• The family have started a facebook page calling for justice. (Facebook)Source: Facebook
The grieving parents of Tane Chatfield, the 22-year-old man who died in custody in Tamworth last week, claim their son died in suspicious circumstances, a day before his likely acquittal.
Liz Deep-Jones

The Point
28 Sep 2017 - 6:34 PM  UPDATED 28 Sep 2017 - 6:38 PM

In 2015, Tane Chatfield was arrested and charged in connection with a home invasion.

He spent two years in Tamworth Correctional centre on remand, waiting for his day in court.

At 11 pm on September 19, he was admitted to hospital after he apparently said he was going to have a fit.

The hospital released Ms Chatfield the next morning, on September 20 at 7.30am. He was nearing the end of a trial and due to appear in court that day at 11.45. The matter was due to be back in court on October 3rd for the verdict.  It was thought he had an excellent chance of acquittal.

It was thought he had an excellent chance of acquittal.

At 8 am, an officer saw him enter his cell and in that next hour, something went horribly wrong.

A Correctional Services officer delivered the harrowing news to Tane's partner, Merinda Connor.

"She told me that he was found hanging in his cell. I didn't get notified until it was around half past 11 and they found him at five past nine hanging. I want to know why I didn't get notified as soon as possible, as soon as it happened, rather than two hours later," Ms Connor told NITV News.

"The doctors told us that … heart compressions were given until paramedics got there. [He was] taken into [the] Emergency Department and basically, that was it," Traci Hyatt-Vale, Mr Chatfield’s aunt, added.

The 22-year-old was on life support in Tamworth Hospital and never regained consciousness. He died two days later, leaving behind his partner, a three year-old-son, 10 siblings, an extended family, and his parents, who are still fighting for answers.

Ms Connor says the family feels officers acted with little compassion while Mr Chatfield was in the hospital.

"I was appalled with their actions, by Corrective Services. We were in his room trying to talk to him and crying, and they were just standing over our shoulders like he was going to jump up and run away," Ms Connor recalls.

NITV contacted the Minister for Corrections, David Elliott, who wasn't available for an interview, but in a statement said: "Any death in custody is a tragedy and I offer my heartfelt sympathy to the family.

“The Coroner will investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of the 22-year-old Aboriginal man.

“I am advised by Corrective Services NSW that the death is not being treated as suspicious and that its officers have been in contact with the family."

But the family is questioning the circumstances surrounding Mr Chatfield’s death.

Tane’s father, Colin Chatfield, says he feels it was unlikely for his son to take his own life.

"We know our boy, we brought him up … He was too happy. [He had] a wife waiting for him, brothers and sisters, child waiting for him, He had everything to live for but he didn't make it back home. Again, we want answers. Why didn't he come home?" he questions.

"[We’re] trying to find out what's going on with the investigations into Tane's death. We ourselves are very suspicious of what happened. We want answers for our son. We need to bring this around for everybody to know what happened to Tane. He was going to court for trial 3 weeks. He had one day of trial left…”

A conflict of interest

Greens Member of the NSW parliament, David Shoebridge, also a member of the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, told NITV News he believes there is a “deep conflict of interest” in the way deaths in custody are currently investigated.

"When you talk to any family who's lost a loved one in a prison and they get told who's going to investigate the prison officers, other prison officers. Well, they know that's not a fair process.

“Prison officers investigating prison officers … oversighted by a coroner 2 years down the track doesn't make it fair,” he says.

“We need a complete external oversight body to do this investigation," Mr Shoebridge believes.

Unanswered questions

Mr Chatfield’s mother Nioka also questions her son had motives to suicide. She believes he had good prospects for being released after being two years on remand.

"He stayed in there that long. Wouldn't you think if he was going to do anything to himself that he might have done it at the start, and not at the end? That's the question I want answered.”

She is also disappointed with the authorities’ response.

“We still haven't received any phone calls from Corrective Services, not from detectives. We don’t' know where the case is up to yet. Just because they don't ring us doesn't mean I’m not going to ring them.”

The family will be in Sydney on Friday, joining a Black Deaths in Custody protest march.

"We want the government to have a good hard look at what's happening within these jails,” Mr Chatfield’s aunt, Tracy Hyatt-Vale told NITV News.

“We need change, we need answers for this family. We need answers for this mother who's going to bury her son, answers for the father who's going to bury his son.

“Our voices will be heard, not go silent. We're going to fight for justice, not just for Tane but for every black death in custody."

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