Australia Aboriginals face unprecedented levels of racism. The most shocking recent example is that of 46-year-old Mr Ward a Aboriginal elder who was left in a prison van for 4 hours, without air conditioning, in the searing heat that rose to 42 degrees Celsius (118F).
Mr Ward who died on 27th January 2008 suffered a horrible death as he slowly suffocated receiving third degree burns on his stomach as he collapsed in the back of an unattended prison van. He had been arrested for a traffic offence. The two security guards were riding in the front of the vehicle and claimed they did not realise the air conditioning in the back was not working.
Aboriginal’s account for a shocking 40% of all deaths in custody. In 1987 the Government held a Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody that reported in 1991 and put forward 339 recommendations. Some 20 years later the majority of these have still not been implemented
G4S formerly GSL was the private contracted company responsible for transporting Mr Ward and claimed that the air conditioning in the van was faulty. A state coroner hearing the inquest into the case last year determined that the state government of Western Australia and GS4 were responsible for Mr Ward’s death. He recommended that criminal charges were considered.
However, this week Western Australia Director of Public Prosecutions Joe McGrath cause outrage when refused to prosecute stating that there was no reasonable chance of securing a conviction. He stated
“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.”
Protesters and the family of Mr Ward reacted furiously at the decision that no one is to be charged with criminal offence.
Marc Newhouse, a campaigner from Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, said a protest rally would be organised later this week.
“Mr. Ward died under the most horrendous, tortuous conditions. Conditions that were criminal,” he said.
State opposition spokesman John Quigley said it was inconceivable that no one would face charges.
“If it had been a dog in the back of the van and it had died in similar circumstances, then there is no doubt that a person would have been prosecuted under cruelty to animals.”
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”
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.”
Mr. Ward’s family has received a $200,000 interim ex gratia payment by way of compensation
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.
Mr. Porter said:
“I don’t think it’s necessarily a good idea that any payment is made contingent on the ability to take action.”
He is expected to make a recommendation to cabinet about the final payment within the next four to six weeks.