Maxine Bennell has been investigating what happened to her son, alone and with the help of her lawyers, since his death
He laughed like his mother, a dry cackle that went on until they both ran out of breath. That’s what lawyer Anna Copeland noticed when she listened to the last phone calls Jayden Bennell made before his death in a West Australian prison in 2013.
One of the tapes was a call between Bennell and his mother, Maxine. A single word would crack them both up, chewing through the minutes of his phone allowance.
“He knew me really well, like in my voice, in my demeanour, everything,” Maxine Bennell said. “And I knew him just as well. He was a wicked kid, man.”
Bennell died when he was 20-years-old. He was a Bibbulmun Noongar man, one of 400 Indigenous Australians to die in custody in the 25 years since the landmark royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and the first to die while serving a sentence under WA’s three-strikes mandatory sentencing burglary laws, which have been condemned by the United Nations.
A four-day inquest in Perth last week heard he was found hanged in an unlocked cleaning storage room at Casuarina maximum security prison at 3.45pm on 6 March 2013, in what police, coronial and internal prisons investigators deemed to be a suicide.
But the inquest did not hear exactly when he had died, where he was hanging, or why he remained undiscovered for more than two hours when there were apparent attempts by Indigenous drug and alcohol workers to find him.
It took 23 months for the police officer working in the coronial investigation unit to file his report. Thirty-one months for Maxine’s lawyers, including Copeland, the supervising solicitor at Southern Communities Advocacy Legal Education Services, and Melbourne-based legal firm Shine, to get access to the coronial brief. Three-and-a-half years to get to inquest. That’s a long time for questions to remain unanswered.
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