Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

Ms Dhu’s death could have been prevented

In mid-December, coroner Ros Fogliani handed down her findings of the inquest into the death in custody of the 22-year-old Yamatji woman Ms Dhu.

Ms Dhu was jailed for unpaid fines in 2014 and died three days later in Port Hedland police station. The autopsy found that her death was partly caused by complications from a previous rib fracture, which became infectious and spread to her lungs, as well as from pneumonia and septicaemia.

The coroners’ findings reveal that Ms Dhu’s death could have been prevented if she had been given antibiotics. She found that the police acted unprofessionally and inhumanely.

During the inquest, police testified that they thought the young woman had been faking illness and coming down from drugs, with medical staff admitting that they thought she was exaggerating.

While in custody, Ms Dhu had repeatedly complained of being unwell but was returned to the police station after two of the hospital visits because medical staff deemed her fit to be detained.

Ms Dhu died after being taken to hospital the third time. Her body was dragged lifeless into the Hedland Health Campus in handcuffs, her heart already stopped by the time she arrived in the emergency room.

Some footage has now been publicly released of Ms Dhu in custody at her family’s request. They want to show the world the truth about how she was treated.

After the inquest findings Ms Dhu’s grandmother said that the family still felt justice had not been served after the coroner failed to recommend that anyone be charged for their culpability.

The tragic case of Ms Dhu highlights the severe oppression that indigenous people in Australia still face. Western Australia continues to have the highest Aboriginal imprisonment rates in Australia and has continued to imprison people for unpaid fines, a policy that affects Aboriginal women disproportionately.

By Amy Neve