AUSTRALIA: Aboriginal death in custody: suicide or murder?


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-03-2002
ISSUES: Death in custody,

Aboriginal death in custody: suicide or murder?

AUSTRALIA: Failure to consider vital evidence for inquiry into an Aboriginal death in custody


This is an appeal for urgent legal assistance as well as for sending emails and faxes in support of an aboriginal widow, Letty Scott, who is fighting for justice in the High Court of Australia.

Mrs. Scott was married to Douglas Bruce Scott, a member of the Anmatyerre aboriginal nation, when he was imprisoned in Darwin in 1985 and died in custody. The courts found that he committed suicide, but Letty never believed this. She managed to get a group of extremely well-respected forensic scientists from the US and UK to study the evidence. Their full Reconstruction Report as well as photos and other info at our new website:

The Forensic Investigative Committee found that there are many unanswered questions, and that it is quite possible that the death was in fact murder. Letty is re-opening the case by filing for damages in the High Court. She has struggled for 16 years for justice in this case, and been thwarted at every turn. Now she desperately needs urgent legal and financial assistance as well as pressure on Australian parliamentarians to help her fight the case in court and beyond.

If you can help in any way, with legal advice or representation, or by purchasing one of her aboriginal artworks, please contact her at . Information on how you can appeal to the Australia politicians is provided below in the ‘SUGGESTED ACTION’ section of this email.


[Further details available at our website: ]

In 1985, Douglas Bruce Scott, a member of the Anmatyerre aboriginal nation of Central Australia was incarcerated for allegedly using obscene language. While in custody Douglas Scott was allegedly beaten, resulting in a badly injured eye. He was then remanded in custody for 60 days and kept in solitary confinement until his death on the morning of July 5, 1985. On July 5th at 6.22am, a correctional officer allegedly found Douglas Scott hanging in his cell, C Block, Cell No. 8, Berrimah Prison near Darwin, NT Australia.

The trial into his death and a subsequent Royal Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody exonerated the correctional officers and affirmed their position that this was a case of suicide.

The widow of Douglas Scott was never satisfied with these findings. With the help of an indigenous American group, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, a group of eminent forensic scientists was formed in November 1999 to re-examine the case. The team comprised:

– Dr. Henry C. Lee, (Professor of Forensic Science Program and Chief of Division of Scientific Services, Connecticut, USA)

– Dr. Michael Baden, Forensic Pathologist (Director, Forensic Sciences Unit, New York State Police)

– Dr. Cyril Wecht, Coroner, County of Allegheny

– Dr. Peter Dean, Coroner for Southend and South East Essex and Forensic Medical Examiner of Metropolitan Police, London, UK

– Linda Kenney, Attorney-at-law, Federal Court, USA (Private practice)

– Major Timothy Palmbach, MS (Forensic Science), (Commanding Officer, Division of Scientific Services, Connecticut, USA)

The team produced a Reconstruction Report on June 29 2000 after examining all of the evidence available to them regarding the death in custody of Douglas Scott. This evidence included photographs taken of the death scene, witness statements, autopsy reports, transcripts, correspondence and a video of a witness statement.

The Reconstruction Report concluded that the court investigation at the time and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody have not thoroughly taken account of all the facts involved in the case, and may have incorrectly analysed the evidence considered. The team found, for instance, that the bruises seen on the throat in the photographs \”are generally more consistent with manual neck compression than with hanging mechanisms\”. They said that there is the possibility of tampering in the death scene, and also that it appears in one photo that the hanging Douglas Scott’s feet are touching the ground. The team called for a list of other evidence that had not been considered but could prove invaluable in piecing together what really happened.

Dr. Michael Baden, Professor of Forensic Science, has stated about the case: \”It is my opinion, on the basis of the materials that I have reviewed, that Mr. Scott died as a result of his inability to breathe cased by compression of the neck. The fracture of the thyroid cartilage is much more typical for compression of the neck by baton, hands or feet than by suicidal hanging.\” Dr. Baden also questioned the time of death since Dr. Kevin Lee noted lividity in the lower extremities at 7.25 am. According to Dr. Baden, this is inconsistent with the bed check time of 4.30am. \”It takes many hours for such lividity to develop and, in my experience, the prominence of Mr. Scott’s lividity indicates that he had been dead and hanging before the alleged 4.30am cell check.\”

In addition, there are reports from others who were in prison at the time saying that Douglas Scott was in fact beaten to death by prison officers. These witnesses claimed that:

– They heard sounds of Scott being beaten the night before he died;

– Saw him hanging the following morning in a position different from that depicted in royal commission photographs; and

– Helped clean blood from the cell the following morning.

The Forensic Investigative Committee have raised some serious questions about the case, which make it imperative that the case be re-opened, and the international experts brought as witnesses. Further, the experts shuold be allowed access to all of the evidence they require. Only when this is done can the case be fully put to rest.


If you are in a position to provide urgent legal assistance to Mrs. Letty Scott, please contact her directly at . Letty also has some of her own aboriginal artwork which is available for sale, the proceeds of which would help to fund her monumental battle for justice. Finally, we ask that you write to the leaders of the main political parties in Australia, to let them know you are aware of the case and to urge them to re-open the case to consider the findings of the international Forensic Investigative Team. Sample letter and email addresses are provided below.


To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear Prime Minister

RE: Death in custody of Mr. Douglas Scott, Darwin, 5 July 1985

Mrs. Letty Scott has been fighting for 16 years to see that all of the evidence related to her husband’s death is brought to light in a court of law. In 2000, a committee of some of the world’s greatest forensic experts examined the available evidence related to the death in custody of her husband Douglas Scott, and concluded that there is a great deal of evidence that has not yet been considered. This evidence is considered vital to determining whether this was a case of suicide or murder. It is clear that this matter can never be put to rest until a new inquiry is opened which is able to consider the findings of the international forensic scientists and to examine the evidence which is yet to be considered. I expect that you will take all steps possible as a leader of Australian parliament to re-open this case so that all evidence can be considered.

Yours sincerely




Hon. John Howard

Prime Minister of Australia

EMAIL: via website

FAX: +612 6273 4100 or +612 9251 5454

Hon. Simon Crean,

Leader of the Opposition (Australian Labor Party)


FAX: +612 6277 8495 or +613 9650 5593

Sen. Bob Brown

Leader, Australian Greens


FAX: +613 6234 1577 or +612 6277 3185

Leader, Australian Democrats

Natasha Stott Despoja


FAX: +618 8232 7601 or +612 6277 3235

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-03-2002
Countries : Australia,
Issues : Death in custody,