Taking too long to implement the Coroner's recommendations on death of Mr Ward

Jun 14, 2010 ABC News

Supporters of Mr Ward compensation call
Photo: Supporters of Mr Ward call for compensation and charges to be laid over the Mr Wards death - March 2010

The Aboriginal Legal Service says it's taking too long to implement recommendations from the coronial inquest into the death of the Aboriginal elder Mr Ward.

The coroner Alistair Hope made a number of recommendations about changes to WA's prisoner transport system following the death of Mr Ward in a prison transport van in the Goldfields in 2008.

A parliamentary committee is now hearing evidence about the progress of implementing those recommendations.

The CEO of the ALS, Dennis Eggiongton, said the whole program had been hit by delays.

Mr Eggington said there needs to be more public scrutiny of the prisoner transport company G4S .

He said WA has a very high indigenous incarceration rate because the Aboriginal community is over-policed.

Mr Eggington said there's still too many indigenous people being jailed.

"The Aboriginal community in WA and Australia-wide is over policed," he said.

"From young kids who are on remand and never get a custodial sentence right through to adults who are arrested for the sorts of things Mr Ward was, the jails of WA are full of Aboriginal people."


Family wants more compo after prison van death

Jun 14, 2010 ABC News

Goldfields elder Mr Ward died in the back of a scorching hot prison van in 2008

The family of an Aboriginal elder who died in custody wants the Western Australian Government to pay it millions of dollars in compensation.

Goldfields elder Mr Ward died in the back of a scorching hot prison van in 2008.

Coroner Alastair Hope made a number of recommendations urging widespread changes to WA's prisoner transportation service following Mr Ward's death.

Mr Ward's cousin Daisy has criticised the Government for failing to implement those recommendations.

The Ward family received a $200,000 interim ex-gratia payment but Daisy Ward says the final amount needs to be in line with the payment to Andrew Mallard, who was wrongly convicted of murder.

"We want a lot of money. We want millions of dollars," she said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter says the Government is well advanced in implementing the Coroner's recommendations about prisoner transportation.

But Marc Newhouse from the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee says the Government has only tinkered with the system since Mr Ward's death.

"Over two years down the track and as far as we're concerned there's been too little change that's occurred," he said.

"What Eddie Mabo was to native title, let Mr Ward be to the justice system."


Coroner's damning findings on elder's prison van death

David Weber ABC PM Jun 12, 2009

'Wholly unnecessary" death: Mr Ward suffered third-degree burns in the back of the prison van

The West Australian Coroner has given his findings in the case of a man who was effectively cooked to death in the back of a prison van.

Last January an Aboriginal elder known as Mr Ward was being driven in the back of the van through the searing temperatures of The Goldfields.

The air-conditioning unit was not working and the temperature inside reached 50 degrees Celsius.

Before he died, the 46-year-old from Warburton suffered third-degree burns where his body touched the hot metal floor.

Coroner Alistair Hope handed down his long-awaited findings on Friday.

Mr Hope said Mr Ward died as a result of heat stroke which was caused by grossly excessive heat in the pod in the transit van taking him from Laverton to Kalgoorlie.

He 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.

He also said the fact the prison van did not have a spare tyre was an indication of the transport company's "reckless" approach to prisoner safety.

He said it was a disgrace that a prisoner in the 21st Century, particularly someone who was not convicted, was transported such a distance in such a compartment.

The Coroner expressed his disgust at the state of the compartment, saying it had all-metal surfaces, very little light, and no restraints to protect the person inside if the vehicle had come to grief in some way.

There was a lack of air flow and there was no proper method of communication between the pod and the drivers.

He said there was a panic button in the back but it was not prominent and only set off a light in the driver's compartment which could not be seen in daytime.

The fan did not work when it was tested, the air-conditioning was not working, and in any case the air-conditioning was not appropriate to be driving people such long distances in remote areas.

He said it was difficult to imagine a more uncomfortable environment.

West Australian Attorney General Christian Porter has called the incident tragic and avoidable.

Mr Porter says he expects Mr Ward's family will apply to him for a compensation payment but would not say how much would be offered.

He also has not ruled out a $100,000 contractual penalty against the prison transport company, GSL.

"The contractors have moved those two employees from Kalgoorlie to Perth, and they are no longer involved in prisoner transport," he said.

"Perhaps if that $100,000 penalty was applied, that might go to Mr Ward's family in the nature of a compensatory payment."

Arbitrary and inflexible

The Coroner said there were two pods on the vehicle; one directly behind the cabin, which was not so bad - there was cushioning on the seats and there was the possibility of opening windows.

But there was an "arbitrary and inflexible" rule that all prisoners should be considered high risk in the case when there is only one person being transported, and should be placed further away from the cabin.

In their evidence, the officers driving the van had said that they thought the air-conditioning was working.

No action was taken against the officers by their company GSL.

A GSL representative said they had not broken any of the procedures or rules.

The officers said they did not know why they did not check on Mr Ward during the four-hour journey.

When they heard what sounded like a fall, when Mr Ward hit the bottom of the pod, they realised that something was wrong.

The Coroner said that it appeared that Mr Ward died fairly early in the trip because he was given around 600mls of water to drink and there was still some water in the bottle when he was found unconscious in the back of the van.

Some GSL staff had been complaining for some time that the vehicles were not roadworthy for such long distances.

Dennis Eggington from the West Australian Aboriginal Legal Service says the Coroner conducted a thorough investigation into Mr Ward's death.

"His investigation and findings have proven that there's alot to be answered and people really need to be aware there are a couple of departments that have got blood on their hands at the moment," he said.


$200,000 payment plan for Mr Ward's family

Mar 17, 2010 ABC news

Supporters of Mr Ward call for compensation and charges to be laid over the elder's death

The State Government has confirmed an interim ex-gratia payment of $200,000 is proposed for the family of an Aboriginal elder who died of heatstroke after being transported in a prison van.

The payment is yet to be approved by State Cabinet.

In spite of the announcement, demonstrators outside Parliament House crowded into the public gallery to continue their protest.

Parliament was briefly suspended while about 70 of them were escorted from the gallery.

Earlier, they rallied on the steps of State Parliament, chanting "shame" as they called for compensation and said they were frustrated no criminal charges had been laid following Mr Ward's death.

Greens MLC Giz Watson addressed the crowd.

She said the government failed in its duty of care of Mr Ward.

"I think the fundamental question in regards to Mr Ward is that he should not have been in the van to start with."

Speaking before the rally, Marc Newhouse from the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee said family and supporters wanted those responsible for Mr Ward's death to be charged, and the contract with prisoner transportation firm G4S terminated.

"There have been three outstanding matters that we have not seen action on, which is in our view outrageous - they are compensation for the Ward family, secondly criminal charges being laid and thirdly the termination of the contract with G4S," he said.