Australian state awards $2.9 million to family of Aborigine who died of heat in prison van

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Australia awards compensation for prison van death

PERTH, Australia — The family of an Aboriginal elder who died of heat stroke in a prison van with no air conditioning on a brutally hot day in Australia’s Outback will be given 3.2 million Australian dollars ($2.9 million) in compensation, a state attorney general said Thursday.

Western Australia Attorney General Christian Porter said the ex-gratia payment — a voluntary gift given out of compassion rather than legal obligation — was one of the largest ever made in Australia.

“It’s meant to show contrition — deep, deep remorse — for what has occurred,” Porter said.

The 46-year-old prisoner, now known only by his family name Ward because of a cultural prohibition on using the first name of a dead Aborigine, died of heat stroke in the back of the van after the temperature soared to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) during a four-hour journey in 2008.

Two prison officers, who were in a separate front compartment of the van, did not check on Ward and were unaware that the air conditioner in the rear compartment was broken.

Ward, a father of four, suffered a third-degree burn to his stomach after collapsing on the van’s metal floor.

A state coroner who investigated the case last year found that the guards had contributed to the death and recommended criminal charges.

But last month, a state prosecutor ruled out filing any charges after determining there wasn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction. That decision angered many Aborigines.

On Thursday, Porter said the payment came with no strings attached, and did not prevent Ward’s family from taking legal action against the government. It includes a AU$200,000 payment already given to the family.

Ward was being transported from his Outback hometown of Laverton to the larger city of Kalgoorlie to face court on a drunk driving charge when he died.

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