NSW Cops Under Fire For Not Informing ALS Of Indigenous Death In Custody

Last month, news tragically emerged that a 36-year-old woman died in police custody after being arrested on July 19 2016 while walking along Wollumbi Road, Cessnock.
It’s now emerged that the woman, identified only as Ms Maher from Raymond Terrace NSW, was Indigenous, making her the first Indigenous person to die in NSW police custody since 2000.
The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) is now accusing NSW Police of procedural failure for not informing them of her arrest, detainment or death until August 12, almost four weeks after the incident.
It’s common procedure for police to contact the ALS via the Custody Notification Service (CNS), a 24-hour hotline that was established on the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Yet in this case, the ALS were not informed until long after the incident.

“Usually NSW Police notify us through our CNS, and an ALS lawyer gives the person legal advice and checks they’re OK,” said ALS CEO Gary Oliver.

“Sometimes they’re not OK, and the police and the lawyer organise for a health check, an ambulance, medication, or whatever assistance is required to ensure the person in custody is safe.

“Even if a person is seen to be intoxicated, the police still ring us and let us know they’ve got a person in custody, and NSW police ensure that person in custody is made safe.”

Oliver says that although it’s a good system, with the police and ALS working together to ensure Indigenous people in custody are both safe and provided with legal advice, this time police failed to use it.

“We’ve very concerned there’s been a procedural failure this time,”
he said.

“If the CNS had been used by police when they detained Ms Maher, there may have been a different outcome.

“We will work closely with NSW Police to ensure all checks and balances are occurring in every other police station across NSW and ACT.

“There is no good reason why my community has to experience the extreme trauma of another Aboriginal death in custody.”

Police advised in July that an investigation into Ms Maher’s death had been launched, which would then be subject to an independent review.

PEDESTRIAN.TV has reached out to NSW Police for comment.

Last year, Charlie Pickering looked into Indigenous incarceration; it’s well worth a watch, particularly to understand the significance of the CNS:

UPDATE. A police spokeswoman has told P.TV: “A critical incident investigation is underway with all information provided to the Coroner. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Photo: Getty / Cameron Spencer.