• Tane Chatfield's image and name has been used with his family's consent. (Supplied by family) (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Greens MP and Aboriginal Justice spokesperson, David Shoebridge, has put the New South Wales and Federal Government on notice. Speaking in Parliament today, he called for an independent investigation into all deaths in custody in New South Wales.
Claudianna Blanco, Liz Deep-Jones

12 Oct 2017 - 7:40 PM  UPDATED 13 Oct 2017 - 4:30 PM

It was a passionate plea made on behalf of the family of Tane Chatfield, who tragically died in custody on September 22.

Today, David Shoebridge reminded the House that Tane's death is the 4th death in custody in the state in the last two years and called for immediate action, claiming Mr Chatfield’s death cannot be seen only in isolation.

“We have a criminal justice system in this state, in fact across the country that jails our First Peoples at the highest rate of any people on the planet. We had David Dungay dead in Long Bay jail in December 2015. We had Rebecca Maher dead in a police cell in the Hunter Valley, Eric Whittaker dead after being incarcerated, as recently as July this year. All young Aboriginal people… And we now have Tane being found dead after being imprisoned on remand in Tamworth jail. Enough is enough. We need to start putting the pieces together and start freeing Aboriginal people ... [or] we will see more of these deaths."

The Greens MP and Aboriginal Justice spokesperson has called on the government to clarify why there are major inconsistencies in the investigations into Tane's death in custody.

"Corrective Services, from the Commissioner down, said that they have a forensic report, an autopsy report that says there were no injuries other than those that were consistent with hanging. Well, I've spoken with the family and I've seen the photos which show bruising on his shoulders, bruising on his face.

“The family also tell me that when they were with him in his last few hours in Tamworth hospital they saw blood and skin under his fingernails and none of that seems to have been picked up in Corrective Services’ forensic report. How can they say that nothing is suspicious when these obvious discrepancies are in play?" Mr Shoebridge asked.  

The Greens MLC asked the government to take steps to facilitate an Independent Forensic report and explain why Mr Chatfield had been left alone in a cell, and why it took 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive at the prison when the ambulance station is just across the road from the facility.

During question time on Tuesday, he asked the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Sarah Mitchell to commit to undertake an independent forensic assessment, given the bruising and injuries not identified in the Corrective Services autopsy report. The Minister did commit to looking into it and acknowledged concerns.

"She says she'll take that on board. She says those discussions are happening as a minister to minister level.

"We now need the family to be let in the loop and be told what is exactly happening,” he said.

EXCLUSIVE: Tane Chatfield allegedly found with cuts to his face and bruises on his body
NITV News has sighted a number of photographs taken by Tane Chatfield's family while he was in hospital, revealing numerous injuries.

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 had also been 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.

Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin told NITV News recently that Mr Chatfield had not been kept in a ‘safe cell’ without hanging points upon his return from the hospital.

"This was an older cell at Tamworth Correctional Centre and unfortunately in older cells, we still have ligature points, points where you can tie something off and use, for example. So unless it's a new cell in a new facility, or it's a cell specifically designed as a safe cell, we do have cells where it's still possible to tie off a noose or something of that nature,” Mr Severin explained.

“That being said, we have obviously other mechanisms to identify people at risk, and obviously the number of suicides that we have in our system is very low, fortunately.

“Anything new that we build particularly maximum security in NSW has no ligature points in the cell, meaning that we follow the safe cells standards which are genuinely adopted across Australia."

Mr Shoebridge wants Corrective Services to answer why Mr Chatfield had been left alone in an old cell, despite recommendations stemming from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1987.

“We have the circumstance where we have an Aboriginal inmate having been returned from a stint in hospital and allegedly then put in an ancient cell, which the Commissioner says has hanging points in it. How does any prison system not get it if this is true and understand those series of recommendations that are well over 2 decades old from [the] black deaths in custody? This should not be happening."

NITV News has approached NSW Corrective Services to ask how many ‘safe cells’ exist at Tamworth Correctional Centre compared to old cells, but Corrective Services declined to comment.

Questions left unanswered

Tane Chatfield’s family allege they were initially told Mr Chatfield had been held in cell 30. Later they heard from an inmate Tane was in cell 23. In a bizarre twist, Tane's father, Colin Chatfield says he has been held in those cells in the past, and claims they have no ligature points.

"I've been a prisoner of Tamworth since it opened over the past 25 years since it first opened. I've been in a majority of all those cells. Cell 30 is not a hanging cell or it's got no hanging points neither has cell 23. There is a cell there [where] you can do stuff, [you] but never see people in that cell. It's not the cell they claim that they found Tane in Cell 30 or 23,” he claims.

As the government ponders an independent forensic assessment into Tane's death in custody, the family is left to grieve while seeking for answers.

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