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Family’s plea for answers as Aboriginal woman dies alone in Melbourne jail

“She was put into an observation room where someone was meant to check her every hour. They checked her at 4am, that’s what they’ve told us, then didn’t go back until 8am,” Ms Lyons said.

“By 8am she’d passed away.

“Why didn’t they make sure she was alright? What happened in those four hours?”

Ms Lyons said her family had been told they’d now have to wait three months for a coroner’s report to find out Ms Nelson Walker’s cause of death.

“When Aunty Donna went in to ID the body there were bruises all over her eyes and ears, so what’s happened in there?” Ms Lyons said.

“Why wasn’t she checked every hour like she was supposed to be?”

Ms Nelson Walker as a young woman.

Ms Nelson Walker as a young woman.

Ms Nelson Walker’s sister, Belinda Atkinson, said the justice system began failing her sister the moment the Collingwood woman was arrested in Melbourne on December 30 before she went on to represent herself in court without the assistance of a lawyer, the following day.

There, bail was refused, and Ms Nelson Walker was instead remanded in custody.

She was due to return to court on Monday; the same day she will now be laid to rest at Cummeragunja mission in southern NSW.

“I’ve heard that cellmates in other parts of the jail heard her go down to medical and ask for help but the guards grabbed her and took her back,” Ms Atkinson said.

“The other girls said they could hear her yelling ‘help, help, help’ all night, crying out for help.

“I want the whole world to know what has happened.”

Ms Atkinson said her sister, who was originally from Narrandera in NSW, had been living in Collingwood for more than two decades and was well known among the community there.

And while Ms Nelson Walker was known to struggle with substance abuse, Ms Atkinson said she hoped her sister would be remembered as a talented poet and loving family member.

“She was a strong Koori woman, who was loving to her nieces and nephews, and really into her art,” Ms Atkinson said.

Veronica Marie Nelson Walker died in custody on January 2, 2020. 

Veronica Marie Nelson Walker died in custody on January 2, 2020. 

A state government spokesman said Ms Nelson Walker’s death would be investigated by the coroner.

“This is a tragic incident and our thoughts are with the woman’s family and friends at what would no doubt be a difficult time,” he said.

“We know there is more to do to support Aboriginal Victorians both inside and outside of the justice system.”

The Department of Justice and Community Safety said while a female prisoner was found dead in her cell on January 2, it was unable to reveal details of her death.

“As with all deaths in custody, the coroner will investigate and formally determine the cause of death,” a spokeswoman said.

“As the matter is the subject of an ongoing coronial investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment.”

Ms Nelson Walker’s death in custody comes just weeks after a coronial inquest was held into the death in custody of fellow Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day, 55, who was found dead in a Castlemaine police cell in 2017 after suffering a brain injury.

Ms Day had been arrested for public drunkenness, and the inquest examined whether racism contributed to Ms Day’s death.

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