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Issue #1464      21 July 2010

Demo demands charges over death of Mr Ward

Late last month, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Western Australia, Joe Mc Grath, announced that, following a police investigation, there was not enough evidence to lay charges that had a reasonable possibility of securing a conviction over the death in custody of Mr Ward.

The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee organised a rally in the Supreme Court Gardens of Perth that was attended by over 500 people. They comprised a mixture of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people protesting this appallingly bad decision, which effectively rejects criminal culpability for the fateful events of January 2008 that led to Ngarltutjarra Elder Mr Ward dying while being transported in custody.

Noongar elder Ben Taylor, co-chair of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (DICW), was the first speaker. He reminded the gathering that Mr Ward was only one of more recent examples of many Aboriginal people who had died in custody and followed on from the death of John Pat in Roebourne in 1987 that led to the 1992 Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.

Marc Newhouse, DICW Committee co-chair, thanked those local and international organisations that had publicly given their support to the fight for justice for Mr Ward, including the union movement, Amnesty International, the Greens and the First Nations Party.

Mr Newhouse said: “We will not rest until there is justice of some sort over the tragic and avoidable death in custody of Mr Ward and until this broken justice system is fixed!”

He called for support of the following demands:

  • Criminal charges against all those responsible
  • That the Coronial Inquest into Mr Ward’s death be reopened
  • That the evidence and advice that the Director of Public Prosecution’s used to make the decision (that no criminal charges would be laid) be made public
  • An independent review of the DPP’s decision not to bring criminal charges
  • The G4S Contract be terminated immediately and for prison transport to be returned to Department of Corrective Services
  • Bring in new criminal offences of corporate and custodial manslaughter
  • Enforcement powers by Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services
  • A Public Inquiry into institutionalised racism in the WA criminal justice system

There was a lack of seat belts in the prison van, the absence of anything to lessen the heat of sitting on a metal seat. It was an unqualified Justice of the Peace who placed Mr Ward in custody.

The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee have written to the Attorney General Christian Porter asking him to respond within 14 days to their demands as to why those people responsible for Mr Ward’s death will not be charged. Marc Newhouse also said that if the Premier Colin Barnett did not respond within that time supporters would begin a program of low-level civil disobedience, as that was all the only recourse available.

“It would involve turning up to Parliament and making ourselves heard and other measures of non violent civil disobedience,” Mr Newhouse said.  

Next article – Death at Appleton Dock

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