A prison boss told staff not to take the death of an Indigenous inmate ‘personally’ and said her family were looking for ‘someone to blame’, according to a leaked email.
The email from Dame Phyllis Frost prison manager Tracy Jones was sent in April, 2020 following the release of harrowing footage and audio revealing Veronica Nelson’s agonised pleas for help while suffering heroin withdrawal.
Despite her repeated cries of anguish in the early hours of January 1, 2020, including a heart-wrenching wail of ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy’, Nelson was given only one visit through the night by a nurse and was found dead in her cell at 8am.
Veronica Nelson (pictured) died in her cell at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre in January, 2020 after making more than a dozen calls for help over the intercom system
In the email sent by Ms Jones, she tells staff of the Melbourne jail that the footage was part of ‘a very negative picture’ being ‘painted by media’, which had ‘sensationalised’ the interactions Nelson had with staff on the night she died.
Ms Jones notes the ‘disturbing and distressing’ footage shows Nelson ‘vomiting and screaming in her cell and it’s pretty horrendous!’
She informs staff that the prison lost a legal challenge to blur the faces of prison employees interacting with Nelson and this was ‘very unfortunate for staff and their families’.
In releasing his findings the Coroner said Nelson’s treatment had been ‘cruel and degrading’ and her death had been preventable.
Harrowing footage and audio shows Nelson, who weighed only 33kg when she died, pleading for help
After a night of vomiting Nelson was found to weigh only 33kg when she died.
She was on remand after being denied bail on charges of shoplifting and other outstanding warrants, offences that the Coroner said would have been unlikely to see her jailed when the case went to court.
In evidence given to the Coroner some weeks after the leaked email was sent, Ms Jones agreed that staff had lacked compassion for Nelson.
‘The fact that she died in our care means we failed her,’ Ms Jones told the inquest.
Lawyers representing Nelson’s mother, Aunty Donna Nelson, said the leaked email betrayed the callousness of the jail.
Despite her desperate begging for help and anguished cry of ‘Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy’, staff only attended Nelson’s cell once through the night where a nurse passed medicine through the door
‘Coroner McGregor commenced his landmark finding wondering how Veronica’s heart-wrenching pleas were ignored,’ Robinson Gill lawyer Ali Besiroglu told.
‘This cruel email by the Governor of DPFC provides insight into the insensitive culture that existed from the top down.
‘This wasn’t the media being sensational — the only thing sensational about the evidence was the lack of empathy and humanity afforded by the Governor and her employees.’
Veronica Nelson’s family have been demanding justice after a coroner gave a damning verdict on how her last hours in prison were ‘cruel and degrading
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the email was very concerning and vowed his government would take action.
‘That’s not acceptable to me in any way, this is a terribly tragedy,’ he said.
‘Again I offer my full apology and again state that I and the government will take full responsibility to make profound reform as a result of what occurred to Veronica Nelson.’
Read the full leaked email from prison boss Tracy Jones
Some of you may have heard me speaking about this on the morning parades this morning and last week but today the coronial inquest into the death of Veronica Nelson commenced.
I have just had the unfortunate task of looking at all the media reports and we were unaware that the Coroners court would release the actual prison footage and intercom calls to the media.
The viewing is particularly disturbing and distressing.
The media have painted a very negative picture of the death and staff interactions with Ms Nelson.
We sought to get a suppression order to blur staff faces but we lost and therefore the news stories are viewing all staff interacting with Ms Nelson (not only witnesses of this hearing but others too).
This is out of our control and whilst we have sought legal advice on the airing of this footage by media channels, it’s very unfortunate for staff and their families.
It will also distress the women in our care I suspect, as it’s really sensationalised media and none of it positive.
The actual intercom calls from Ms Nelson to staff, were played on all major news channels, as was the reception of Ms Nelson, her vomiting and screaming in her cell and it’s pretty horrendous!
I want you all to prepare yourselves for seeing this footage, hearing how the prison has been highlighted and do not take it personally.
The family are angry and grieving and they want someone to blame for the death of their daughter/partner/sister/niece.
Please take care, look after each other and get support if you need it.
On the night Nelson died prison guards called nurse Atheana George but she had told them the she didn’t believe the Indigenous woman seemed that unwell.
Ms George only went to see Nelson once through the night, passing her medication, including Panadol, through a panel in the cell door.
The nurse said she didn’t go in to assess Nelson as the prison guard in attendance had treated her so badly she was ‘scared to ask her to open the door that day’.
The nurse also denied guards told her how unwell Nelson looked.
It was also revealed she put on movies during the night and although she said they were only ‘background noise’, monitors showed her intently watching the screen for hours while Nelson was screaming for help.
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