These are the damning indictments against the company Australia uses to lock up refugees and detainees in immigration detention, the same company that has a contract for prisoner transportation in Western Australia. And they are all breaches of their own company policies, codes of ethics, and their duty of care.
16 June 2009: Elder Mr Ward: Coroner delivers damning findings - West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope delivers his damning report on the death of Indigenous Elder Mr Ward. This page brings together some resources, links, documentation and media items around the release by the WA Coroner of his Inquiry Report into Mr Ward's death on 12 June 2009.
2 February 2008: Aboriginal Elder Mr Ward: another GSL Death in Custody - Last weekend's death in custody of an Indigenous offender while in transit by van, an AIMS Van operated under the contract with Global Solutions Limited from the Western Desert to Kalgoorlie was not by any means the first serious incident by this company, the company also charged by the Federal government for the running of Immigration Detention camps...
Perth Public Meeting Flyers:
- Public Call for Urgent Community Organising Meeting - Announcement of Public Meeting Wednesday 18th March 2009: If you are outraged about what you have heard so far, this is the time to get involved by committing, ideas, skills & time. (PDF File 35 Kb)
- Call for Justice for Aboriginal Elder - Announcement of Public Meeting Wednesday 13th February 2008: We need the support of people with a passion for justice. Please consider attending this urgent public meeting to offer your support, voices, knowledge and skills in organising this campaign for Justice.(PDF File 172 Kb)
- WA Coroner Alastair Hope's Inquiry Report into Mr Ward - On June 12, 2009, The WA Coroner delivered his Report in the Perth Central Courts, and the findings are damning: "I, Alastair Neil Hope ... having investigated the death of ... find that death occurred as a result of heatstroke in the following circumstances ..." (PDF File 2.4 Mb)
- Report of the Inquiry into Complaints by Mr Huong Hai Nguyen and Mr Austin Okoye - Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (John von Doussa QC), Inquiry into Complaints against the Commonwealth of Australia and GSL (Australia) Pty Ltd, December 2007, re transportation of detainees from Maribyrnong IDC to Baxter IDF. (PDF File 376 Kb)
- Prof Richard Harding's 2007 Prison Transport Review Report - Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services, Report No 43, May 2007: Thematic Review of Custodial Transport Services in Western Australia - The 2007 Prison Transport Review Report of Prof Richard Harding. (PDF File 2.7 Mb)
- Findings and Recommendations from Report of Investigation on behalf of DIMIA - Keith Hamburger AM, Findings and Recommendations from Report of Investigation on behalf of DIMIA concerning allegations of inappropriate treatment of five detainees during transfer from Maribyrnong IDC to Baxter IDF (2004) (PDF File 187 Kb)
- Report of an Announced Inspection of Adult Prisoner Transport Services - Richard Harding, Inspector of Custodial Services, Report of an Announced Inspection of Adult Prisoner Transport Services. Date Inspected: February 2001; Date Published: November 2001. (PDF File 362 Kb)
Community outrage at another Indigenous death in custody
DEATHS IN CUSTODY WATCH COMMITTEE WA INC (DICWC)
20 March 2009
The Deaths In Custody Watch Committee held an emergency community meeting on Wednesday, 18 March 2009, in Perth. There was outrage expressed at the death in custody of Aboriginal elder, Mr. Ward.
Deaths In Custody Watch Committee WA chair, Mr. Newhouse, said, "Regardless of the findings by the Coronial Court, this was a horrific and avoidable death. The evidence given to the Court reinforce that there are serious failings in the criminal justice and prisons systems. There are too many deaths in custody; and too often they are Aboriginal.
"Mr. Ward should not have been in the back of a van in 42 degree heat with no working air-conditioning. We ask why he was in custody at all, as a drink driver. Has a white drink driver ever been sent 4 hours in the back of a van in 42 degree heat to be held in custody?"
Mr. Newhouse asked, "Who takes responsibility for a death in custody when it happens in a private contractor's care?"
Mr. Newhouse said this was not an isolated case of negligence: "Others have died unnecessarily in custody, especially Indigenous people. Yet we haven't learnt from or implemented the recommendations of the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commission."
Mr. Newhouse said "The State Government needs to accept responsibility for people in its custody. Too many have died."
Mr. Newhouse said there would be a public demonstration at twelve noon on Friday, 3 April 2009 at Stirling Gardens, and a list of demands will be presented to the Attorney General.
Mr Marc Newhouse 0415 074 602 newbone(at)bigpond.com or
Rosemary Hudson Miller 0419 945 341
Elder in prison van death had severe burns
The West Australian
11th March 2009, 6:00 WST
An Aboriginal elder who died in custody suffered third-degree burns to his stomach following his collapse in the rear of a prison van where the air-conditioning was not working, a coronial inquest was told yesterday.
State Coroner Alastair Hope heard Mr Ward died from heatstroke on the 42C day he was transported in the non-air-conditioned rear sealed compartment of a prison van for the 360km trip from Laverton to Kalgoorlie.
The inquest was told Mr Ward had burns to his stomach and elbow, which were consistent with being in contact with a very hot surface.
After being taken to Kalgoorlie Hospital he was put in an ice bath. His body temperature was 41.7C and he later died.
The inquest, at Warburton, was told Mr Ward, 46, was given only a 600ml bottle of water and a pie for the four-hour journey.
More than 50 people gathered outside the tiny community court for a public broadcast of the inquest, which heard Mr Ward was "an extremely hardworking and valuable member of the community".
Counsel assisting the coroner, Felicity Zempilas, said the inquest would examine several issues, look at the decisions of the private prisoner transport contractor Global Securities Limited and ask why Mr Ward had not been given comfort breaks or extra water.
Mr Ward had been remanded in custody after his arrest on January 26 by Laverton police, who charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol when he returned a blood alcohol reading of 0.22.
He was serving a suspended sentence for a driving offence.
GSL was responsible for transporting Mr Ward from Laverton to the Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison.
Det-Sgt Bradley Robinson, who investigated Mr Ward's death, said that the air-conditioning unit in the rear compartment of the van had not been working.
He said the unit was the only source of ventilation. Evidence revealed that faults with the airconditioning unit had been reported to GSL more than a month earlier.
The inquest was told the GSL security officers heard a loud noise when Mr Ward collapsed in the van about 5km from Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The officers stopped and opened both rear doors, with the inner door only opened partially and secured by a security chain.
"Both guards felt the heat coming from the back of the vehicle," Sgt Robinson said.
Mr Ward was unresponsive and the female security officer felt a faint pulse in his ankle. The guards took him to Kalgoorlie Hospital where staff spent more than an hour attempting to resuscitate him.
Sgt Robinson said medical reports indicated that after 20 minutes of unsuccessful resuscitation, Mr Ward was placed in an ice bath with a fan and his body temperature was 41.7C.
The family have requested that Mr Ward's first name not be published.
Warburton elder was respected and hard working, inquest told
ABC ONLINE NEWS
Posted Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:34pm AEDT
The State Coroner has been told a Warburton elder, who died in custody in January last year, was well respected and worked hard to preserve his people's culture and traditions.
Mr Ward died in hospital after being transported 360 kilometres in a prison van from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in extreme heat.
A coronial inquest into Mr Ward's death has been hearing evidence in Warburton, in Western Australia's Central Desert region.
Yesterday, the inquiry heard the air conditioning in the back of the van was not working and that the 46-year-old elder died of heat stroke.
Today, Mr Ward's cultural brother Bruce Smith told the inquest Mr Ward was a hard working father of five who had a very strong knowledge of traditional law and the land.
Mr Smith testified Mr Ward was highly regarded as an elder, despite his comparatively young age.
The spokeswoman for the Warburton community has told the coroner they want the prison van in which Mr Ward was transported destroyed.
Daisy Ward, who is Mr Ward's cousin, broke down as she told the court the community wanted answers.
She testified the Ngaanyatjarra people wanted the prison van crushed.
Dozens of people, gathered outside the court house, cried as Miss Daisy described how Mr Ward's family, and the wider community, had been affected by his death.
The inquest has been adjourned in Warburton today and will continue in Kalgoorlie tomorrow.
The family has requested that Mr Ward's first name not be published.
Yesterday, forensic pathologist Gerard Cadden told the court that, during the four hour trip, Mr Ward would have become delirious as his system started to shut down.
Dr Cadden testified Mr Ward's blood pressure would have dropped, all of his organs would have stopped working and his central nervous system would have failed.
The Coroner asked Dr Cadden if he believed Mr Ward would have been in the process of dying when he collapsed in the back of the van to which the forensic pathologist answered "yes".
Dr Cadden also testified that Mr Ward suffered external injuries, including a third degree burn on his stomach.
He said Mr Ward must have been burned by a hot surface in the back of the van.
Dr Cadden told the court Mr Ward's body temperature is very likely to have been much higher than 41.7 degrees which was recorded after medical staff had spent 20 minutes trying to cool his body with ice and water.
The Coroner heard Mr Ward was likely to have been very dehydrated when he was put in the van due to his high blood alcohol level when he was arrested the previous day.
Dr Cadden told the inquest Mr Ward had been placed in a dangerous situation from the very start of the journey.
Prisoner transports poor: police
The West Australian
13th March 2009, 6:00 WST
Vehicles used by a private security company to transport prisoners were outdated, poorly maintained and of low standard, a police officer told an inquest yesterday.
The officer who arrested Aboriginal elder Mr Ward, who died from heatstroke after being transported in one of the vehicles, told the inquest how the vehicles used by GSL had a reputation among police and GSL staff of being unreliable and often unsuitable for transporting prisoners.
During the third day of the inquest in Kalgoorlie, State Coroner Alastair Hope was told by Const. George Kopsen how GSL staff often said their vehicles had problems with roadworthiness.
"It was a commonly known issue that the vehicles were not maintained to a standard," he said.
"They (the vehicles) are not up to the standard of police vehicles in Laverton. They seemed to be outdated ... poorly maintained."
Const. Kopsen said Mr Ward showed no signs of illness or injuries while in police care.
But hours later he died of heatstroke after collapsing in the back of the van, which had no windows or airconditioning. Mr Ward was arrested in Laverton on January 26 last year on a drink-driving charge.
Const. Kopsen said he was not surprised Mr Ward had not been granted bail after his arrest given his history of driving offences and that he was serving a suspended jail term for driving without a licence.
The inquest was told Mr Ward spent the night in the police lock-up, during which he was given cans of soft drink and pies. He was handed over to GSL guards the next day to be transferred on a four-hour journey to Kalgoorlie, during which he was only given a 600ml bottle of water for the trip, which was in 42C heat. A police reconstruction of the journey showed surface temperatures inside the van reached at least 50C.
Evidence revealed GSL workers had reported faults with the vehicle, noting it had trouble starting, the CCTV monitor was faulty and it did not have a first-aid kit or spare tyre.
Faults with the air-conditioning unit in the vehicle had been reported to GSL more than a month before Mr Ward's fateful journey.
Corrective Services Commissioner Ian Johnson said yesterday the van in which Mr Ward was transported would be destroyed, subject to the coroner's approval. Mr Johnson said after yesterday's hearing that destroying the vehicle would be the "appropriate and decent action" to take.
"This is about providing some closure to the family and community," he said.
"Destroying the vehicle will hopefully go some way to help the healing process so that the Ward family, the Warburton community and all those who have grieved in the past 12 months may find some peace."
The inquest continues today with medical staff expected to give evidence.
Aboriginal elder arrived 'with third-degree burns'
March 17, 2009
A respected Aboriginal elder who died in the back of a non-airconditioned prison van while being transported across the West Australian outback in the middle of summer arrived at hospital drenched in sweat, unconscious and with third-degree burns on his stomach, an inquest has heard.
Lucien LaGrange, who was working in the emergency department of Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital when Ward arrived in the van, said a blast of hot air hit him when he opened the back of the vehicle.
Ward -- whose family does not want his first name mentioned for cultural reasons -- did not appear to be breathing.
"It was like a blast from a furnace -- it was extremely hot," Dr LaGrange told Coroner Alastair Hope. "I was struck by how wet and slippery he was. It was almost like he had been coated in soap -- he just slid."
Dr LaGrange said that despite medical staff placing ice over Ward's body, his body temperature was 41.7C. That day, January 27 last year, the outside temperature climbed to 42C. After many resuscitation attempts, Ward was declared dead about 90 minutes after arriving at the hospital.
Ward was being transported 352km from Laverton to Goldfields Regional Prison in Kalgoorlie after being charged with drink-driving on Australia Day.
The inquest was told that the company responsible for transporting Ward, Global Solutions Ltd, raised concerns with the West Australian Government about the poor state of its vans before Ward's death, but was told no new vehicles were available.
Under a multi-million-dollar contract, GSL is responsible for transporting prisoners, while the Department of Corrective Services is responsible for maintaining the fleet of vehicles.
Former GSL employee Thomas Akatsa told the hearing that after the company failed to secure new vans from the Government, he raised concerns with the company's supervisors, including airconditioning faults and overheating, but was told not to talk about it.
Mr Akatsa said the vans used to transport prisoners were sub-standard, did not contain toilets and were not suitable for travelling long distances.
Despite regular problems with airconditioning in the back of the vans, Mr Akatsa said there was no requirement for staff to check the airconditioning was working. He said that while he always did check, not all officers did, including one of the officers who transported Ward on that day, Graham Powell. The inquest heard that Mr Powell, who is to give evidence today, had been demoted from a supervisor to a driver before the death.
One of his colleagues at the time, Lynette Corcoran-Sugars, testified that she requested not to work with Mr Powell, accusing him of breaching procedures and inappropriately using constraints on prisoners.
Ms Corcoran-Sugars and Mr Akatsa said that when they transported prisoners from Laverton to Kalgoorlie, they made at least one stop and offered prisoners water, food and a toilet break.
The inquest has heard that no stops were made during Ward's journey and that he was given only a 600ml bottle of water and a pie before leaving Laverton.
Questions were raised about whether Ward should even have been in custody, with barrister Lachlan Carter for the Aboriginal Legal Service claiming a proper bail hearing, as defined by the act, did not take place.
The inquest heard that GSL's motto was "safety first". Mr Hope questioned how this could be the case when the company allowed staff to transport prisoners in vehicles that did not have a usable spare tyre.
The inquest continues today.
Inquest told prison van airconditioning not checked
ABC ONLINE NEWS
Posted Tue Mar 17, 2009 8:04pm AEDT
An inquest into the death in custody of an Aboriginal elder has heard the officers who drove him from Laverton to Kalgoorlie did not check whether the air conditioning in the prison van was faulty.
46-year old Warburton elder Mr Ward suffered fatal heatstroke on the four hour journey in January last year.
Today the inquest heard from one of the officers from the company which handles prisoner transport in Western Australia.
Nina Mary Stokoe told the court she knew the airconditioning in the van had been playing up but it was not company policy to check it.
She testified she always assumed the air conditioning was working unless prisoners banged on the walls and that Mr Ward gave no indication there was a problem.
Ms Stokoe broke down as she told the court she and her colleague rushed Mr Ward to Kalgoorlie hospital after the prisoner collapsed and stopped breathing.
Mr Ward died in hospital.
Aboriginal elder slumped like 'rag doll' in prison van
ABC ONLINE NEWS
Posted Tue Mar 17, 2009 2:22pm AEDT
A woman has told a coronial inquest how she went into shock when a man she was transferring from one goldfields town to another was found slumped like a rag doll in the back of a prison van.
Warburton elder Mr Ward, 46, died of heat stroke in January last year after travelling in a prison van from Laverton to Kalgoorlie.
The inquest heard last week that the van's airconditioning was not working.
Today, Nina Mary Stokoe, from the transport and logistics company GSL, testified she knew the air conditioning had been "playing up" but it was not company policy to check it.
Ms Stokoe told the coroner Mr Ward did not show any signs of discomfort.
She testified Mr Ward was like a rag doll when pulled from the back of the van at the Kalgoorlie hospital and he was not breathing.
Efforts to revive Mr Ward were unsuccessful.
Guards joked before prisoner died in outback
March 18, 2009
TWO guards responsible for transporting an Aboriginal elder 352km across the West Australian outback joked about how he must have been "freezing his balls off" hours before he died of heatstroke in the back of a corrective services van, an inquest has been told.
Giving evidence via video link yesterday, Global Solutions Ltd officer Nina Stokoe said she did not check that the air-conditioning in the back of the van was working - even though it had been faulty and the outside temperature had soared to 42C - because it was not part of procedure.
Ms Stokoe said she assumed the air-conditioning was working in the rear because there was no problem with the air-conditioning in the front cab and Ward, whose family does not want his last name published for cultural reasons, would have banged on the side of the van if there was a problem.
According to Ms Stokoe, during previous trips, other prisoners often complained that the air-conditioning was too cold, and she and fellow officer Graham Powell joked that, while they were too hot, Ward would be the opposite.
"I had a joke with Graham," she told the inquest into Ward's death. "(I said) I bet he's freezing his balls off while we're sitting here stinking hot."
Coroner Alastair Hope asked whether it would have been prudent to check the air-conditioning on such a hot day when it had been known to break down and Ward was in a section of the van with only metal seats.
"It (the air-conditioning) wasn't on the check list ... I wouldn't know how to check it," Ms Stokoe replied.
Ward died on January 27 last year after attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. He was being transferred from Laverton to prison in Kalgoorlie after being arrested for drink driving on Australia Day.
Mr Hope was yesterday also told how the Kalgoorlie-based supervisor for GSL, Leanne Jenkins, warned her superiors just four months before Ward's death that someone would "eventually die" if the company's outdated and poorly maintained vans were not replaced.
Ms Jenkins said the only response she received was that any vehicles in need of repairs should not be driven. She said the two vans based at Kalgoorlie always had problems and were not suitable for long trips.
Ms Stokoe and Mr Powell made no stops on the 3 1/2-hour journey until they heard a thud in the back of the van when they were just outside Kalgoorlie.
When they pulled over to check on Ward, Ms Stokoe said, they did not open the van's back doors completely because it was not procedure and Ward might have been trying to escape.
"If he was mucking around and it was an escape attempt, we would look like idiots," she said.
After realising he only had a faint pulse, the officers rushed Ward to hospital.
The inquest continues today.
Elder's death: prison van temperature 'hit 50 degrees'
ABC ONLINE NEWS
Posted Thu Mar 19, 2009 2:00pm AEDT
Updated Thu Mar 19, 2009 4:22pm AEDT
A Coronial inquest into the death of an Aboriginal elder on the Western Australian Goldfields has heard the air temperature in the back of his prison van could have been more than 50 degrees Celsius.
Mr Ward, aged 46, from Warburton, died from heat stroke after being transported from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in January last year.
The journey lasted four hours and outside temperatures were in the mid 40s.
The inquest has heard the airconditioning in the rear of the van was not working.
Today, a senior chemist who assisted in a re-enactment of the incident in similar conditions told the inquiry the air temperature in the back of the van reached 50.4C.
He also told the court the surface temperature of the metal floor in the back peaked at 56.6C during the re-enactment.
The inquest has also been told one of the guards who transported Mr Ward had previously been stood down by his company for breaching procedure.
A supervisor from the transport company GSL yesterday testified the guards Graham Kenneth Powell and his colleague Nina Mary Stokoe should have done a routine stop to check on Mr Ward.
She said they also should have provided him with water.
She told the court those breaches could have contributed to Mr Ward's death.
Today, Mr Powell has told the inquest he was stood down by GSL for six months, a year before the incident because he had breached a number of company procedures.
Officers blamed for Aboriginal prisoner death
March 19, 2009
OFFICERS at a private security firm have turned on each other over the death of an Aboriginal elder, with a supervisor accusing her subordinates of lying and incompetence that could have led to his death.
Global Solutions Limited supervisor Leanne Jenkins told a Kalgoorlie inquest yesterday if her employees had done what they were supposed to do, the man might still be alive.
"If the routine checks had been done, maybe they could have seen that Mr Ward might not have been well, they might have picked something up there - who knows? I don't know," she told coroner Alastair Hope.
Ward, 46, whose family does not want his first name published for cultural reasons, died in custody of heat stroke after being transported 352km across the West Australian outback in the back of a non-air-conditioned van on January 27 last year.
The inquest was also told that in the days following Ward's death, two separate internal reports by GSL management, given to the state government, concluded the prisoner had died of a heart attack and stroke. This was before any official cause of death had been released.
Under the terms of GSL's contract with the West Australian Department of Corrective Services, the company can be fined $100,000 if found by the Coroner to have failed in its duty of care.
Under questioning from Lachlan Carter, counsel for the Aboriginal Legal Service, Ms Jenkins said she had not written the reports and knew Ward's death had nothing to do with stroke or heart attack. She agreed information gathered at Kalgoorlie Regional Hospital - where Ward had been taken at the end of the 3 1/2-hour trip - indicated he had "cooked" in the back of the van.
She also agreed his death had "everything to do with the hot condition of the van and a failure to make checks, and nothing to do with stroke or heart attack".
Ms Jenkins said the two transporting officers, Nina Stokoe and Graham Powell, had failed to adhere to procedure when they did not check the van's air-conditioning, did not stop every two hours for a welfare check and did not offer Ward more food and water.
They did not make a single stop on the journey from Laverton to Kalgoorlie, despite Ms Jenkins testifying that normal procedure was to make two stops to check on the welfare of prisoners and refuel.
She said these requirements had been repeatedly communicated to all staff, including the two officers involved.
Ms Stokoe has already testified that she had not been told of these requirements. She said on other trips she would stop and offer prisoners food and water, but this was decided to be unnecessary on the day Ward was transported because he was asleep. She also said he had some water left in a 600ml bottle he had been given by police in Laverton.
Ms Jenkins said Ms Stokoe was a "straight-out liar" for denying her knowledge of procedure. "They didn't do a thing they were asked," she said.
Ms Jenkins also revealed possible departmental failings in carrying out its obligations under the contract. She said that when corrective services officials had travelled to Kalgoorlie to conduct a review of GSL's services, they had not asked about how prisoners were transported and whether GSL was fulfilling its duty of care.
Under the contract with GSL, Corrective Services paid for the fleet of vehicles and maintenance. GSL organised repairs and then invoiced the Government.
Ms Jenkins said the fleet had constant problems, and even after Ward's death replacement vehicles were inadequate.
The inquest continues.
GSL blames state for poor condition of prisoner vans
March 20, 2009
A private security guard says the West Australian Government was aware of the poor condition of vans used to transport prisoners across vast distances but was not prepared to update the dilapidated fleet.
Graham Powell, who was giving evidence to a coronial inquiry into the death of an Aboriginal elder who died of heat stroke in the back of a corrective services van, said government officials inspected the vehicles two to three times a year and knew that they needed to be replaced.
"I would have thought after eight years the government may have decided to upgrade the fleet and provide new vehicles (that were) safe for people to travel in and a little bit more updated," he said. "My understanding is the government owns the vehicles and weren't prepared to update the fleet."
It was also revealed during yesterday's hearing that a senior chemist, David Tranthim-Fryer, carried out a re-enactment of the tragedy with police two months after Ward's death last year.
While the day the re-enactment was carried out was slightly cooler than the 42C day on which Ward died, the temperature in the back of the van reached 50.1C, with temperatures on the van's metal surfaces inside the secure section reaching 56C.
Mr Powell, security company GSL's most experienced Kalgoorlie-based officer, said before he left Kalgoorlie to pick up Ward at Laverton, 350km away, he did not check the air-conditioning was working in the back of the van, despite knowing it was faulty. He assumed the other officer with him, Nina Stokoe, had checked it.
Mr Powell said he and Ms Stokoe decided not to stop during the return journey from Laverton to Kalgoorlie because he was happy to keep driving and they thought Ward was well.
Mr Powell said Ms Stokoe had told him Ward had been sitting up drinking water when she saw him via a poor-quality CCTV.
He said they did not consider whether Ward may have needed a toilet break or more food and drink.
He also did not tell Ward that there was a duress alarm in the back of the van in case he needed help. Coroner Alastair Hope added that the alarm was virtually useless because the alarm in the front of the car did not make a noise and only lit up if someone constantly pressed it.
It was not until they heard a thud just outside Kalgoorlie that they pulled over and checked on Ward and could not rouse him.
"I thought he was still asleep because of the snoring sound he was making," Mr Powell said.
Mr Powell, who remains at GSL, has not been disciplined over Ward's death and continues to transport prisoners.
But he was demoted from a position of supervisor about 12 months before Ward's death because he had consistently breached minor company procedures, the inquest has been told.
He admitted that while a supervisor he had not instructed staff to check a van's air-conditioning, perform welfare checks or ensure prisoners had enough water for the trip.
The inquest continues today.
Bush elder 'killed by incompetence'
March 21, 2009
He called himself a "professor of the bush"; others described him as an Aboriginal man who walked both worlds.
A fierce protector of his culture in the Ngaanyatjarra homelands near Warburton, 1540km northeast of Perth, "Ribs" Ward, as he was affectionately known, was one of the last nomads born in the Gibson Desert. He was also one of the most Westernised, equally respected by his own people and the white fellas.
He travelled across Australia and the world representing his people, educating everyone from Chinese politicians to children about his unique way of life.
But to the two security guards responsible for his welfare on January 27 last year, Ward -- his family does not want his first name published for cultural reasons -- was just another prisoner who had to be driven from the police lock-up at Laverton to the Goldfields Regional Prison in Kalgoorlie, 360km away.
In the back of the clapped-out Corrective Services van on a day with temperatures soaring to 42C and with no working air-conditioner to control the heat, Ward effectively cooked to death during the 3 1/2-hour journey. His organs were unable to cope in the 50C heat inside the van.
Ward was no doubt dehydrated after drinking heavily the night before. Having said goodbye to wife Nancy and their three youngest sons, he got in a car with his oldest son, Tyrone, and a friend and drove to Laverton.
They had stopped and hunted and cooked their catch of kangaroo and turkey when they arrived in the outback town on Friday evening.
The next day, Australia Day, Ward drank heavily, as he usually did when away, because his home at Warburton was a dry community. Full of booze and already on a suspended sentence for another driving offence, he was stopped by police as part of a random traffic check and arrested for drink-driving after he blew 0.22. He was put in the Laverton lock-up for the night. Drunk and tired, Ward said he just wanted to sleep when asked if he wanted a lawyer, police say. The Aboriginal Legal Service was not called.
At an inquest into his death this week, questions were raised about the legality of Ward's custody. Despite a directive being issued by a magistrate that the court could not sit on Sundays in Laverton, a hearing took place just after Ward woke up in his cell. A justice of the peace stood outside the cell and explained that bail would not be granted and Ward would be transferred to Kalgoorlie.
Counsel for the Aboriginal Legal Service Lachlan Carter told the inquest the hearing was a "sham" because there was no real consideration of Ward's entitlement to bail, and the role of the justice of the peace was merely as a rubber stamp.
The police had already called private security company Global Solutions Ltd -- which has a $25million contract for court security and transporting prisoners across Western Australia using Corrective Services facilities -- to arrange for Ward to be taken to Kalgoorlie.
What followed was an appalling breakdown of procedure that effectively led to Ward's terrible death in the back of a dilapidated and unsafe van. Evidence at the inquest this week revealed a litany of incompetence and dishonesty implicating both GSL and the Corrective Services Department.
Despite constant complaints from GSL officers in Kalgoorlie about the poor state of the vehicles, including faulty air-conditioning, it was not until after Ward's death that a new van arrived. Even then, it was found to be inadequate. According to the evidence, GSL failed to ensure staff were trained to look after prisoners properly and safely.
Guards testified that there were no procedures on how many breaks prisoners should have on a journey, how much food and water they should be given and whether the air-conditioning should be checked.
One senior GSL employee accused her two subordinates, guards Graham Powell and Nina Stokoe, who drove Ward to Kalgoorlie, of incompetence and lying about the circumstances surrounding his death.
Ms Stokoe and Mr Powell said that, while they did not stop on the way to Kalgoorlie when transporting Ward, as soon as they heard a thud they pulled over and tried to rouse him. Both testified this week that after realising he wasn't well, they rushed to Kalgoorlie District Hospital and asked for medical assistance.
Yesterday Mr Powell agreed he should bear a moral responsibility for Ward's death and that he should have stopped during the trip.
Ms Stokoe said she was never told that officers were required to make regular welfare checks, ensure prisoners had enough food and water and check the air-conditioning.
GSL, the largest private security company in the world, is no stranger to controversy. In 2004, it was fined almost $500,000 over its mistreatment of asylum-seekers after the company transported five detainees from Maribyrnong Detention Centre in Melbourne to Baxter Immigration Facility in South Australia.
Despite the incident, GSL is contracted until October to provide security at all of Australia's immigration detention centres, including the facility at Christmas Island.
Ward was well known in the community. He was behind the push for a greater police presence in Warburton, and would often help officers by interpreting for them in their work.
He battled hard to ensure his children and future generations would be seen as the true owners of the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve, and then endeavoured to protect that land.
In partnership with Western Australia's Department of Environment and Conservation, Ward was instrumental in ensuring the survival of the dwindling rock wallaby population, and he protected bush water sources through a cleaning program for rock holes.
"I went out cleaning rock holes ... take a shovel and dig out the earth that blows in and fills them up," Ward said in a statement that formed part of a native title claim.
"I am serious about culture. It was my idea to work and set up a Tjilpi (senior men's) committee as part of the Ngaanyatjarra Council to make sure everyone listened to the old men."
He and his cousin, Daisy Ward, often took children out bush to learn traditional hunting and ceremonies.
"He was a respected man and worked with the traditional elders to educate the children in cultural ways, and developed cultural awareness," Ms Ward said.
"He travelled to China and he represented the Ngaanyatjarra peoples at a land protectionconference. He was an educated man."
Ms Ward said her cousin was a good father and husband who always provided enough food for his family.
She said the community had suffered a great loss, and to move on, they needed to know how Ward came to die in conditions that "no animal should be subjected to".
That's the issue for coroner Alastair Hope, along with the broader question of the privatisation of prisoner transportation in Western Australia.
Mr Hope will hear more evidence in May before handing down his recommendations.
Until then, the two officers involved will continue to transport prisoners for GSL, which is now known as G4S.
Meanwhile, Ward's generous spirit lives on in his homelands, despite the terrible tragedy.
"We have two worlds that people here live in -- the traditional way and the Australian-citizen way," Ward told The Weekend Australian's Nicolas Rothwell in 2006.
"I want my children also to live in those two worlds."