Three years after Aboriginal elder Mr Ward was cooked to death in the back of a prison van travelling from Laverton to Kalgoorlie, charges have been laid against the four parties found responsible by coroner Alistair Hope.
The parties prosecuted are the Western Australian Department of Corrective Services, the private prison van contractor G4S (formerly GSL) and the two drivers of the prison van.
State government workplace safety agency WorkSafe laid the charges under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
WorkSafe said on January 19 that it had “considered that a police investigation was more appropriate than a WorkSafe investigation because the charges and penalties available under their legislation were stronger and more appropriate”.
WorkSafe began its investigation after the June 2010 announcement by the Director of Public Prosecutions that criminal charges would not be laid.
The decision to lay charges has been welcomed by the family of Mr Ward and by the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (DICWC).
Watch Committee chairperson Marianne Mackay told Green Left Weekly WorkSafe should be congratulated “for actually doing something to achieve justice”.
She also called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to release the evidence “which led to his decision in not laying charges”.
The Aboriginal Legal Service, the WA Greens, the Socialist Alliance and the WA Labor Party opposition (which was in government at the time of Mr Ward’s death) also welcomed the WorkSafe announcement.
Socialist Alliance spokesperson Sanna Andrew told GLW: “Heartfelt congratulations should be extended to the DICWC for tirelessly campaigning for justice on this issue. We may never have gotten to this point had it not been for the ongoing efforts by the Watch Committee activists.”
Corrective Services Commissioner Ian Johnson told the January 19 West Australian there had been a “complete overhaul of the transportation of prisoners” since Mr Ward’s death.
But DICWC deputy chair Marc Newhouse told GLW Johnson’s claims cannot be verified because his department refuses to release details of its compliance with the coroner’s recommendations.
Newhouse said two investigations had been carried out into prisoner transport in the 10 years before Mr Ward’s death. If the department had made the changes recommended in those past investigations, Mr Ward’s death would not have happened.
He also criticised the WA government’s ongoing reliance on private prisoner transport services, which he said had a worse safety record than public services.