Black death in custody: peter hampton inquest

Why was Peter Clarkes death not treated as an Aboriginal Death-in- Custody

Did any member of the Government bodies such as:

  • The Dept of Corrections N.T. (Including the Prison Doctor/Staff)
  • The Coroners Office
  • The Health Dept (including the Medical Supt. etc)

Fail to carry out their duty to inform the Coroner about Peter Clarkes Death etc

Why did Peter Clarke need to be shackled whilst he was in hospital?

Is this the practice for very sick Aboriginal patients when they are in hospital?

Did he receive good quality medical care while he was in prison ?

[the above is a list of questions concerning peter clarke who died in the icu (intensive care unit) of alice springs hospital after being transferred from the alice springs gaol.]

(the questions) explain and seeks what is seen to be within the coronial inquest and the coroner’s recommendations that will be of the greatest importance to the family. the list is not complete but it does give some understanding of what is being sought as a positive and acceptable outcome of the inquest.

isja, as a matter of course, will support the family in their search for truth. the coronial inquest will have the police brief to work from but that is never the whole case. the family/isja sincerely appreciate and are most thankful for the monies that isja has been able to raise. we have reached a sum of $3 500.

discussions are ongoing with the family, isja, dr carl hughes and our eminent legal team as to our next move and what is possible. i will not give any further details of those discussions until after the inquest is complete and the coroner’s decision and recommendations, if any, are made known to the family.

our legal team, especially barrister john rowe, is more than up to the task ahead and the family have all trust with them. the inquest is to begin on monday 14/10 and is scheduled to proceed for one week.

like the family, isja also has concerns and strong beliefs of what we believe must be seriously addressed by the nt coroner relative to the death of peter clarke. as was clearly recognised by the royal commissioners themselves, strong consideration must be allowed for the required legal flexibility to look at the underlying links and causations of each event and to not be bound only by a police brief. justice is not bound. though blind she is still free.

the first point focuses on the custodial circumstances for the three months prior to peter’s death. that he was seriously ill is known but we need to be able to evaluate what care and treatment by gaol officers and custodial health officers was given over those three months. when it was more than obvious that peter was seriously ill, who made the decisions to not transfer him to the hospital and why was he kept in gaol until somebody else made the decision to transfer. was the decision to keep peter in the alice springs gaol based strictly on financial concerns.

gaols, nationally, are loath to transfer their inmates on medical grounds so the alice springs gaol regime decisions come as no great surprise. the costs of these exercises is not small and the use of shackles, as in peter’s case is not uncommon. the shackles are used to allow less gaol officers to be in attendance 24/7, again as was done to peter. there are well recorded instances of even women giving birth being shackled.

it is recognised as a matter of fact that nt governments and custodial services do not accept any of the royal commission recommendations arising from the aboriginal deaths in custody royal commission. the following recommendations from the commission have been ignored and we firmly believe that had the following recommendations been implemented, peter clarke would probably be alive today. the recommendations relative to the health care of peter and the use of shackles are: 127(f)(vii), 150, 161, 163, 252, 283 and 328. we firmly believe that our legal team make the nt coroner aware of the recommendations as put and to consider them in his decision.

when peter was finally but belatedly transferred to the alice springs hospital he was assessed by the relevant medical team there placed him straight into the intensive care unit and monitored. nt corrective services made the decision that even though peter was in a coma it was required to shackle him and have either one or two gaol officers to be present 24 hours a day. recommendation 163 states that gaol officers should be positively discouraged from using physical restraint methods and to use them only as a matter of last resort. we want the coroner to recognise this most important point and to include the wording of this recommendation in his final decision. it must be added that we are putting to nt corrections the use of chemical restraints as a suitable replacement. such restraints must be carefully assessed by medical staff and not prison officers. but even these must only be used sparingly and strictly as a last resort.

peter, when he died in hospital, had gone beyond his possible parole date as he lay in a comatose state. when peter died, even though he had come to the hospital from the alice springs goal, was not automatically designated as a death in custody as outlined in the nt coroner’s act. this serious error on behalf of the staff of the alice springs hospital allowed for errors of a forensic nature to occur. it is known that the senior medical person at the icu rang to seek information on what he should do, and was peter to be designated as a death in custody. the executive at the alice springs gaol would or should have known that peter was a bona fide death in custody but apparently remained silent until much later. the head of the icu was advised however that peter was not to be treated as a death in custody as peter had been paroled whilst in the icu in a comatose state. this information, we understand, came from someone in the coroner’s office.

peter’s body was removed from the icu and placed in a suitable place awaiting the body being claimed by relatives. some two days later, his daughter, ms. kylie hampton, requested that an autopsy be performed to assess the cause of death. that autopsy was done and the family continued to argue that peter, their father, should be designated as a death in custody. isja became involved and we informed the family of their rights and that their father was a death in custody. we emailed our concerns to the government and the coroner’s office and finally about a week later he was confirmed as a death in custody and the automatic procedure that there would be another autopsy performed and there would be a coronial inquest held to find the cause of death and the circumstances of that death.

this legal error by authorities in the gaol system is not uncommon and has been exampled in nsw, in wa, in the nt and i believe there was a case in qld. whereby custodial authorities attempted to shirk the legal obligations required of them.

the royal commission was quite implicit in how deaths in custody events are to proceed. it is of absolute importance that a proper and full autopsy be performed as soon as tractable after death as from death the body begins to break down. in the case of peter it took about a week before that second autopsy was performed. that was not the ideal situation. the royal commission recommendations were handed down in 1991 and whilst initially the then nt government refused to consider or accept them a later labor party government did finally accept them. the recommendations concerning death in custody procedures eventually found their way into every state and territory coroner’s act. isja does not know from whom the false advice was given but we believe that the recommendations below must be put to the coroner doing the inquest so as to enforce the correct procedures are enforced on those departments and authorities responsible for these procedures. ignorance of the proper procedures must be eradicated so these unfortunate circumstances do not add uncertainty and pain to be put on an already traumatised family. we are sure that the sitting coroner for peter;s inquest can make this change occur.

the recommendations for deaths in custody and coronial management arising from that event are: 6-18, 20-22, 24-34, 36-41. all these recommendations, as we pointed out earlier, are already in the coroner’s acts. what needs to be recognised and recommended by this coroner is that the system needs to be properly trained in their duties and for those duties to be made legal responsibilities.

another matter of great concern to isja was information that during an examination of the deceased a bacterium was found. this bacterium did not make peter die, death was caused by other health problems, but if left to grow and mature it could be fatal. this bacterium prefers hot and humid conditions, it can be either water or soil based and is highly and dangerously infectious. we became quite concerned at the evidence and existence of this bacterium and, in good faith, we shared our concerns for current and released inmates along with all gaol staff, past and present. alice springs gaol is most certainly not functioning as a summer camp. it is a hot and humid and overcrowded gaol. it is a gaol of many aboriginal inmates. it is a gaol of shared showers for the inmates. it seems to be bacterium bliss!

we wrote quickly to the then-chief minister, the minister for running the nt gaols and we wrote to the nt health minister. all in good faith. no accusations, no blame. nothing but concern for those incarcerated or working in the alice springs gaol and the need for the appropriate authorities, especially the health authorities, to the possible outbreak possible from this dangerous bacterium. utter silence! no official thank you or public show of concern. the nt media, to our knowledge, even though advised were very, very silent. perhaps it was a case of ‘no salties, no interest.’ we believe that at the very least the alice springs gaol should at least be investigated and if evidence of the bacterium is found then screening of past and present inmates and gaol staff must be done. the bacterium was found in peter’s remains, and that being the case, it could be infected to others. there is only one place that that bacterium could be sourced and that is the alice springs gaol. isja is of he strong opinion that as, seemingly, the government and the relevant authorities appear to be doing nothing, then in the public interest, he should at least proceed the matter further. we most certainly do not need any more deaths in custody due to medical and government indifference.

isja needs to explain that our push for private legal representation for kylie must not be construed as any active criticism against the central australia aboriginal legal service in the nt. it is not. we recognise and applaud the daily works of caals, along with all the other aboriginal legal services around the country. i am more familiar with the operations of what was then called the redfern legal service. despite ongoing funding cuts and an absolute overload of work they continue to represent the enormous numbers of aboriginal inmates in the gaol system. our men make up at least a quarter of the national incarceration rates. our women are even at a higher representative rate, over 30%. our youth are a staggering 70+% of the national youth rate held in centres.

isja has much support for the aboriginal legal services. they not only provide young and committed solicitors for our mobs in the gaols but they also have prison visitors and representation at autopsies. they are exhausted by their workload and yet funding is still being cut from these services. the latest cuts thanks to that friend of the aboriginal people, prime minister tony abbott. of course there is criticism from some that are seen by the als personnel that they did not get released or received too hard a sentence, or a planned meeting was not done because of workload, and etc., etc. since 1987 we have heard all the bad news but seldom the good. when dealing with death in custody events however at inquests isja are firmly of the opinion that death in custody families are ill-served by the representation of the als involved. having said that though, we do recognise that this is neither the time nor place for this discussion to continue.

the family has made their opinions and wishes known to isja and with the exception of the above statement we believe that our concerns are matched and supported by peter’s family. we wouldn’t have it any other way.


ray jackson
indigenous social justice association

(m) 0450 651 063
(p) 02 9318 0947
address 1303/200 pitt street waterloo 2017

we live and work on the stolen lands of the gadigal people.

sovereignty treaty social justice

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