Aborigine 'cooked' in prison van

2011-07-07 19:48

Sydney - An Australian prisons agency was fined $300 000 on Thursday over the death of an Aboriginal who activists say 'cooked' to death in the back of a prison van en route to court.

Known only as Mr Ward for Aboriginal cultural reasons, the elder, 46, died from heatstroke in the sweltering outback of Western Australia state during a four-hour journey in 2008 in a van with broken air-conditioning.

He suffered third-degree burns as temperatures in the vehicle's rear compartment soared to up to 50ºC  on the trip to a drink-driving hearing.

The state's corrective services department pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that Mr Ward was not exposed to what were ultimately fatal hazards, and it was  slapped with the fine on Thursday by the Kalgoorlie Magistrates Court.

"The department of corrections has been fined $305 000 over the death of Mr Ward," a spokesperson for the workplace safety regulator, which brought the charges, told AFP.

"That's the highest fine since we have had the maximum fine of $400 000. The next highest [case] was $100 000, so it's a really good result."

Magistrate Greg Benn said he could not impose the maximum penalty because the state agency had pleaded guilty early, expressed contrition and worked quickly to reform the system so such an event could never happen again.

The government had also made an ex-gratia payment of $3.4m to Mr Ward's widow and her four children last July.


Benn told members of Mr Ward's family in court for the sentence that it was not aimed at putting a value on his life but punishing the grave failings that led to his death.

"This is a serious breach indeed," said Benn.

"The incident that occurred was foreseeable and preventable."

WorkSafe WA said the private security contractor operating the van, G4S, would face court next, having already pleaded guilty to failing to ensure that Mr Ward's safety and health was not adversely affected by their work.

They face a maximum fine of $400 000.

The van's drivers had both pleaded not guilty to failing to take reasonable care of Mr Ward's safety and health and would stand trial, the spokesperson added, for which they could each be fined $20 000.

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