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Ms Dhu's Family Will Take Legal Action Over Her Death

Aboriginal woman Ms Dhu died in shocking conditions while in custody.

31/07/2017 8:46 PM AEST | Updated 31/07/2017 8:52 PM AEST
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The family of Ms Dhu, the young Aboriginal woman who died in harrowing conditions while in custody in Western Australia in 2014, will launch legal action in light of her death.

In an emotional interview with the ABC's '7.30' on Monday night, Ms Dhu's mother Della Roe said she thinks about her daughter's final moments everyday and called for the individuals responsible to be made accountable and for justice to take its place.

"You know, I wake up looking at that in my mind, I go to sleep looking at that in my mind. So what's the difference of it all?" she said.

"I want justice and someone pay for what they did to my baby. They need to be accountable for it."

Lawyer Stewart Levitt, who achieved a Federal Court legal victory over police racism in the Palm Island riots, has teamed up with human rights counsel George Newhouse and said Ms Dhu's case has evidence that could see the perpetrators punished.

"I'm very confident that we'll be successful. This is a case that's at least as egregious as other cases where we have been successful," he said.

"There's probably more evidence, more direct evidence, of what occurred than there is in almost every other case.

"[It's] certainly not without precedent that crimes against Indigenous Australians are under-investigated, under-prosecuted and the courts almost condone the perpetrators."

Ms Dhu died two days after being locked up at South Hedland Police Station in August 2014 for having $3622 in unpaid fines. She died in hospital from staphylococcal septicaemia and pneumonia after an infection in her fractured ribs spread to her lungs, and spent days complaining about the pain. She was 22 years old.

Some police testified during an inquest into the death that they thought Ms Dhu, whose first name is not being used for cultural reasons, was faking her illness and was coming down off drugs. Some medical staff also thought she was exaggerating.

Shocking footage of Ms Dhu's final moments, released in December 2016, allowed her family to "show the world the truth" of how she was treated by police officers and medical staff prior to her death.

The video also came as Coroner Ros Fogliani said Ms Dhu's death could have been prevented if her illness had been diagnosed days earlier.

"Regrettably the actions of some of the clinicians at HHC were affected by premature diagnostic closure, and errors were made," the Coroner's report said in part.

"Ms Dhu's suffering as she lay close to death at the Lock-Up was compounded by the unprofessional and inhumane actions of some of the police officers there.

"All of the persons involved were affected, to differing degrees, by underlying preconceptions about Ms Dhu that were ultimately reflected, not in what they said about her, but in how they treated her."

According to the '7.30' report, 11 police officers linked to the treatment of Ms Dhu prior to her death had undergone disciplinary measures and other health staff had received sanctions as a result of policy procedure changes, although the exact details of the repercussions remain unknown.

Newhouse also told '7.30' that he agreed to take on Ms Dhu's case in order to influence the reform of the treatment of individuals in custody.

"I don't ever want to see a young woman being dragged about in a police cell in custody in Western Australia," he said.

"I don't ever want to see medical professionals and clinicians and nurses ignoring the plight of a vulnerable woman who was effectively dying.

"These reforms need to take place and I'm hoping that the case will lead to real reform in Western Australia. It's three years since her death and time is up. Time is up."

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