MEDIA RELEASE 20 September 2021

Raymond Noel Lindsay Thomas (referred to as “Raymond Noel” for cultural reasons) was a proud Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Wiradjuri man.

Raymond Noel died in a police pursuit on 25 June 2017. Four years on, Raymond Noels’ family and community still feel tremendous grief and pain from his tragic and preventable death.

It is vital that changes are made to prevent such tragedies ever happening again.

The Coroner made a clear finding that Raymond Noel had done nothing wrong when he attracted police attention.

The Coroner also made findings including:

  • The pursuit of Raymond Noel was not justified.
  • “An alarming lack of internal rigour” by the Police review of the death of Raymond Noel.
  • The Victoria Police pursuits policy should enshrine the primacy of life and public safety must come first.
  • Police vehicles should not travel at high speeds without using their lights and sirens. Such actions are likely to induce fear in the driver being followed, and are unsafe.
  • Risk assessment for pursuits needs to be made prior to police involvement.
  • More extensive driver training should be implemented, including simulation training.

The Coroner also found that the police treatment of Raymond Noel through his life and the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through many generations, will likely have contributed to how Raymond Noel responded to the police pursuit.

The Coroner said that neither police member considered the damp road, major traffic lights ahead, the possibility that the driveability of the car was compromised, possibility that the driver was injured, whether serious risk existed before police involvement, nor how a high speed pursuit would protect the public, or how such a pursuit would likely end.

VALS is proud to support the Thomas-Williams family in their quest for justice. The Coronial Inquest is an important step towards finding out the truth of what happened on that night four years ago when Raymond Noel drove to the shops to get chocolate.

Police pursuits, like all policing tactics, disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Police pursuits should make communities safer, not less safe. This matter highlights the devastating impact that a police pursuit, initiated as a result of a minor traffic matter, can have for an individual, his family and his community. VALS also notes that Victoria Police has been scrutinised and criticised for its approach to pursuits in previous coronial inquests and investigations.

Quotes Attributable to Aunty Debbie and Uncle Ray, Raymond Noel’s parents

“We came to this inquest without Raymond Noel and we leave it without him.”

“While we have learnt more about what happened to Ray that night, we will continue our fight for accountability.”

“Ray did nothing wrong. The police should not have followed Ray that night and their decision to follow him led to his death.”

“We are very thankful for the way Coroner Olle has conducted the inquest.”

Quotes Attributable to George Selvanera, Acting CEO of VALS

“The Coroner made strong findings about Victoria Police policies, training, procedures, and internal reviews. Victoria Police must take the Coroner’s recommendations seriously, and begin implementation of these recommendations as a matter of urgency, before any more lives are lost.”

“VALS supports the Coroners suggestion that police should not have pursued Raymond Noel. And to the extent that they did, it should never have been in the manner in which it did.”

“It is clear that there are significant discrepancies between the written pursuit policy and the way in which it is interpreted and practiced by individual Victoria Police members.”

“The Inquest has also highlighted what happens when police investigate police. It’s taken over four years to get to this point. During that time, the family of Raymond Noel has had to live with their grief without a proper understanding of what happened to their son, their brother, their cousin.”

“We have been really proud to support Raymond Noel’s family. As the Coroner said many times, they have always maintained the utmost dignity during a very difficult and traumatic time.”

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.