Australia

Inquest into 22-year-old Indigenous man Tane Chatfield's death in NSW custody begins

A painting of Tane Chatfield Source: NITV News

An inquest into the death of a 22-year-old Indigenous man in Tamworth Correctional Centre in 2017 has began, with evidence heard from the man's last cellmate.

An inquest into the death of an Indigenous man in New South Wales custody has heard the young father may have had multiple seizures and was distressed to be separated from his cellmate on his last night in remand.

Tane Chatfield died in September 2017 after being held on remand at Tamworth Correctional Centre for two years.

The 22-year-old attended court in Armidale but was returned to Tamworth after the first day of a hearing on 19 September.

Darren Brian Cutmore had been Mr Chatfield's cellmate in the preceding days, but was moved to a different cell that night as the pair were co-accused.

Mr Cutmore told deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame that Mr Chatfield was on the way back to Tamworth from court "happy as can be" as he was confident of being acquitted.

Tane Chatfield's image and name has been used with his family's consent. (Supplied by family)
Supporters of Tane Chatfield call for justice outside the Tamworth Correctional Facility.
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But Mr Chatfield's former cellmate, who considered himself an "older brother" to the 22-year-old, could still remember his reaction when he realised the pair were to be separated later that night.

"He was very upset ... he said 'all we've got is each other and now they've f***ing taken that away from us too'," Mr Cutmore told the inquest on Monday.

Mr Cutmore also said that while the pair had often used drugs in prison together, he did not think Mr Chatfield did so on the night of 19 September.

The man who replaced Mr Cutmore in Mr Chatfield's cell, Barry Evans, told the inquest the deceased appeared "agitated" following his separation from Mr Cutmore but he made his new cellmate feel "welcome and comfortable".

Mr Evans, who only met Mr Chatfield that day, said he did not see his cellmate use drugs or hear him talk about doing so.

The former firefighter said he called for help after seeing Mr Chatfield hit the floor.

"It was like he was having a fit," Mr Evans told the inquest.

One of the officers at Tamworth Correctional Centre that day, David Mezanaric, told the inquest he knew of the victim having two seizures on 19 September - one in his cell and one in a treatment room before paramedics arrived.

The victim's mother, Nioka Chatfield, said the grief she felt after the death of her son "became like a chronic illness" and her family needed accountability to move forward.

"I can't tell you how my boy lost life ... there are lots of unanswered questions," Ms Chatfield said after the first day of the inquest.

"I'm only concentrating on the love that will never change for my boy. The boy who I saw smiling down at me when I was tying his laces ... the teenager I saw playing football, and the young 22-year-old who lost his life in custody."

NSW Corrective Services at the time said Mr Chatfield's death was not suspicious, telling his family he took his own life.

Mr Chatfield died after two days at Tamworth Base Hospital on 22 September, 2017.

The inquest continues on Tuesday.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, visit lifeline.org.au or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. Resources for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be found at Headspace: Yarn Safe.

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