By David Weber

Family members of an Aboriginal elder who died in custody say they are happy charges have been laid against the Western Australian Government and the private contractor involved.

Mr Ward died of severe heatstroke in January 2008 after being driven across the desert in a prisoner transport van.

It was later discovered the air conditioning in the rear of the vehicle had broken down.

WorkSafe WA has charged the state’s Department of Corrective Services, contractor G4S and the two drivers.

They are the first charges to be laid over the incident after the Department of Public Prosecutions decided last year not to pursue a criminal case.

The chairwoman of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, Marianne Mackay, says WorkSafe has made the only possible decision given the circumstances.

“We’ve been fighting for Mr Ward for a couple of years now, and the timeframe just shows how disgusting and how ignorant the Government are when it comes to Aboriginal people,” she said.

“This is more common than you realise and the way that Mr Ward died was just too horrible for them to sweep it under the carpet like they have with the rest of our people.”

WorkSafe alleges Corrective Services did not adequately maintain the van.

G4S has been charged with failing to ensure Mr Ward was not adversely affected by the conditions.

And the two drivers have been charged with failing to take reasonable care to avoid having an impact on Mr Ward’s health.

Ms Mackay says the Government should end privatisation of prisoner services.

“I want to congratulate the WorkSafe mob on their investigation,” she said.

“I think that the Government need to stand up and take back that accountability and start working to improve the lives of our people, rather than allowing private companies to just do what they did to Mr Ward and get away with it.

“It is wrong. Now if this was a non-Aboriginal person it wouldn’t have happened and that’s a fact.”

Last year the State Government paid $3.2 million in compensation to Mr Ward’s family.

‘Money is nothing’

But Mr Ward’s cousin, Daisy Ward, has always called for someone to be held accountable for his death, and she was outraged when the DPP decided not to bring charges.

She said the Warburton elder’s life could not be valued in dollars.

“Money isn’t important to me. Money is nothing,” she said.

“The human life that is taken from us was important. He was an elder and he did everything for us, and he still remains in us.

“Money is just a piece of paper.”

The maximum penalty for the department and the company is $400,000 each. The maximum penalty for the drivers is $20,000.

Corrective Services Commissioner Ian Johnson says the process is fair and appropriate.

“The family has obviously gone through a terrible ordeal, as has the community,” he said.

“I can’t tell you how much we regret what’s happened back in 2008. And we’ve always been open right along to say if there are things we can do differently, even now after all the things we’ve done, then we’re wide open to seeing those things and doing those things.

“We want to absolutely make sure this never happens again.”

It is understood family members are still considering whether to bring civil action.