Coronial inquest underway into death

Tanys’s daughter Apryl Watson, are seen at a smoking ceremony in Kings Domain Park prior to a Coroners Inquest, Monday, August 26, 2019. An inquest into the death of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day in police custody will examine whether racism was a factor in her death. Courtesy: AAP Image/David Crosling) NO ARCHIVING

The family of an Aboriginal woman who died in police custody wants footage of her final moments to be made public at an inquest into her death.

Tanya Day, a mother, grandmother and Yorta Yorta woman, was taken off a train and arrested for being drunk in a public place. Three weeks later she was dead.

The inquest looks into the effects of systemic racism on a deaths in custody case for the first time.

She was vulnerable not simply because she consumed alcohol, she was vulnerable because of who she was,” Peter Morrissey SC told the inquest.

“There is no doubt that there was a failure. The extent of it will be looked at.”

Mr Morrissey said there were other options rather than arresting Ms Day.

The 55-year-old was catching the V/Line service from Echuca to Melbourne on December 5, 2017 to see family, when she fell asleep on the train after drinking.

As the train pulled into Castlemaine, the conductor requested help from police. Officers woke Ms Day awake shortly after 3.10pm and decided to arrest her.

Police attempted to contact one of Ms Day’s daughters to come and collect her but she was unable to get to Castlemaine.

After locking Ms Day in a cell for a number of hours to sober up, the attending officers called an ambulance after realising something was wrong. The ambulance took almost an hour to arrive.

She had fallen while in custody and sustained traumatic head injuries. There had been bleeding in her brain for almost five hours before it was discovered.

Ms Day died 17 days later in Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

Before the three-week inquest into her death started today before coroner Caitlin English, Ms Day’s family and friends took part in a traditional smoking ceremony at a nearby park to honour her and other Aboriginal lives lost in police custody.

The proceedings were opened by Ms Day’s uncle Colin Walker, who performed a welcome to country.
“Tanya Day is my niece, a beautiful young woman who’s life was taken away from her,” he said.
“They failed her duty of care and neglected her. They never went near her for hours. She was never violent.”

They are calling for CCTV footage of Ms Day’s time in custody to be made public.

“Our mum should be alive today. We know that racism played a role in mum’s death and that Victoria Police failed her. We want truth and accountability through this coronial inquest,” her daughter Belinda Stevens said today.

“Our mother had so much more love and life to give – to us, to her grandchildren and to the broader community.”

After the smoking ceremony, the group marched to the Coroner’s Court for the start of the inquest, which will look at whether racism was a factor in Ms Day’s treatment and ultimate death – a first for a Victorian coroner – after successful campaigning by Ms Day’s family.

Aboriginal women are more likely to be targeted by police for being drunk in public than non-Aboriginal women, Ms Stevens said.

The government finally announced action to abolish and existing law on public drunkenness following calls from the coroner to the state government last December.

Victoria and Queensland are the only two remaining states that treat public drunkenness as a criminal issue with other states abandoning the approach following the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down in 1991.