NT authorities ducking death in custody investigation

Family says NT authorities ducking death in custody investigation

Tom Nightingale ABC News - AM July 23, 2012
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Three months after an Aboriginal man died in the Alice Springs Hospital his family are campaigning for an independent investigation. He entered hospital while serving a jail term but died after his parole period was to start. His family says they've been told it's not death in custody - but they say he was in an induced coma and was unable to sign parole documents.


TONY EASTLEY: Three months after an Aboriginal man's death in the Alice Springs Hospital his family are campaigning for an independent investigation, saying he died while in police custody.

They question claims they say have been made by authorities that Peter Clarke signed parole papers while in hospital.

The family says Peter Clarke was put into an induced coma when he was admitted and was in no state to sign anything.

Mr Clarke died of pneumonia and lung cancer a few weeks after being admitted to hospital.

Tom Nightingale reports.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Peter Clarke was in the Alice Springs jail when he was taken to hospital in mid-March.

His daughter Kylie Hampton:

KYLIE HAMPTON: So it was that life threatening when he got there that he was put into ICU and sedated so he could breathe. Unfortunately did not come out of the coma. We later were informed that dad had died from pneumonia, emphysema and cancer in the lung.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Peter Clarke had also been in hospital with pneumonia six months earlier. Kylie Hampton questions whether prison guards were pro-active enough in observing his health in jail.

KYLIE HAMPTON: My concern was that was it likely that his condition could have been noticed in the early stages of his duty in care, was this practiced in the Alice Springs prison and question mark?

My family and I are very upset about this and would like this story to be taken to the media to shame the NT Government for doing this.

I strongly believe there needs to be a full coronial investigation and public inquiry, headed by possibly a QC so everything can be taken into consideration while investigating his death in custody.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Peter Clarke died a week after his parole was to start. Kylie Hampton says authorities have told her the death isn't regarded as a death in custody.

But she says he was in an induced coma before the parole period began and therefore wasn't conscious to sign parole release documents.

KYLIE HAMPTON: They must have realised dad wasn't waking up and his condition was worsening so the prison guard was called off duty. He died not quite two weeks later, unable to sign his parole release forms.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: If Peter Clarke's death was treated as a death in custody the Territory Coroner's Court would hold an inquest.

Kylie Hampton and her family are now campaigning for that to happen.

KYLIE HAMPTON: It's heartbreaking. Like I said my dad wasn't, it was inhumane how they treated him in his last weeks prior to his death. And you know he had, this man had a family.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Peter Clarke was from South Australia and had spent years in jail for possessing and supplying cannabis in the Territory.

AM has asked NT Corrections and the Correctional Services Minister Gerry McCarthy if Mr Clarke was in custody or not when he died and whether prison officers monitored his health well enough in jail.

A spokeswoman for the Minister said more time is needed to respond to the family's claims.

TONY EASTLEY: Tom Nightingale reporting.