Australian Aboriginal man cooked to death in a prison van


What kind of government allows a person to be literally cooked to death in the searing heat of the Western Australian goldfields?

That's exactly what happened on a scorching summer's day last year when Mr Ward, a respected Aboriginal community elder, died an unimaginable death as he was being unnecessarily and inhumanely transported 360km to Kalgoorlie jail.


Mr Ward was arrested for allegedly drink-driving late January 2008. The next day, after being refused bail, he was put in the rear pod of a prisoner transport van for the four-hour drive.

The two guards in charge drove non-stop for four hours through the hottest part of the day. There was no air-conditioning in the rear pod of the van and the guards did not once check on Mr Ward's welfare.

Inside the metal pod, the temperature reached up to 50.4°C and the metal floor peaked at up to 56.6°C. Mr Ward died of heatstroke and suffered a serious burn from his skin touching the metal surface after collapsing on the floor of the van. His body temperature was 41.7°C when he reached Kalgoorlie Hospital. Despite the efforts of hospital staff, they were unable to revive him.

The van has since been deemed unfit for the purpose of transporting people over such long distances. The condition of the van makes stomach-churning reading: no natural airflow, broken air-conditioning and a surface metal temperature of over 50°C.

The circumstances of Mr Ward's death, as reported by the Coroner, breach Australia's international human rights obligations to prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The Coroner's report, which was handed down on 12 June 2009, found that the state of Western Australia, the company responsible for transporting Mr Ward - GSL (now named G4S) - and two GSL employees on the day, all contributed to Mr Ward's death.

Amnesty International Australia is urging the Australian government to take immediate steps to meet the 14 recommendations from the Coronial inquest, to fully implement all the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and to hold to account all those responsible for the human rights violations leading to Mr Ward's death.

Mr Ward, the youngest of seven children, was a well-known and respected community chairman, law-man, land manager and spokesperson.

Without a doubt, Mr Ward's treatment is an affront to personal dignity and emblematic of a deep running disregard for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia.


We can never allow a fellow human being to die in this way again - please call on our government to honour Australia's human rights obligations.

Amnesty is urging people to email Attorney-General Robert McClelland to urge him to prevent a recurrence of this human tragedy. A prepared letter is available at