“I will not be silent any more”: A daughter speaks out about a death in custody

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On 3 April, Peter Clarke died in Alice Springs Hospital, aged 56. The issues surrounding his death have left the family with many questions and a determination to uncover the truth. He’d been scheduled for release on parole on 26 March but did not see freedom. On 19 March, he was sedated, hospitalised and placed in intensive care — where he endured the brutal treatment of being shackled to the bed!

A report by the South Australian Ombudsman earlier this year recommended changes to the use of shackles on prisoners in that state after a woman was restrained giving birth and a man was shackled while terminally ill with motor neurone disease. This barbaric practice must stop in every jurisdiction.

The family is outraged by the appalling treatment of Mr Clarke and also has serious concerns about the ad hoc medical treatment and diagnosis while in the Alice Spring Correctional Centre, especially as he was a vulnerable patient susceptible to chest infections. The family now has access to hospital clinical notes and are concerned that bacteria that cause serious infection in people identified as “immune suppressed” was found. This is a legally reportable pathogen, and the disease control section in the NT

Ministry for Health should have been alerted. As Mr Clarke spent his last three-and-a- half years in the Alice Springs jail, the infection must have originated there.

Mr Clarke was in custody when he died, as he could not sign his parole papers. His death should automatically have been treated as a death in custody, but it was not. This prompted Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, to accuse the custodial authorities of “attempting to disown a death in custody in their bailiwick.”

The family, supported by the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) in Melbourne and Sydney, had to fight for his death to be recognised as a reportable death in custody, which should now result in the grant of a full Coronial Inquest.

Kylie Hampton is Mr Clarke’s daughter and the official family spokesperson. In June she contacted ISJA, eager to take action. She wrote: “I would like to take this story to the media and shame the NT government for doing this.” ISJA worked with Kylie to prepare a news release, fact sheets and correspondence to the NT government. The news release resulted in widespread media coverage, including on the ABC.

The Freedom Socialist Organiser is pleased to help build the campaign. Alison Thorne spoke with Kylie Hampton.

What made you decide to go public about the circumstances leading up to your father’s death in custody?

I simply wasn’t getting any answers, and it was obvious they were trying to hide the fact that it was definitely a death in custody. Another major concern was getting an autopsy. We maintained Dad’s death occurred whilst he was still in the custody of the NT Corrective Services. It was therefore an identifiable death in custody and as such an autopsy should have been performed within hours of his death and not some four days later, as occurred.

My family is very concerned that the delay in carrying out the post mortem on Dad may have prevented a full microscopic analysis of his body tissues.

The autopsy report has still not been given to our family. We call for this report to be released to us immediately. I feel our family is being robbed of Dad’s proper diagnosis. It is disturbing and upsetting when you have the right to know how a loved one has died, but have not been told the full facts.

How did you get organised to go public?

I decided when Dad was still alive and in intensive care that I was going to go public. That he was cuffed to his bedside was sickening and inexcusable. I wanted to get justice and was feeling heartbroken, knowing this was getting swept under the carpet — it just was not right. I spoke to my uncle Wayne and he told me about the WA Death in Custody Watch Committee. I contacted them and they referred me to both yourself and to Ray Jackson of Indigenous Social Justice Association. What demands are the family making publicly and demanding of the NT government? What do you want to see happen now?

We initially wanted them to recognise that Dad was a death in custody, as they weren’t initially treating it this way. Now we have finally got this, we are pushing for the health concern about the bacteria that was found and mentioned in the hospital’s notes to be addressed. There is no indication that Correctional Services were advised of this reportable disease. Other inmates and prison guards may be at risk. I want recognition that this is a significant health concern and was a major contributor to my Dad’s death on top of the cancer he already had.

What do you think are the underpinning reasons for why your father was treated so appallingly in NT prison custody?

The Alice Springs Prison has racist staff members. Not all, but in particular the medical staff at the prison who neglected him in jail. If proper protocols were followed, they would have picked up on Dad’s health earlier and the cancer would have been detected. He was a diabetic and previously had been diagnosed with pneumonia and hospitalised six months earlier. The medical staff failed in their duty of care. You hear about this mistreatment with prisoners time and time again.

Where has the interest and the support come from?

Along with other family members encouraging me to speak out, ISJA has been a great support network. I have never done this before, and I appreciate all the help I have been given.

What do you plan to do next and what can people who want to support you and your family do?

I would like to be recognised and contacted by the new Minister for Correctional Services, Mr Johan Elfernik, and the Minister for Health, Mr David Tollner. There are serious flaws in the system that needs to be fixed and people who need to be made accountable.

I want justice for my father. No one, black or white, should go through what we went through — the lies from the Coroner’s Office, the doctors in the hospital and the prison medical staff. You just don’t need to be put through that rubbish.

If Dad’s death is now recognised as being a death in custody, our family would like to be compensated.

It would be wonderful if people who want to support us could show their solidarity by sending letters to the NT government.

Did you have any involvement with the campaign to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody prior to your Dad’s passing?

I have always had a strong belief in the campaign to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody, as my younger brother Cheyne passed away in 1999 in Alice Springs when police pursued him in a police chase. From the family’s perspective, there was an injustice about how the investigation into his death was done and this has left an empty feeling to this day.

That is why I am speaking out on behalf of my family to ensure that there is justice for my Dad. I will not be silent anymore. And I will speak out about what my family and I believe is right.

I am also supportive of the family of Mr Briscoe in Alice Springs. His death highlights a consistent pattern of abuse of inmates, lack of duty of care and cover-up from the NT Correctional system in Alice Springs.

Do you have any advice you would like to share with other deaths in custody families?

I would encourage other families to speak up about any mistreatment of Aboriginal inmates in Alice Springs and also around Australia. Even though it is a heart- wrenching time to go through when a loved one passes away in these circumstances, by making the NT Correctional Services accountable for their inaction, one can only hope that deaths in custody is not an ongoing matter and our Father/Uncle/Brother did not die in vain.

Take action! Support Kylie and her family. Write in support of their demands to Chief Minister, Mr Terry Mills (GPO Box 4396 Darwin NT 0801), and Minister for Corrections, Mr Johan Elfernick (GPO Box 1722 Darwin NT 0801).

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