Tue, Jun 16, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Aborigine ‘cooked’ to death in van in Australian desert

CRIMINAL Security took the man for being drunk, threw him in the back of a van with a 600ml bottle of water and drove 402km with no air conditioning

THE GUARDIAN , SYDNEY

An Aboriginal man was “cooked to death” after he spent four hours in the back of a security van in searing heat with no air conditioning as it drove across southwest Australia, an inquest has found.

The 46-year-old Aboriginal elder suffered third-degree burns after collapsing in the heat and falling to the floor of the van while it traveled 402km from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in 47°C heat.

Ward, whose first name cannot be used because of an Aboriginal cultural prohibition that forbids relatives from naming their dead, had been arrested a day earlier in January last year for drinking and driving.

He was given 600ml of water but the coroner found he died before he could finish it.

His body temperature was so high that when he arrived unconscious at Kalgoorlie hospital, medical staff could not cool his body down, despite giving him an ice bath.

He also had a cut on his head from falling in the van and a third-degree burn to his stomach from lying on the vehicle’s hot metal floor.

The West Australian coroner, Alistair Hope, found that Ward was effectively “cooked” to death and criticized the state prisons department, the private security firm that operated the van and the two guards who escorted Ward.

“It is a disgrace that a prisoner in the 21st century, particularly a prisoner who has not been convicted of any crime, was transported for a long distance in high temperatures,” Hope said.

The security guards, who did not check to see if he needed a toilet break, food or water, had breached their duty of care.

Hope also questioned the reliability of the guards’ evidence, prompting the company that provides the transport service, GSL, to suspend them from duty.

It has been almost 20 years since a royal commission raised the alarm over the lack of care for Australian indigenous prisoners.

The 1987 commission noted the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal Australians who were in jail and made recommendations.

Yet in 2005 a government survey revealed that, while Aborigines comprised 2 percent to 3 percent of the population, they accounted for 20 percent of prisoners.

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