• A coronial inquest has found the death of Rebecca Lyn Maher could have been avoided if police called the ambulance. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Rebecca Maher was the first Indigenous person to die in NSW police custody in 16 years and now, her family say a report that found she had no illegal drugs or alcohol in her system contradicts police claims.
Laura Morelli

7 Sep 2016 - 6:42 PM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2016 - 6:42 PM

When Rebecca Maher died in a police cell in the town of Maitland, she was the first Indigenous person to die in NSW police custody in 16 years.

At the time, police were unable to explain why she was taken into custody, what happened in the 5 hours that she spent at the police station and why it took them a further six hours to inform her family of her death.

Two months on and the grieving family is no closer to finding an answer, instead they say a report shows she had no illegal drugs or alcohol in her system, which contradicts police claims.

Rebecca Maher, 36, was found dead in a Maitland police cell less than six hours after being picked up in Cessnock the early hours of July 19 by police who believed she was drunk.

Ms Maher's mother Debbie has told ABC TV she saw a report that she claims shows her daughter did not have illegal drugs or alcohol in her system. She also wants to know what kind of medical attention Ms Maher was given before she was found dead in the cell at 6am.

"I asked them straight away, was there medical staff brought in to her? Was she assessed? And they said 'no'," Debbie Maher told 7.30 on Monday.

Police wouldn’t say whether Rebecca was examined by a medical professional or how regularly they checked her in her cell.

The family said goodbye to Rebecca in a small ceremony in NSW Hunter region.

A coronial inquest is due to start next month, and her family continues to seek answers.

“I’m angry and very disappointed,” said Debbie.

“Duty of care wasn’t applied to Rebecca and I just didn’t want this swept under the carpet like she didn’t matter, because she did matter.”

The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW has called for an independent investigation into the death saying police failed to alert them to Ms Maher's incarceration, as required by changes introduced following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

ALS say it was eventually notified a month after Ms Maher's death, and it believes she could have been saved if police had followed protocol and notified them.

Ms Maher's death was the first Indigenous death in NSW custody since the year 2000.

“I don’t want any other family to go through this, its heart-wrenching,” Debbie says.

Death in custody could have been prevented: ALS Head
Gary Oliver, CEO of Aboriginal Legal Services says ALS was not notified that Ms Maher had been taken into custody through their Custody Notification Service and believes if it was used, she would have still been alive today.