The family of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day has persuaded the coroners court to release footage of her final conscious hours, saying that not releasing it would render her suffering – like the suffering of so many Indigenous people – invisible.
Coroner Caitlin English announced on Friday that she would release selected footage of Day’s time in the cells of Castlemaine police station. She said the public interest and the possibility that it could prevent further deaths in custody outweighed her earlier concerns about protecting the 55-year-old’s privacy and dignity.
“The privacy of Ms Day, regarding trauma and stress, is not an issue here because, unusually, Ms Day’s family are advocating strongly for the release of the footage,” English said. “In fact they are advocating for the very opposite of the protection of privacy, and reject invisibility.”
Day’s eldest daughter and senior next-of-kin, Belinda Day, had argued earlier that she and her family and community felt that releasing the footage would uphold her mother’s memory and dignity and, importantly, fulfil a preventive role by supporting work to reduce Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Tanya Day was arrested for being drunk in public on 5 December 2017 and put in the police cells for four hours to “sober up”.
She hit her head on the cell wall about 50 minutes later and was declared by police welfare checks to be fine, despite CCTV footage showing her condition was deteriorating. At 8pm police went to rouse her and discovered a bruise on her forehead. She died in hospital 17 days later.
Belinda Day, who recently changed her surname from Stevens, also argued that although the Andrews government had committed to abolish the crime of public drunkenness it was “critical for the public to see, to fully appreciate from my family’s perspective, why this law reform is so important”.
She argued that not releasing it would cause greater distress because “Aboriginal suffering is kept invisible and not releasing this footage will further perpetuate that invisibility”.
English said she had an obligation, set out through the second reading of the Coroners Act 2008, to consider the trauma caused to families involved in the coronial process through loss of privacy.
But she said Day’s family’s position was “compelling”.
“It is in the public interest to release the CCTV footage that has been played in court to the applicant [media agencies],” she said. “I am conscious, and I am sure the family is aware, that once the footage is released there will be no way to control where or in what context it is shown.”
She has authorised the release of footage only as played in court, which includes footage of all police checks and falls. A decision on the release of the full five hours of footage will be made at the end of the inquest, which is scheduled to run until Friday next week.
English will also release footage only after people who are in it have been cross-examined.
Day’s family said: “This CCTV footage shows the last few hours that our mum was conscious. It shows her being denied her basic humanity and dignity.
“Imagine having to watch your mum die in this way, with nobody held responsible. We want the world to see this footage because it is what our mum would have wanted.
“When you watch this harrowing footage, know that it is of a strong, proud and loving Yorta Yorta mother, grandmother, aunty and activist.”
The inquest continues.