The death in custody of a 36-year-old Indigenous woman occurred after police failed to contact the Custody Notification Service hotline, the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) has claimed.
The service provides legal and health advice to Indigenous people taken into police custody.
Ms Maher of Raymond Terrace, NSW, was arrested on July 19 and taken to a holding cell at Maitland police station, where she died early the next morning. Police announced an investigation following the death, but it was not revealed the woman was Indigenous until Tuesday.
The Custody Notification Service, which was set up as a result of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, was not contacted after the arrest.
Ms Maher's death is the first in NSW in the 16 years that it has been running.
ALS CEO Gary Oliver questioned why there was no notification at the time of Ms Maher's arrest and suggested it could have saved her life.
“If the CNS had been used by police when they detained Ms Maher, there may have been a different outcome.
“Usually NSW Police notify us through our CNS, and an ALS lawyer gives the person legal advice and checks they’re OK.
“Sometimes they’re not OK, and the police and the lawyer organise for a health check, an ambulance, medication, or whatever assistance is required to ensure the person in custody is safe."
According to the ALS they were not told of Ms Maher's death until almost a month later on August 12.
“We’re also very concerned that the ALS was not notified of Ms Maher’s death by NSW police," said Mr Oliver.
“Every person in the Aboriginal community needs to know and trust their loved ones are safe when taken into police custody."
More than a week after her death, NSW Police Media released a statement saying they had arrested Ms Maher in Cessnock because she “appeared intoxicated” and that police “had concerns for her welfare and conveyed her to Maitland Police Station”.
The release said that an investigation subject to independent review was currently underway.
Mr Oliver said the CNS should still have been contacted regardless of a person's condition when taken into custody, after there were reports Ms Maher was intoxicated at the time of her arrest.
“Even if a person is seen to be intoxicated, the police still ring us and let us know they’ve got a person in custody, and NSW police ensure that person in custody is made safe," said Mr Oliver.
“It’s a good system with police and the ALS working together to make sure Aboriginal people in custody are provided with early legal advice, and are safe."
NSW Police have been contacted for further comment.