Inquest into Aboriginal woman’s death in custody begins
Posted On April 26, 2022
Warning: This story contains the name and image of a deceased Indigenous person.
In the hours before her death on the floor of a Victorian prison cell, Veronica Nelson called for help nine times.
“When’s the doctor going to see me?” Ms Nelson pleaded.
Today was the first day of a five-week inquest at the Victorian Coroners Court, into the death of Yorta Yorta woman Veronica Nelson in the Dame Phyllis Frost female prison in 2020.
The 37-year-old woman died alone in a cell after being refused bail over alleged shoplifting.
Veronica Nelson’s mother, Aunty Donna Nelson addressed the inquest today, fighting back tears as she spoke of her daughter’s passing.
“A broken criminal justice system locked my daughter up and let her die while she begged for help over and over,” she said.
The Yorta Yorta woman was arrested outside Southern Cross Station on suspicion of shoplifting.
She appeared in court without a lawyer and was refused bail.
Ms Nelson was transferred to the Dame Phyllis Frost women’s prison in Ravenhall, in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
It’s been revealed, the 37-year-old was in severe pain at the time from a rare, undiagnosed medical condition affecting her arteries.
She was also withdrawing from heroin.
A prison nurse suggested Ms Nelson be taken to hospital however a doctor disagreed.
Staff gave her paracetamol, anti-nausea medication, and a blanket, all passed through a flap in the cell door.
Three hours after guards last checked on her and Ms Nelson was found dead on the floor.
This was the third time Ms Nelson had been held in custody for shoplifting, an offence that does not carry any jail time.
She is one of 505 Indigenous people who have died in custody since findings from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were handed down.
The inquest will examine whether Ms Nelson’s Aboriginality, combined with her history of drug use, meant she was denied adequate treatment.
The inquest will continue over the next five weeks.
For 24/7 crisis support run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, contact 13YARN (13 92 76).