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Inquest into Aboriginal women's prison death to probe Victorian bail laws, healthcare

Tom Zaunmayr -

An inquest into the death of an Indigenous woman suffering from a rare condition in a Victorian jail will probe the state's bail laws, healthcare and whether her Aboriginality was a factor in her death.

Gunditjmara-Dja Dja Wurrung-Wiradjuri-Yorta Yorta woman Veronica Nelson, 37, died in January 2, 2020 alone on the floor of her cell at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre just three days after being detained.

Nelson was imprisoned in late 2019 after being refused bail over suspicion of shoplifting.

Family of Nelson hope a coronial inquest beginning on Tuesday will shed light on her death and bring accountability for those that "let her down".

Nelson's partner Percy Lovett said her death was still felt deeply more than two years on.

"I walk downstairs and I still expect her to be walking around the corner," he said.

I loved her very much and I am missing her that much I don't know what to do with myself."

"Veronica was a very strong woman, she was also a very brainy person - she taught me so much about our culture.

Mr Lovett said Nelson should never have been in prison.

Investigations at the time of Nelson's death found during her brief time in prison she cried repeatedly for help, which was heard by other prisoners.

She was given painkillers and Maxolon but was not prescribed any further treatment.

After her death she was diagnosed with Wilkie's syndrome, a rare condition which causes vomiting, abdominal pain and nausea.

Family has pleaded to coroner Simon McGregor to not dehumanise Nelson, and to remember the "love, generosity and spiritual connection" she shared during her life.

Nelson's mother Aunty Donna Nelson said the inquest must lead to change.

"The lessons learned from this inquest must stop my people from dying in custody," she said.

"But let's not lose focus, this inquest is first and foremost about Veronica, and how a broken criminal justice system locked my daughter up and let her die while she begged for help, over and over."

"We are still connected spiritually and her spirit won't rest until those who are responsible for Veronica's death are exposed and held to account. Only then will my Poccum be free."

The inquest will hear from more than 60 witnesses over five weeks.

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