New and explosive allegations have emerged regarding the circumstances surrounding the death in custody of Tane Chatfield.
Mr Chatfield's lawyer, Peter Kemp, told NITV News about a string of events that raises serious questions about the circumstances surrounding Mr Chatfield's death. Mr Kemp says he has information that Tane Chatfield's cellmate was removed just before he died in custody, and that Mr Chatfield was kept inside his cell while other inmates were released into the prison yard.
Mr Chatfield's family have revealed that they photographed numerous injuries found on Mr Chatfield's arms, hands, shoulders and face while at the hospital.
"[He had] bruising on his hands, cuts on his knuckles, bruising on his wrists, bruising on his legs, lumps in his head, behind his ears, a gash in his lip, bruising on the inside of his lip, bruises on the arms, it looked like someone hit his nose … he had blood underneath his fingernails,” sister Marisha Chatfield told NITV News.
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge has also sighted the pictures and described them as "a series of deeply distressing images”.
“They do raise a lot of questions, at least to a lay observer. Deep bruising to Tane's shoulders, on the face of it inconsistent with death by hanging, and obviously the family [are] asking these questions,” he said.
“They are quite right to want an independent forensic report and in fact, that will be a demand I'll be making when parliament returns next week."
NITV News has also sighted the photographic evidence and can confirm the extent of the injuries. Correctives Services has been approached for comment.
Watch our interview with Peter Kemp:
Greens MLC David Shoebridge also told NITV News that he would be calling for a parliamentary inquiry into what he called unanswered questions relating to the circumstances of Gumbaynggirr and Gomeroi man Mr Chatfield’s death.
Mr Shoebridge said he would be seeking “an explanation from Corrective Services as to why Tane was suffering from abrasions and wounds to his face inconsistent with self-harm and suggestive of a physical confrontation.”
“Why Tane was alone in his cell given policy requirements that Aboriginal inmates and inmates returning from hospital are not to be one-out in a cell?” asked Mr Shoebridge.
Mr Chatfield was found unresponsive in his cell at the Tamworth Correctional Centre just after 9 am on Wednesday 20 September. The night before he was taken to hospital after allegedly suffering a seizure. He was returned to his cell the next morning. The death is being treated as "not suspicious" by authorities.
Mr Shoebridge said an independent inquiry into the death was urgently required.
“I will also be seeking to work with colleagues across the political spectrum to convene a parliamentary inquiry into Tane's death. I expect this to be an extremely difficult task given the many institutional conflicts and political alliances that tend to protect police and prisons from independent scrutiny.”
Mr Chatfield’s lawyer has also revealed new details about the hours before his death.
"At one stage Tane was heard screaming and swearing before he was reported by a sweeper "
Lawyer Peter Kemp told NITV News that an inmate said he heard Mr Chatfield's regular cellmate being told he had to move cells because of a “court order” by Corrective Services on the Tuesday night before he was found dead.
The inmate also alleged he heard Mr Chatfield screaming shortly before he was found in his cell, and that for unknown reasons, Mr Chatfield had been kept in his cell on the Wednesday morning before his death while other inmates were let out into the prison yard.
"The inmate I spoke to recently confirms that on the morning in question, Wednesday 20th Sept, Tane was alone in his cell. Everybody else had been let out of their cells into a yard but not Tane," said Mr Kemp.
"At one stage Tane was heard screaming and swearing before he was reported by a sweeper (who discovered him unresponsive)."
Mr Kemp wants to know why Mr Chatfield was left alone in his cell and why there have been no police interviews with the other inmates.
"Many questions arise from this, why [was he] in a cell alone after hospitalisation on Tuesday night, why not let out into the yard with all the others? Why did it take 25 minutes or so for an ambulance to arrive? Why the story of a non-existing court order? Why no apparent Police Investigation Unit interviews with inmates?”
Watch our interview with Commissioner Peter Severin:
NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin told NITV News that video evidence showed the death was not "contributed to by other humans".
“The most important issue for me is that we have conclusive evidence to indicate that this was a very tragic event and very clearly suicide,” he said.
"We have video footage of the corridor that clearly identifies anybody that goes in and out of that cell, during the period in question. We’ve got more footage than that, but certainly the last two people that went into that cell was an officer and the person that was previously located in that cell in a double-up situation, and then the next person that goes close to that cell is the inmate who was the sweeper, cleaner, who found Mr Chatfield in a state of unconsciousness. So there’s very clear indication that we are not dealing with a situation where this was in any way a death that was contributed to by other humans."
"We have conclusive evidence to indicate that this was a very tragic event and very clearly suicide”
However, when asked about the allegations of Mr Chatfield's cellmate being removed, why he wasn't taken to the yard with the other inmates and about the screaming that was heard, the Commissioner said he was not aware of those details.
"I don’t want to speculate on that because it’s not details that I’m across at this point in time. If it’s material to any of the investigations it will certainly be highlighted,” he said.
Commissioner Severin said that there were three independent investigations underway.
"One of these investigations is done by the Corrective Services Internal Investigations branch, the other is a police investigation, which is quite independent and that’s done through the coroner, and then Justice Health, our health service provider, has also undertaken an investigation to identify any issues that relate to the health of the deceased person,” he said.
Commissioner Severin said Corrective Services representatives would be meeting with Mr Chatfield's family next week.
“I think it’s very important that we have a very proactive strategy and approach to engaging with the families because obviously a lot of questions are being asked, and the family deserves answers,” he said.
“If there are any issues that give rise to the need to do a broader systemic investigation, of course, we would do that. At this point in time, and don’t forget this is not something that we are simply doing for internal purposes; this is done on behalf of the Coroner of NSW. So I can totally appreciate that the family have many questions."
However, Mr Chatfield’s family say that Corrective Services had not informed them about the investigations, although they were planning to meet their representatives next week. Instead, they found out about the investigations through NITV’s interview with Commissioner Severin broadcast on the Point on Wednesday night.
“For Corrective Services to reveal this to the nation before even speaking and telling the family the information that they have, it’s an injustice, it’s inhumane,” Mr Chatfield’s aunt Traci Hyatt-Vale said.
“We haven’t even had a phone call from them! We’ve had no correspondence from them! That was just another kick in the guts for this family!”
Family believe he had everything to live for
At the time of his death, 22-year-old Tane Chatfield had spent almost two years on remand for alleged armed robbery and was due before court for one incident and was awaiting trial for the other.
Mr Chatfield’s mother, Nioka Chatfield, said she believes her son had too much to live for and was looking forward to his potential release.
“The boy that I know, he had too much determination in his spirit not to do that,” she told NITV News.
“I’d seen my boy the day before … he was supposed to be due in court, the day that they found him. He asked me if I’d buy him a red shirt and a red tie for court the next day. He said, ‘please mum, don’t be late, don’t be late’. On the 4th of October he was going to turn up at Parramatta District Court to get his name cleared … to get dismissed,” Ms Chatfield explained.
Ms Chatfield, says the family is deeply unsatisfied with the way they’ve been treated by Corrective Services NSW.
She alleges the authorities did not officially notify the family of all the details of her son’s death.
“All they said to me is that they found him hanging [in his cell] at five minutes past nine,” Ms Chatfield said.
Ms Chatfield believes there are contradictions between her own observations of her son and the initial reports of authorities saying he attempted to take his life.
“Why would he sit in jail for two years on remand [before he was] just about to clear his name? [All he had to do was] wait to District Court, then he might’ve been coming home. Now, why would my boy do that? I’m not saying anything against the correctional centre, I’m not going to say anything else, I just wanna know why…”
Ms Chatfield is also angry because authorities didn’t inform her when her son was taken to the hospital and says he had no history of seizures or related illnesses.
“I never got notified that he got to [the] hospital the night before nor did I get notified that he was on life support,” she protests.
“I asked ... ‘why didn’t you knock at my door? Why didn’t you ring me?’.”
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