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Family Demand Answers At Death In Custody Inquest For Aboriginal Man Danny Whitton

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Family Demand Answers At Death In Custody Inquest For Aboriginal Man Danny Whitton

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People should be aware that this article contains images and names of deceased persons in photographs and print.

Danny Whitton, a Wonnarua man from the Hunter region, was just 25 years old when he died after an apparent accidental drug overdose in Junee Correctional Centre on November 9, 2015.

Two days prior, Danny had complained of vomiting, severe stomach pain, and blood in his urine, and was moved to Junee Correctional Centre's medical unit.

On the day of his death, Danny was barely conscious. It wasn't until five hours later that an ambulance was called to take him to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, where he was diagnosed as suffering from liver failure.

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When his condition worsened, he transported by helicopter to Sydney, however died from multiple organ failure caused by suspected paracetamol toxicity.

After several years of questions as to how their son's death managed to occur under the watch of authorities, Danny's parents, Kylie Knight and Darren Whitton, are still demanding answers.

They're demanding to know how was their son able to obtain such a large quantity of paracetamol or buprenorphine while in prison, why his emergency medical care so delayed, and why it took so long for his family to be told that their beloved son was dying?

Credit: Aboriginal Legal Service
Credit: Aboriginal Legal Service
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"We have evidence from other men in the prison that as early as 5 November 2015, Danny's skin was yellow and he was 'pissing blood', vomiting and in pain," Ms Knight and Mr Whitton said.

"Why did correctional staff wait another two days before taking him to hospital? Would he still be alive if he'd been taken sooner?"

An inquest is set to finally explore the cause of Danny's death and how he managed to access the drugs that would lead to his death.

"Danny relied on methadone while living in the community, but he was denied access to appropriate medication in prison," his parents explained.

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"The people in charge at Junee Correctional Centre should have known this would deteriorate his physical and mental health and lead him to source relief wherever he could.

"Wouldn't they have known drugs were moving through the prison?"

Danny's mother, Kylie, also condemned the lack of communication between the correctional facility, hospital, and his family as Danny's situation worsened.

"I didn't even know my son was sick until Wagga Wagga Base Hospital contacted me," Ms Knight said.

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"By that stage, Danny's airlift to Sydney was already being arranged. I never got a phone call from Corrective Services NSW or Junee Correctional Centre."

Credit: NSW Liberal
Credit: NSW Liberal

Despite Danny's parents' obvious despair, their nightmare was compounded by the questionable treatment by Royal Prince Alfred Hospital staff, who refused to allow his mother by his bedside until she provided identification, even though she had been at the hospital all night.

"I didn't have any ID on me. I was very distressed. I told them I'm his mother, and one of them said, 'You could be anyone saying you're his mother,'" she said.

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In one last heartbreaking insult to injury, as Danny's life support was switched off and his family surrounded him as he took his final breaths, his mum was told she wasn't allowed to touch the child she had brought into the world.

"As I went to get on the bed, the officer told me I couldn't touch Danny," she said.

"He said because Danny would need an autopsy, touching him would be 'tampering with evidence'. He said, 'he is still Corrective Services property'.

"It broke my heart."

NSW Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Karly Warner said that the shocking five-year delay in launching the inquest demonstrates the value placed on Aboriginal lives.

"More than 440 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have passed away in prisons and police custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody almost 30 years ago," Ms Warner said.

"The majority of recommendations from that inquiry have still not been implemented. Kind, loving people like Danny Whitton's family continue to be left with unimaginable and avoidable grief.

"We stand with them in their long quest for accountability and justice."

The inquest is scheduled to take place from February 22 to February 26.

You can support the work of the Aboriginal Legal Service here.

Featured Image Credit: Aboriginal Legal Service

Topics: Australia

Jessica Lynch
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