deterioration while in the care of officers and health workers.

“I have concluded that Ms Dhu’s supervision, treatment and care at the lock-up, particularly on 4 August 2014, fell well below the standards that should ordinarily be expected of the Western Australia Police Service,” she said.

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“Further, the behaviour of a number of the police officers towards Ms Dhu was unprofessional and inhumane.”

Ms Fogliani said Ms Dhu’s death was preventable as early as the day before she died, because she could have been treated with antibiotics had her infection been diagnosed.

“Ms Dhu’s treatment and care at HHC on 2 and 3 August 2014 fell below the standards that should ordinarily be expected of a public hospital,” she said.

“Further, her medical treatment at HHC on 3 August 2014 was deficient, as a result of premature diagnostic closure.”

Ms Fogliani said she was allowing the release of the CCTV tapes showing Ms Dhu at the police lock-up, but with footage of her arriving at the Hedland Health Campus redacted.

The footage, which was played to the court at the start of the inquest, shows Ms Dhu being dragged from her cell unconscious by police on the morning of her death and carried into the back of a police vehicle, as well as crying and telling police she was in pain.

The coroner made a series of recommendations, including that the law to be changed so people can no longer be imprisoned for the non-payment of fines.

“I recommend that the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Act … be amended so that a warrant of commitment authorising imprisonment is not an option for enforcing payment of fines,” she said.

“Alternatively, that the [legislation] be amended to provide that where imprisonment is an option, the imprisonment must be subject to a hearing in the Magistrates Court and determined by a Magistrate who should be authorised to make orders other than imprisonment if he or she deems it appropriate.”

Ms Fogliani also recommended a custody notification service be introduced in WA like those in Victoria and NSW and Victoria, requiring a lawyer to be contacted when an Aboriginal person is detained.

There were cries of “racism” and “shame on you” from the gallery in court after the coroner finished handing down her findings.

Speaking outside court, Ms Dhu’s family said they were unhappy with the coroner’s findings because nobody was being held accountable.

This post originally appeared on ABC News.


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