A lawyer's group urges family to sue over Mr Ward's death

"Under civil law all prisoners are owed a duty of care by the prison to make sure their health and well being is catered for," The Australian Lawyers Alliance director Greg Barnes said. "We would certainly like to see some form of compensation for the family"

ABC News 29th June 2010


Nancy Ward, the widow of Mr Ward who died a horrible death whilst in custody.
Source: ABC News

An interim payment has been made to Nancy Ward, the widow of Mr Ward who died in custody.

A lawyer's group says the family of an Aboriginal elder, who died while being transported by prison guard contractors in searing heat, should sue the WA Government.

Mr Ward died in 2008 after being transported hundreds of kilometres across the Goldfields in a prison van with faulty air conditioning.

The temperature in the back of the van was close to 50 degrees.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has decided not to lay criminal charges against anyone involved in his death.

This is despite a coronial inquest finding that the Department of Corrective Services, the two prison van drivers and their employer G4S were all partly responsible.

The DPP, Joseph McGrath, told the family no charges can be laid because of a lack of sufficient evidence.

"The offence that it would most closely fit to is manslaughter by criminal negligence. Upon considering that offence, it was determined that it could not be said that it was a prima facie case," he said.

Duty of care

The Australian Lawyers Alliance director Greg Barnes says Mr Ward's family has a good case against the State Government.

"Under civil law all prisoners are owed a duty of care by the prison to make sure their health and well being is catered for," he said.

Mr Barnes says the Ward family should sue.

"We would certainly like to see some form of compensation for the family. They've suffered enormously and in this particular case, you've had a full coronial inquest which has meted out responsibility to various parties," he said.

Mr Ward's family has received a $200,000 interim ex gratia payment.

The Attorney-General Christian Porter says a civil law suit should not affect the size of the final payment which is yet to be determined.

"I don't think it's necessarily a good idea that any payment is made contingent on the ability to take action," he said.

Mr Porter is expected to make a recommendation to cabinet about the final payment within the next four to six weeks.

Review

WA Police have reviewed how they conducted the investigation into Mr Ward's death.

The findings of the review have been sent to the State Coroner.

In a statement, Police Deputy Commissioner Chris Dawson says officers should have separated the two guards who transported Mr Ward before they were interviewed.

He says this did not happen.

Aboriginal Legal Service 'flabbergasted' by death in custody decision

ABC News 28th June 28

A rally was held earlier this year to protest against Mr Ward's death in custody (file)

West Australia's Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) says it cannot understand why the Government will not be pursuing criminal charges over the death of Warburton elder, Mr Ward.

The 47-year-old died after being transported in the back of a prison van in searing heat through the Goldfields in 2008.

The airconditioning in the back of the van was not working and Mr Ward collapsed on the trip from Laverton to Kalgoorlie when temperatures reached into their 40s.

ALS president Dennis Eggington says the Coroner clearly identified who was to blame and why.

A coronial inquest found the Department of Corrective Services, the two prison van drivers and their employer G4S were all partly responsible for his death.

But yesterday, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Joseph McGrath, told Mr Ward's family he would not be pursuing any charges because there was no prospect of convictions.

Mr Eggington says he is flabbergasted.

"I believe the Coroner gave some very clear direction about who was responsible and why," he said.

Unjust

Marc Newhouse from the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee says justice has not been served.

"There is something seriously, seriously wrong with our criminal justice system," he said.

"They're silent on the question of charges against the Department of Corrective Services as well as the company. It's just not acceptable. There is just not enough information, the process hasn't been accountable or transparent and we're going to take this further."

Mr Newhouse says there should be an independent investigation into the handling of the case.

Shadow Attorney-General John Quigley says the DPP and Attorney-General must provide a full explanation as to why there will be no prosecutions.

The DPP is expected to speak about the case today.