Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The Victorian Coroners Court has delayed the inquest into the death of an Aboriginal woman in custody in January 2020 due to the complexity of the case.
The inquest into the death of 37-year-old Veronica Nelson has been postponed for almost a year after it was due to start in June. It will now take place on April 26, 2022.
Nelson died while on remand at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre three days after being arrested and refused bail for shoplifting-related offences. It’s understood the Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman called for medical assistance numerous times before dying alone in her cell.
“I don’t want it to happen again. I want to make it easier for the next women who get locked up. I want them to be looked after more. I want them to get more support and treatment in the community,” said Nelson’s partner of 22 years, Percy Lovett.
“I want everyone to know why and how they went wrong and didn’t do the job they were supposed to do. I want people to know, because she was a strong woman.”
“I want accountability … I want Veronica to be heard.”
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s (VALS) Wirraway team, who specialise in Specialist Legal and Litigation Practice, are representing Lovett in the inquest.
The organisation believes the inquest will expose deficiencies in the quality of care provided in Victorian prisons and the impact of current bail laws which disproportionately impact Aboriginal peoples — particularly Aboriginal women.
Currently in Victoria, Aboriginal women are 13 per cent of the inmate population despite making up just one per cent of the State’s general population.
“Veronica Nelson should be alive today, living with her community and sharing culture,” said Director of Legal Services at VALS, Moricia Vrymoet.
“It gives us some hope that the inquest will examine the systemic issues surrounding bail laws and health care in Victorian prisons. We need the Victorian Government to pay attention and learn from their mistakes.
“The bail laws introduced by Daniel Andrews and the Victorian Government have become a lethal weapon of the State and are being used against Aboriginal people.”
The news of the delayed inquest comes after the Victorian Government recently announced the expansion of the Dame Phyllis Frost Correctional Centre.
By Rachael Knowles