Ms Dhu’s treatment by WA police ‘inhumane’, says Coroner

West Australia Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan admits police failed in their care of Ms Dhu. Photo: AAP

WA Police will no longer keep people in police lock-up for unpaid fines and will instead take them to prison, following the death in custody of Aboriginal woman, Ms Dhu, in 2014.

This follows yesterday’s WA Coroner’s damning finding of the treatment of an Aboriginal woman who died in custody, which labelled police behaviour “inhumane”, saying her life could have been saved if doctors had properly diagnosed her.

Handing down her findings into the death of 22-year-old Ms Dhu, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, Ros Fogliani also decided to release CCTV footage of the last hours of her life on August 4, 2014.

Ms Dhu had been detained at the South Hedland Police Station lock up for three days for unpaid fines totalling $3,622, but “suffered a catastrophic deterioration in her health” while in police custody, the coroner found.

Ms Fogliani has recommended the law be changed so people could no longer be imprisoned for the non-payment of fines.

But speaking outside the Perth Central Law Courts after the findings were delivered today, Ms Dhu’s mother Della Roe said she was not happy with the coroner’s recommendations, because no-one had been held accountable for her daughter’s death.

Ms Dhu had suffered two broken ribs after her partner threw her to the ground in April 2014, but one rib never healed properly and became infected.

The coroner found the infection entered her bloodstream more than once when she was injecting herself with amphetamines.

Ms Dhu was arrested on August 2 for the unpaid fines relating to a variety of offences, including the assault of an officer, before she complained of rib pain and was taken to the Hedland Health Campus.

But she displayed no signs of infection and was discharged back into police custody, with a doctor diagnosing her as having “behavioural issues”.

Ms Fogliani said when Ms Dhu was taken to the hospital again the next day, her temperature was not taken, a chest X-ray was not performed and “errors were made and there was a missed opportunity to treat Ms Dhu for her infection”.

“On this presentation, antibiotics would have been potentially life saving for Ms Dhu,” Ms Fogliani said.

On the morning of the August 4, Ms Dhu then suffered a “catastrophic decline” in her health, but the coroner found police officers thought she was faking her symptoms, including her collapse.

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.

“It is profoundly disturbing to witness the appalling treatment of this young woman at the lock-up on 4 August 2014.”

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.

WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan announced the changes just hours after the Coroner handed down her findings.

Liquor stores and outlets in Ms Dhu’s home town of South Hedland were closed by police last night due to fears of civil disorder, following the release of CCTV footage which showed police treatment of Ms Dhu during the final moments before her death.

ABC

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