Questions remain over police custody death
Compiled from various sources
originally published 11th September 2006
News updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
26-year-old Douglas Scott was a member of the Anmatyerre Aboriginal Nation of Central Australia. In 1985, he was arrested in Darwin, Northern Territory for allegedly swearing in public. Douglas Scott was unlawfully arrested and detained for 60 days for the use of ‘obscene’ language. While in custody he was tortured, refused bail, legal representation and medical assistance and was finally allegedly murdered in the early hours of the 5th of June 1985. The people who committed those crimes have never been prosecuted.
Subsequent trials found that he committed suicide, and photographs were produced by the police in which Mr. Scott was hanging by a bed-sheet in his prison cell. Two new autopsy reports maintained that there was no evidence that lesions on his body were caused before death. A coronial inquest and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 found that Douglas Scott hanged himself in the Berrimah jail, but his wife Letty Scott believes her husband was killed by four prison guards.
Letty was never satisfied with this finding, and has struggled ever since to have the case re-opened. She managed to get information from other prisoners incarcerated at the same place as Douglas Scott at the time of his death. They testify that he was beaten by prison guards the night of his death.
Letty went further. She went to the UN Commission on Human Rights and made an oral submission. With the help of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation of America, she got together a team of some of the world’s most eminent forensic experts, who conducted a detailed analysis of the available evidence.
The forensic team took the view that a large amount of evidence had not been considered in determining Douglas Scott’s fate, and that the marks on his neck were ‘more consistent with manual neck compression than with hanging mechanisms’. They produced a comprehensive Reconstruction Report of their findings and called for a new inquiry into the death of Douglas Scott.
One of three reports completed by forensic experts challenged the original inquest findings, saying lesions on Mr Scott’s body were consistent with torture procedures. The first autopsy report by a forensic specialist, Brazilian physician Jorge Paulete Vanrell who was engaged by Mrs Scott, challenges the original inquest findings.
The report found lesions that were “consistent with torture procedures”, like being kicked in the genital region, and fractures “usually produced by hand strangulation. “All lesions present were not inflicted by the victim himself,” the report said. Dr Vanrell is a professor of forensic medicine and criminology at the Police Academy of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
But the two remaining reports suggest otherwise. One report by a Queensland pathologist says there was no evidence of suspicious trauma before death. The final report by a specialist engaged by the Northern Territory Government said it was impossible to confirm whether damage to Mr Scott’s body occurred before or after his death.
Campaigners in Australia are still concerned at the increasing number of Australian Aboriginal custodial deaths presented as suicides, and aim to bring the issue of a fair investigation of these deaths of Aborigines in Australia to the attention of the international community and the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody investigated Douglas Scott’s death, ruling suicide.
Throughout its enquiry however, the Royal Commission, systematically neglected crucial evidence that when considered by the experienced independent Forensic Investigative Committee that examined both John F Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King’s murder, raised suspicions of non-suicidal and unnatural death.
On 7th April 2005, following Douglas’s exhumation for further forensic tests, his grieving Aboriginal widow buried her husband for the second time in 20 years. Surrounded by family, Letty Scott reburied her husband in a Townsville cemetery.
Letty remains adamant that her husband was tortured and killed by prison guards and has fought for a new inquiry since his death. She had also launched private criminal charges, including murder, against three prison guards.
Ms Scott said the new autopsy showed her husband died a “brutal death.” She felt vindicated by the autopsy findings but let down by the Australian authorities who investigated the death. “I just feel it’s left me like a wounded person,” she said. “I can see that Douglas died a brutal death and it’s very distressing to my children and I.”
Ms Scott said she wanted to leave Australia because she felt abandoned by the nation and its investigators. “I think we should leave so the world can see how Aboriginal people are really treated by Australia,” she said.
Government solicitor Greg Macdonald said the autopsy report was just one of three reports by forensic pathologists to be presented in the case from the new autopsy. “The defendants consider it would be premature for anyone to reach any conclusion on the basis of one third of the reports,” he said.
Deaths in custody: the shameful statistics
11 September 2010
Seven charged for Douglas Scott murder and cover-up
1 December 2004
Douglas Scott’s death in custody
29 March 2001