Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The coronial inquest into the 2017 death in custody of a Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Wiradjuri man began on Monday in Victoria.
Raymond Noel Lindsay Thomas, referred to as Raymond Noel as requested by the family, died during a police pursuit on June 25, 2017 after he was driving home from his local supermarket in Preston South.
After 11.00pm that night, after buying a block of chocolate, Raymond Noel was pursued by a highway patrol car. The officers announced his death just 21 seconds after formally calling in the pursuit to their area command.
Raymond Noel died less than three kilometres from the supermarket he visited.
After years of advocating, Raymond Noel’s family will have the chance to learn what happened the evening of his death. His parents Aunty Debbie and Uncle Ray described their son as a “gentle giant who loved his family”.
“Every day since Raymond Noel died has been very difficult for us,” they said.
“We have wanted our day in court for so long, but we know that it will be a painful time and we hope that we will finally get some answers.”
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) is supporting the family through the coronial inquest.
The legal service hopes the inquest will shine a light on the disproportionate rate of police pursuits on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
VALS acting chief executive George Selvanera is asking the media and public to respect the family during the inquest and to refer to Raymond Noel as Raymond Noel or use his full name.
“To do otherwise would cause considerable distress to his family,” said Selvanera.
“We also ask that everyone be understanding that these are sensitive matters, and that it will be a difficult time for the Thomas family.”
Raymond Noel’s family said that no matter what happens in court, they will hold the memories of Raymond Noel close.
“We will remember how much he cherished his niece, Leahtia. We will remember how close he was with his brothers and how they would wake up early in the morning and wake everyone up with their laughter,” they said.
“We will remember he was a proud Aboriginal man.
“We hope the coroner can recommend changes to the Victoria Police and the Victorian Government that will ensure no one else has to experience the grief that our family is still processing.”
By Rachael Knowles