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Legal services demand answers after Aboriginal man dies in custody

Yet another Aboriginal man has died in custody – and his family, alongside the Aboriginal Legal Service and GetUp First Nations Justice Campaign, is demanding answers.

user iconLauren Croft 15 July 2021 Politics
Frank Coleman Aboriginal man dies in custody

Frank “Gud” Coleman

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Frank “Gud” Coleman, a 43-year-old Ngemba man born in Brewarrina and raised in Mt Druitt, died on Thursday, July 8 at the Long Bay Correctional Complex after being found unresponsive.

Mr Coleman is one of at least 478 Aboriginal people to die in prisons and police incidents since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. His family, who has described Mr Coleman as “extremely healthy” had not heard from him or seen him for a year and a half.

Skye Hipwell, Mr Coleman’s ex-partner, said that there has not yet been a cause of death determined, despite already hearing from the coroner.


“COVID restrictions impacted our ability to visit and Frank was moved around a lot between prisons. There were quarantine periods whenever he was moved. At times he was several hours’ drive from Sydney,” Ms Hipwell said.

“We understand he didn’t have any visitors for several months and that’s an agonising period of time to go without any physical contact with your siblings, your parents, your children.

“Frank always said he was not a free man, he was living under a white man’s law, and it breaks my heart that he died not a free man. He died alone in a jail cell and no one knows anything about his last minutes.”

Karly Warner, chief executive of the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, said the organisation’s thoughts are with the family and it will offer legal support in a coronial inquiry.

“Each time an Aboriginal person dies in custody, the lives of their family members and entire communities are changed forever. The trauma is something they carry every day,” she said.

“It’s devastating beyond measure to have this conversation with yet another Aboriginal family whose loved one has died alone behind bars.

“Earlier this year Australia marked the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Yet federal and state governments refuse to conclude the Royal Commission’s unfinished business. Life-saving recommendations remain on the shelf while people like Frank suffer lonely and preventable deaths.”

GetUp First Nations justice campaign director Larissa Baldwin said the death was a “damning indictment” on Australia’s policing and justice system.

“Every single one of the nearly 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died at the hands of the Australian justice system since 1991 was somebody. They had lives they should have lived. Families they should have grown old with. Decades ahead of them, filled with possibilities and potential, ripped away,” she said.

“Instead, their families and loved ones have been left with holes in their lives that can never be filled. Losing a loved one in any circumstance, at any age, is a profoundly traumatic thing. But to have someone taken away so unfairly, and so needlessly, is more than tragic. It is an abomination.”

Mr Coleman’s family wants a coronial inquest to be scheduled as soon as practicable. They said that the prospect of waiting two years or more for his death to be examined in the Coroner’s Court is unacceptable.

“There’s no finality, it just goes on and on and on. The thought of having to wait years for an answer about why he died and the cause is really distressing,” said Ms Hipwell.

Ms Baldwin added that the “piling up” of coroner’s reports was a massive concern and that the current system in Australia needs to change.

“What’s it going to take? How many more coroner’s reports and inquiries and commissions and Senate hearings are in our future, piling up like all the ones that came before? How many more rallies and vigils and minutes of silence? Will 500 deaths be enough? A thousand?” she asked.

“How many more times will First Nations people have to pour out our grief, perform our sorrow and lay out the case for our own humanity, before Australia can be moved to change a system that kills us?

“This is a day of shame for Australia. Unutterable shame. And those days are becoming too many to count.”