Menu

Inside the Tanya Day inquest

Sep 23, 2019 • 17m25s

Tanya Day died after being arrested for drunkenness. A coroner is now asking whether systemic racism contributed to her death.

play

 

Inside the Tanya Day inquest

85 • Sep 23, 2019

Inside the Tanya Day inquest

ELIZABETH:

Firstly, a note for Indigenous listeners: this episode includes discussion of and the naming of people who are deceased.

[Theme music starts]

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

ELIZABETH:

Tanya Day was a 55-year-old Yorta Yorta woman. She died after being arrested on a train for public drunkenness. Madeline Hayman-Reber on how a coroner is now asking whether systemic racism contributed to her death.

[Theme music ends]

Archival tape — Unidentified female newsreader:

“Yorta-yorta woman Auntie Tanya Day died in custody after being arrested for public drunkenness, two years ago. Now since then, her family has been fighting for the abolition of that archaic law in the state of Victoria.”

Archival tape — Unidentified female family member:

“Being able to sit up there and just speak about who she what she stood for, and um, you know the legacy that we want to carry on for mum, um was really important.”

[Atmospheric music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Madeline, Tanya Day has four living children: Belinda, Warren, Apryl and Kimberly. You’ve become close with them through the course of your reporting, particularly with Apryl.

MADELINE:

Yeah, so when I first met Apryl it was through what happened to her Mum. And it was becoming big in Victoria. I didn't really know her that well before.

ELIZABETH:

Madeline Hayman-Reber is a journalist for NITV. She covered this inquest for The Saturday Paper.

MADELINE:

You know personally we've become quite good friends, through it. I think that the way that she is she's taken sort of the lead, her and Belinda, together and we know been really staunch advocates for their mum.

ELIZABETH:

If we turn to that day, Tanya had intended to come to Melbourne to visit Kimberly. Could you describe a little more about what happened on that day?

MADELINE:

So this happens in early December 2017. She was catching public transport from Echuca to Melbourne's Southern Cross Station. She was going to visit her Kimberly, her youngest daughter, she wanted to be there for her prenatal appointments. At about midday, she took a bus from her hometown of Echuca to Bendigo where she switched over onto a VLine train. No one really knows why she was drinking on that day but she decided to have some drinks obviously and fell asleep on the train. Then the conductor came along, Shane Irvine from VLine and was checking everyone's tickets. He asked her for a ticket and tried to wake her up but she wasn't giving him answers that he thought were legible. So he ended up calling the train driver and asking him to get the police to the next station which was Castlemaine train station. There was four officers, I believe two arrived originally, and another two came after that.

[Atmospheric music ends]

MADELINE:

She was taken off the train by the police officers who also said that she wasn't giving coherent responses to their questions or her answers didn't make sense.

When they first came to see Tanya, at no point did they tell her that she was under arrest. It was just sort of an assumption. We heard that in the evidence in the courts. An ambulance wasn't initially called for her they were walking to the car I believe and had put her in the wagon in the back and that's when they tried to call her daughter Kimberly to come pick her up. But Kimberly was eight months pregnant and was unable to get to Castlemaine in the timeframe that they were given. Neither could any of her other children. They thought that she would be safe to stay there and sober up for four hours and then they were going to put her on the train the rest of the way to Melbourne.

Archival tape — Unidentified female family member:

“You know, none of us were close enough to get Mum within that time frame and they said that she needed four hours so, you know, we thought that she was, she was safe from what they were saying.”

MADELINE:

Once she got to the station she was taken into the main area of the police station and was getting a photo taken. You can actually see her trying to bargain with the police in the CCTV footage for her release. And when she realises that she can't talk her way out of it you can see her start to cry because she knows what happens in those cells I suppose; cause her uncle here was one of the people in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. His story was told in that inquest and one of the recommendations that actually came out of that was to abolish the offence of public drunkenness.

That was 28 years ago. I believe every other state has abolished the offense of public drunkenness. Victoria is the only state that has not. So that would be what the family is really pushing for.

ELIZABETH:

And on this day on the 5th of December in 2017, Tanya Day’s taken to the police station at Castlemaine and she's put into a police cell. What happens there?

MADELINE:

She walks around the cell, it's very small. It's made of concrete. She's given pillows, blankets and lays down and the police leave her in there. She then gets up a short time later and kind of staggers around the room. She falls five times over that period of time and hits her head. The worst impact happens at 4:51 p.m. She got up, walked around and you see her kind of sway and fall onto the bed with the right side of her head impacting quite hard on the wall. After that, you can see her laying down and you start to notice that the right side of her body isn't working properly. You can see her sort of realising that and she tries to lift her right arm with her left arm and she's trying to move her body but she can't. She looks confused as to why that's happening. But we now know that the reason that that was happening was because she had a bleed on the left side of her brain on her frontal and temporal lobes which caused the right side of her brain to swell. They say that that impact that I just spoke about was the impact that killed her.

Archival tape — Unidentified female family member:

“They didn’t tell us that, you know, your Mum’s had a serious fall, they actually used the words ‘she’s had a knock to the noggin.’”

ELIZABETH:

So police are checking on her but they don't call an ambulance for some time.

MADELINE:

Yeah so, Leading Senior Constable Danny Walters and the custody supervisor Sergeant Edwina Neil agreed on 20 minute checks because, we heard in Edwina’s evidence that she wanted them to be more frequent because she was Aboriginal and therefore vulnerable in custody.

ELIZABETH:

What are those police checks supposed to entail?

MADELINE:

So, it's walking from the watch house, down to the cell and doing a physical check. So you know banging on the door, you're meant to open the shutters, physically see them and to get a verbal response. Then you can walk away. We don't see that being done in the CCTV footage.

ELIZABETH:

And so what happens that evening; when do the police realise that Tanya's condition requires medical attention?

MADELINE:

So later that evening we say at about 8 o'clock the police go into the cell. They see her on the grounds. They lift her up and put her back on the bed and they say that that was the point where they realised that she had a bruise on her head that she didn't have before she got into the cell. That's when they called the paramedics and you can actually hear Constable Danny Walters on the phone telling them that he's seen her fall and hit her head about an hour ago. But that was about three hours, that it happens. So that was a discrepancy in the evidence.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

The CCTV footage that shows what happened that afternoon was played in the court for the inquest. How did the courtroom respond?

MADELINE:

Sitting there, you're watching it and you're just waiting for the moment where she hits her head, where that impact happens. And when it did finally happen, you know, the whole courtroom just collectively gasped, they were just like really shook by it, I guess, and so was I. The coroner was actually crying as well. And obviously the family was really upset, they had seen the footage before but it doesn't really get easier saying what happened to your mum.

Archival tape — Unidentified female family member:

“Even when we were in court and we were watching the footage like that’s all I kept thinking about, like was this when she was worried about this or was she worried, you know, when we were going to come pick her up.”

ELIZABETH:

Of course it was extremely difficult for the family to see but they did lobby to have that made public. They wanted the public to see that footage. What was the reasoning for pushing for the release of it?

MADELINE:

They just wanted everyone to know the truth of what happened to their mum. When it comes to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, a lot of families choose to go against cultural protocols of not showing someone's face or saying their name, in order to get justice. And that they say we have to resort to that kind of thing. But it is also really important in holding people accountable for their actions.

[Music ends]

Archival tape — Unidentified female family member:

“We want the world to see this footage because our mum deserved to be treated with dignity and care. But was instead ignored and left to die on the floor of a police cell.”

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Advertisement]

ELIZABETH:

Madeline, one of the things that was unprecedented about the inquest, was that it considered the role of systemic racism in the death of Tanya Day. What did it mean that the court would expand the inquest to include that?

MADELINE:

Yes, so that was pretty significant. That's the first time, in Australian history, that a coroner has agreed to examine systemic racism. It could change you know a lot of a lot of things for a lot of people.

A lot of the questions from the family's lawyer centered around ‘would they have done that to someone who wasn't Aboriginal?’ And you could actually see the witnesses in the stands kind of thinking to themselves ‘would I have done that or would I not have done that’. Of course a lot of it was denied, a lot of them said they treated her the same way they would have treated someone else who was not indigenous.

ELIZABETH:

So the train conductor, for instance, he was being asked would you have done what you did if this person was not indigenous?

MADELINE:

Yeah it's not really common practice for you to call the police when someone doesn't have a ticket. I don't know how many people have been on the tram and not had money on their card but the police have never really been called, you usually get a fine. We heard from Shane Irvine, the train conductor, that usually here would give them a warning but he didn't, he called the police.

ELIZABETH:

And so what he’s being asked about is unconscious bias and racism, which he denied.

MADELINE:

Yeah, we actually heard from his lawyer who asked him to describe his relationship with an Aboriginal friend that he had in high school, which was, in itself, sort of a… it showed you know, the lack of understanding around what unconscious bias is in the question itself. I'm not racist because I have Aboriginal friends.

ELIZABETH:

Victoria Police sent a superintendent to answer questions on their behalf. What kind of evidence did she give to the inquest?

MADELINE:

So Susan Thomas was in charge of the Aboriginal and youth portfolios in Victoria Police's priority communities division. Basically her role is to, sort of, bring cultural awareness to the members of the police force so that they can build better relationships with the Aboriginal community.

She was brought in very last minute. I believe it was the last day that she was in. At one point you know she couldn't really answer any of the questions that were being put to her by the lawyers. The lawyer for Tanya Day’s family said that she'd been appointed as a decoy specifically because she didn't know the answers. She couldn't even say if there was a cultural sensitivity package taught to Victoria Police or if it had progressed beyond the draft phase. She also couldn't provide information on what kind of training the police had at that time at Castlemaine police station. And at one point she said that she came to talk about all the good work that was occurring across Victoria Police, that's why she had been put forward in the court to speak on behalf of the police.

ELIZABETH:

Madeleine what was the family's reaction like to the evidence that Superintendent Thomas gave?

MADELINE:

Apryl was actually texting me at the time; she sent me a message saying, you know ‘bra’; I saw her get up and walk out. A lot of other community members got up and walked out. I guess the biggest moment of that was when she did sit there and say she came there to talk about all the good work, I actually saw Warren get up and leave.

ELIZABETH:

Warren's Tanya's son.

MADELINE:

Yes. And Warren has been the rock, you know, of the family. He's always been very staunch. He's always standing behind his sisters. He's always there. And that was the point for him, I guess, that was too much. And he walked out.

ELIZABETH:

What does the family hope that the inquest will do now?

MADELINE:

Well first and foremost, Tanya's family are hoping for an end to Victoria's public drunkenness laws. So there is a commitment in place now for that to happen. The coroner has already, before it sort of started in the directions hearings, she actually said that she would be making that recommendation. And I think that is because she must have an appreciation for the fact that that was actually one of the recommendations in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that is still yet to be implemented.

Archival tape — Unidentified female newsreader:

“The government says that drunkenness in itself should not result in vulnerable people being thrown in police vans or cells. It’s moving to a health based response citing several inquests as well as submissions to the mental health royal commission.

MADELINE:

It is alarming that an Aboriginal person could go out for drinks with their friends in the city and be pulled up by Victoria Police and placed in custody for being drunk in public. You know, a lot of people commit that offence every single weekend but you don't see everyone getting locked up for it.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Madeline, when is coroner expected to hand down her findings?

[Advertisement]

MADELINE:

On November 11, the lawyers will present the coroner with their oral submissions which is going to be based on all the evidence they've received. She then has six months to make her findings so, there is still a bit of a wait to go, to see what the outcome will be.

The community support was pretty significant. Their side was full every single day and they said in the end you know that that gave them strength to get through it.

At the time of Tanya's death she was actually involved with supporting the family of Tane Chatfield who died in custody in New South Wales. She was supporting them through that and that’s sort of the reason why the Day family is so staunch about trying to continue her work. Because if Tanya was alive today, their family would have been one of the families that Tanya would have been supporting.

ELIZABETH:

Thank you so much for being here Madeline.

MADELINE:

Thank you for having me.

[Music ends]

[Advertisement]

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

As the Prime Minister prepared to meet one-on-one with the US President over the weekend, what was intended as a brief media presentation in the Oval Office turned into an impromptu half hour press conference, as President Trump announced new sanctions on Iran and raised the possibility of military action, including the potential use of nuclear weapons. He went on to take questions from the press, speaking to a wide range of topics from the China trade war, to his thoughts on returned foreign fighters captured in Iraq and Syria. The Prime Minister appeared to look on in surprise.

Morrison later stated that further Australian involvement in Iran was not discussed in his private meeting with the President, and that our commitment would be restricted to forces currently operating in the Strait of Hormuz. The Prime Minister completed his time in Washington by announcing a $150m contribution to NASA's moon and Mars exploration program.

This is 7am. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Tuesday.

[Theme music ends]

Tanya Day was a 55-year-old Yorta Yorta woman. She died after being arrested on a train for public drunkenness. Madeline Hayman-Reber on how a coroner is now asking whether systemic racism contributed to her death.

Guest: NITV journalist Madeline Hayman-Reber.

Background reading:

Waiting for justice in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

Listen and subscribe in your favourite podcast app (it's free).

Apple podcasts Google podcasts Listen on Spotify

Share:

7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

Tags

tanyaday inquest indigenous police auspol victoria




Subscribe to hear every episode in your favourite podcast app:
Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify

00:00
17:25
85: Inside the Tanya Day inquest