Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
A coronial inquest found that the police pursuit that resulted in the death of an Aboriginal man in Victoria was not justified.
The inquest into the 2017 death in custody of Raymond Noel concluded yesterday.
A proud Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Wiradjuri man, Raymond Noel died whilst being pursued by Victorian Police on June 25, 2017.
Raymond Noel was driving home from his local supermarket in Preston South after 11pm. With his recently purchased block of chocolate on the front seat, he was spotted by highway patrol and pursued based on the car’s “dodgy” appearance.
He was driving an unregistered black holden commodore.
Raymond Noel died in Victoria Street in Thornbury, only three kilometres from the supermarket. The officers, who pursued Noel at 130km/hour, announced his death just 21 seconds after calling in the pursuit to area command.
Despite calling a pursuit, the inquest heard that both officers present didn’t consider the event a “formal pursuit” and therefore did not use lights or sirens.
Four years after his death, Raymond Noel’s family were present to see the coroner hand down their findings which advocated that he was wrongly targeted.
The coroner found that the Police pursuit was not justified and there was an “alarming lack of internal rigour” by the Police review of his death.
Other recommendations included:
- The Victorian police pursuit policy should enshrine primacy of life and prioritise public safety,
- Police should not operate vehicles at high speeds without the use of lights and sirens,
- Risk assessments should be carried out before pursuits,
- And the implementation of extensive driver training for police, including simulation training.
The coroner also concluded that police treatment of both Raymond Noel and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples contributed to his response to pursuit.
It was also noted that no officer considered the damp road, traffic lights, the risk of a high-speed pursuit to public, the possibility that the car was compromised or the driver was injured, or how the pursuit would end.
“We came to this inquest without Raymond Noel and we leave it without him,” said Aunty Debbie and Uncle Ray, Raymond Noel’s parents in response to the findings.
“While we have learnt more about what happened to Ray that night, we will continue our fight for accountability.
“Ray did nothing wrong. The police should not have followed Ray that night and their decision to follow him led to his death.”
Aunty Debbie and Uncle Ray extended their thanks to the Coroner.
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) has been supporting the family through the coronial process.
Acting CEO George Selvanera addressed media alongside the family and called for the Victorian Police to take the recommendations seriously.
“The coroner made strong findings about Victoria Police policies, training, procedures, and internal reviews. Victoria Police must take the coroner’s recommendations seriously, and begin implementation of these recommendations as a matter of urgency, before any more lives are lost,” he said.
“VALS supports the coroners suggestion that police should not have pursued Raymond Noel. And to the extent that they did, it should never have been in the manner in which it did.”
Selvanera noted the “significant discrepancies” between Victorian Police written pursuit policy and its interpretation and practice by officers.
“The Inquest has also highlighted what happens when police investigate police,” he said.
“It’s taken over four years to get to this point. During that time, the family of Raymond Noel has had to live with their grief without a proper understanding of what happened to their son, their brother, their cousin.
“We have been really proud to support Raymond Noel’s family. As the Coroner said many times, they have always maintained the utmost dignity during a very difficult and traumatic time.”
By Rachael Knowles