Justice for Veronica Nelson upheld as Supreme Court dismisses appeal

Today, the Supreme Court of Victoria dismissed an appeal by Dr Sean Runacres against three findings made by Coroner McGregor in the Coronial Inquest into the Passing of Veronica Nelson.

Veronica, a proud Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman, passed away in a prison cell at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre women’s prison on 2 January 2020, after days of crying out in pain.

0n 30 January 2023, the Coroner found that Veronica’s death was preventable, that the medical care she received in prison was deficient, and that she should have been sent to hospital at the time she entered prison.

In relation to Dr Runacres, who conducted Veronica’s reception medical assessment, the Coroner found that he did not conduct a physical examination of Veronica, that the weight he recorded for Veronica was inaccurate, and that his conduct set in motion a chain of events in which Veronica’s medical treatment and care was inadequate in an ongoing way. Dr Runacres appealed against these findings.

Aunty Donna Nelson, Veronica’s mother, represented by Robinson Gill Lawyers and Uncle Percy Lovett, Veronica’s partner, represented by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, jointly intervened in Dr Runacres’ appeal and made oral and written submissions to the Supreme Court in support of the findings made by Coroner McGregor.

Justice Quigley found no error in the Coroner’s findings and dismissed the appeal.

Today’s judgment is another win for Uncle Percy and Aunty Donna in seeking justice for Veronica. It is also a win for families in seeking justice for their loved ones who have passed away in custody.

Quotes Attributable to Aunty Donna Nelson, Veronica’s mother:

“I will never stop fighting for my daughter, Veronica. Everyone failed Veronica prior to her death. Instead of making us re-live the trauma of her final moments, we need to accept that what happened to Veronica was wrong and hold those responsible for her death to account.”

“I thank the Coroners Court and the Supreme Court for giving justice to my daughter.”              

Quotes Attributable to Uncle Percy Lovett, Veronica’s life partner:

“I’m so happy that he won’t be able to get out of being held accountable for what he did. This just shows that what he did to Veronica, and the way he treated her, was wrong.”

“I still think about Veronica every day and what they did to her. I wish she was alive and that I could see her again. They have to make sure that what happened to Veronica doesn’t happen to anyone else. They have to be held to account and the system has to change so that no one else dies in prison.”

Quotes Attributable to Ali Besiroglu, Principal Lawyer, Robinson Gill Lawyers:

The Supreme Court today confirmed what we already knew – that Coroner McGregor’s landmark findings were just and right. Every institution and person who had involvement with Veronica prior to her death needs to reconsider Coroner McGregor’s findings, take a long hard look at themselves, and ask what they can learn so that this tragedy is never repeated.

“Some positive changes have been made, but not enough has been done to ensure these catastrophic failings are not repeated.”

Quotes Attributable to Sarah Schwartz, Principle Managing Lawyer, Wirraway, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“This is a significant win for Veronica’s family, who have continued to fight for justice for Veronica for over 4 years. This also represents a win for all families who have lost loved ones in custody and demonstrates that a high bar will need to be met to overturn adverse findings made in the Coroner’s Court of Victoria.”

“Veronica should never have died. If it weren’t for her neglect in prison, she would be alive today, sharing in community and culture. Veronica’s passing highlights the cruelty and neglect of Victoria’s prison healthcare system, bail system, and the failure of the Victorian Government to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”

“The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service is proud to have acted for Uncle Percy Lovett since Veronica’s passing. We will continue to walk alongside Uncle Percy in fighting for the implementation of the changes promised by the State following Veronica’s Inquest.”

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

“Nobody should have to endure what Veronica endured. The Victorian Government must work to prevent Aboriginal women dying unnecessarily in custody by implementing Coroner McGregor’s recommendations in full.”

“Today’s judgment is a testament to the strength of Veronica’s family and loved ones. It also sends a message that VALS will not back down in fighting alongside our clients for justice and accountability.”

WE ACKNOWLEDGE AND PAY OUR RESPECTS TO THE CUSTODIANS OF THE LANDS ON WHICH WE WORK, COLLECTIVELY THE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES OF SOUTH-EAST AUSTRALIA.

273 High St, Preston VIC 3072

vals@vals.org.au

1800 064 865

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