Black deaths commission slams cops

March 27, 1991

Black deaths commission slams cops

By Leon Harrison

PERTH — Kalgoorlie police have been slammed by the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody over their treatment of three Aboriginal prisoners who died in the Kalgoorlie lockup.

More Aborigines have died in custody in Kalgoorlie than in any other town in Western Australia.

Faith Barnes, Roy Walker and Milton Wells all died in the lockup between 1981 and 1985. Police were also criticised over the death of 20 year-old Bernard McGrath, found hanged in the lockup in 1987.

Commissioner Daniel O'Dea said McGrath was probably aided in his suicide by fellow prisoner Neville Galbraith, though Galbraith had been acquitted of this charge by a Supreme Court jury.

Barnes, Walker and Wells all died of serious injuries or illness ignored by police. O'Dea described the treatment of Barnes as disgraceful, and said police response to her condition was "automatic, unthinking and typical".

The 27 year-old Aboriginal woman was semiconscious when arrested for drunkenness on October 26, 1982. Despite the fact that there was blood on the side of her head, she was not taken to the hospital until later in the day. She died of massive head injuries.

Commissioner O'Dea didn't rule out the possibility that the injuries were caused by being dropped while police were dragging her to a cell.

Roy Walker, 62, died in March 1981 after being arrested for drunkenness. Like Barnes, he had a serious head injury that went unnoticed by police for eight hours.

Milton Wells, 30, was desperately ill when arrested on suspicion of breaking into a car outside the Kalgoorlie Hotel in 1985. O'Dea said Wells should have been taken to hospital, not the lockup.

O'Dea said he was satisfied a police officer had lied to the commission investigating Wells' death.

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