Anthony Axtell's death indicts everyone

Gerry Georgatos – National Indigenous Times reporter & PhD researcher Custodial Systems and Deaths in Custody

Anthony Axtell is dead - he is now another Australian prison custodial death statistic however the manner of his death indicts so much of what is wrong with the Australian prison system. Australia has one of the world's worst deaths in custody records.

He died 11am last Thursday in Royal Perth Hospital with his mum and dad, his brother, sister-in-law, two year old nephew Xavier at his bedside and the SERCO contracted guards outside his hospital bedroom door. For the most part of his hospital stays this frail man, who could barely breathe, and had nowhere to run other than into death itself, was shackled in chains to his hospital bed even when his toddler children were visiting him. His story is one that is a must for the light of day.

Nearly three months ago, his brother, Darren, phoned me from Brisbane after listening to an hour long interview with me and 98.9FM’s Tiga Bayles on the Let's Talk program - we discussed deaths in custody and the prison system as failed for both Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal peoples.

World renowned prisoner reform and restorative justice advocate, Dr Brian Steels slammed the inhumanity of Australia's prisons. "Somebody has to take much of the responsibility for the failure of the penal estate. Collectively, 'tough on crime' has been translated into 'treat people not how you would want to be treated, but show no mercy'."

"We are turning offenders into victims of State crime."

Dr Steels said that Mr Axtell should have been shown compassion. "With compassion and empathy, then and only then will we see prisoners learn from the experience of prison."

Former Deaths in Custody Watch Committee WA chairperson and law student Marianne Mackay said when people are treated like Mr Axtell was the whole system is broken, and “what hope does anyone have? – a Royal Commission from start to finish is what’s needed” because she said obviously the last commission into deaths in custody is not being listened to.

“Everyone needs to know about Mr Axtell’s story if we’re going to have any hope of reforming the whole prison system and save lives," she said.

Mr Axtell sought my assistance with his 38 year old brother who was on remand in a Western Australian prison – firstly Hakea and then Casuarina.

On Thursday Mr Axtell said, “We stayed by his bedside for 45 days till he passed away an hour ago.”

His death will be classified as ‘natural’ however there was nothing ‘natural’ about the manner of his death – the vacuum of inhumanity – shackled in chains to his hospital bed.

He was the father of three young children. He was a son to Brian and Elaine.

His sister-in-law Nicolette Axtell, a Murri woman from Stradbroke Island, said, “His heart finally gave out – dying of heart failure.”

“The reason he was being held on remand is that he breached a domestic restraining order. He was picked up by police at his house when in fact his girlfriend visited him and then decided to look after him after he had been in a car accident. She had unsuccessfully tried to revoke the restraining order.”

He had been waiting for a new heart – he was to be placed on the donor organ waiting list. Mrs Axtell said, “When he was taken away by the police his girlfriend warned them of his heart condition and gave them his medication and that it is a must it is administered daily – it kept his heart going.”

“At Hakea Prison they administered his medication on the first day but when asked for it the next day the guards gave him Panadol and told him to lie down when he said he was not feeling well.”

“He called his mother from prison for help as they were not looking after him.”

“After two days without his medication he collapsed. He was taken to Royal Perth Hospital’s emergency unit and then into Intensive Care.”

“A prison official advised us that they were really concerned and did say, ‘We thought we lost him.’”

Mother, Elaine Axtell said “I was told that Tony was in a critical condition. He was transferred into Coronary Care. The Coronary Care staff advised us that the reason Tony was in hospital was that the prison failed to give him his medication, which everyone knew was vital.”

“When it came time for Tony to leave RPH, we made a number of calls to ensure that he would be sent to Casuarina Prison as it has an infirmary.”

However everyone knew that a man waiting for a new heart should have remained in hospital and not in a prison infirmary. The DCS will respond to questions from The National Indigenous Times.

“After three days in Casuarina Tony was feeling unwell and struggled with breathing. He said he was ‘cold’. The duty nurse said, ‘You have got blankets and your medication’ and that she could not do anymore for him and slammed the glass window in his face.”

After repeated calls from family members Mr Axtell was transported back to hospital.

“He ended up with pneumonia, and blood on his lungs from his heart.”

“Tony was being prepared for a heart clamping procedure to prolong his life while waiting for a transplant. He was a prime candidate at this stage.”

“In an about-face the doctor revised his medication and not sure how he would respond to it as they sent him back to prison.”

This time around the health system let him down telling the family there were not enough beds – The National Indigenous Times has contacted the Health Department.

“How much is a human life worth?” said his father, Brian Axtell.

He was back at Casuarina only three days before breathing difficulties and kidney pains succumbed him to a shell of a man –losing four kilograms in four days, unable to eat.

After more pleas from family this time to the Prison Superintendent an ambulance was called in.

Over the next few weeks the family would endure the anguish of his deterioration.

He was transferred to Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital for the heart clamping – a last shot at life. During the next 48 hours he lost 15 kilograms of weight and the procedure did not take place - his kidneys were the first to go.

“This is his story – please tell me, if he wasn’t a prisoner, would he have been treated like this?" said his father.

“He was shackled the entire time he was in hospital, even though he could barely move. His shackles were only removed on August 14, four weeks before he passed away and only because his mother petitioned to have them removed.”

Our legislators and policy makers have much to answer for and bureaucracy is not an excuse. The National Indigenous Times has highlighted this year the predicament of an Aboriginal prison inmate giving birth while shackled in chains – of Noongar Stanley Farmer having part of hishand amputated because prison staff refused to believe him that burns from boiling water were as serious as he begged them to believe, and we broke the sad story of two young brothers attempting suicide within 12 hours of each other at Greenough Prison - and well the list of such stories in just this year alone - Western Australia and nationwide - is too long to include but you know it.

Dr Steels is correct in that we have to move away from “crime and punishment” and work with people, alongside them, restoratively, humanely; in order that we make society humane.

Media Contact:
Darren Axtell - 0412 878 453
Gerry Georgatos - 0430 657 309

The National Indigenous Times contacted State Labor and Greens shadow ministers for the Department of Corrective Services, Fran Logan and Giz Watson, and on September 25 the following questions will be asked in the Legislative Assembly by Mr Logan:

8724.Mr F.M. Logan to the Minister for Corrective Services
I draw the Minister's attention to the sudden death of Mr Anthony Nigel Axtell at Royal Perth Hospital on 18 September 2012 whilst in the custody and care of the Department of Corrective Services and I ask:

(a) have the family of Mr Axtell asked for his body to be flown back to his home town of Brisbane, Queensland and was this request rejected by the Department of Corrective Services;
(b) if Mr Axtell's family's request for repatriation of his body has been rejected, on what grounds and why; and
(c) what cost would the Department incur if it was to agree to the repatriation of Mr Axtell's body to Brisbane?$file/AQ381226.pdf?OpenElement


Wednesday September 19 2012

Jane Hammond, journalist for The West Australian

The family of a 38 year-old man who died in Royal Perth Hospital yesterday while under the care of the Department of Corrective Services say he would still be alive if he had received proper medical assistance in prison.

Anthony Nigel Axtell, a seriously ill father of three and a former rugby league player, was on remand over a breach of a restraining order when he was taken to Hakea Prison earlier this year.

His brother Darren said prison authorities had declined initially to allow Anthony, who had a serious heart condition, access to his medication resulting in his heart problems getting worse. He collapsed after becoming unable to breathe and was then sent to hospital.

Mr Axtell said his brother was assessed at Royal Perth Hospital and told he qualified for a heart clamping procedure that would have prolonged his life long enough to get a heart transplant, but sent back to prison for a week to wait for the operation.

He was sent to Casuarina Prison but within days became seriously ill with a kidney infection.

Mr Axtell said his brother was refused assistance for several days despite being bent over in pain and it was not until his mother Elaine begged the prison to send him to hospital that he was returned to Royal Perth in a critical condition.

Mr Axtell said Anthony was then told that because his condition had deteriorated he no longer qualified for the heart procedure.

“He fought for 45 days and died this morning,” Mr Axtell said yesterday.

A spokesman for the Department said Mr Axtell’s death was being treated as a death in custody and would be the subject of a coronial inquiry.

“As with all deaths in custody, WA Police will prepare a report for the Coroner to asses the circumstances and cause of death,” the spokesman said.

“DCS does not comment in regards to the management and medical treatment of individual prisoners.”

Deaths in Custody Watch Committee spokesman Marc Newhouse said the case highlighted the need for health services in the prison system to be handled by the Health Department rather than the DCS.

PhD researcher on deaths in custody, human rights activist, Gerry Georgatos said Mr Axtell’s death was the result of failures in the prison system.

"There was nothing ‘natural’ about the way Mr Axtell died,” Mr Georgatos said.

"I couldn't sleep because of the pain" - Stanley Farmer
19 July 2012This report finds that South Australia's Department for Correctional Services has breached section 86 of the Correctional Services Act, by failing to adequately consider the individual circumstances of each prisoner in deciding whether to apply restraints in hospitals.
The Story of Cameron Doomadgee
"He then observes he is a strange colour and cold to touch..."



To his family, friends & community-
I am so sorry, so sorry.
~May he rest in Peace~

This is so sad :-( someone should be held accountable for this.

A horrific story. Nobody deserves to die under circumstances like these.

Anthony's story is so sad and absolutely disgusting! Had things been done different and he was given his "basic human rights", instead of people taking satisfaction in abusing their "power" and "authority", Anthony's story would have had a very different ending I'm sure!! People need to be held accountable for their decisions and what has happened to Anthony, and the public need to be made aware of what goes on not only in this case but all cases like it. Like Brian said if he wasn't a prisoner would he have been treated like this.... I think not!!!

Deepest sympathies to the Axtell family, you are in our thoughts. ~ RIP Anthony ~

I have now read this article 3 times and I am still crying. I am mortified, disgusted and just so saddened that this could happen to such a good family. I have known Tony & Darren for nearly 20 years now, I knew Darren was in WA with Nicolette & his family as Tony's condition was worsening and they were waiting for the procedure, but really had no understanding about all the politics behind the scenes and what they must have been going through until I read this article. I have seen peadophiles get better treatment in Qld. He was not a murderer or a rapist, or anyone who would be a threat to society, so why shackle someone like Tony to a bed like that?!! We all make mistakes in our lives, some bigger than others, but no-one deserves to be treated this way when they are that sick. Tony could not even walk to the bathroom let alone out of the hospital. Let's get this article out there people.. To Tony: I will always remember you being the first guy to actually drive to my house in a car when I was a teenager, in your green commodore, and my mother actually let me leave with you.. You were a good person, you will always be remembered, may you rest in peace, knowing that your family and friends will continue fighting for you..

So much of this article is not true.
I believe it is defamatory and should be removed until the author check some facts.
Perhaps the author should speak with those who know the case as opposed to taking as gospel, the words of a family sad at the loss of a loved one who live on the other side of Australia.
Mr. Axtell was not and had never been on any organ waiting list.

And how would you know what the facts are?? The family have told the truth and have asked the author to change that 1, yes 1, error in the story. There is nothing defamatory about this article at all. And by the way who the hell cares if he was on the list or not, that is pretty insignificant compared to the actual point of the story which is how he was treated by the system.

What has where the family lives got to do with it. Didn't you read that they spent everyday with him in hospital.

Where exactly does it say he was on a waiting list buddy? I think you best go back and read it again hey. It says he needed a new heart, isn't that a fact? Seems you might need one, period, as that small detail has nothing to do with the point of the story

This is an absolute disgrace, I could guarantee you that if this was anyone else from outside prison that the authorities would be all over it. We can only hope that they have a though investigation and not just swept under the carpet which is typical of the Barnett Government. Ministers Cowper and Hames this is your time to do something for your communities and your people, departments must be held accountable for their actions as would anyone in society and hope that his family get some kind of justice.
R.I.P Tony

How sad :-( I hope there is justice for him and his family

This is a very sad case. The department should have a lot to answer for. Is this how we treat our own people? Why would you want to be Australian! This should never had happened. My heart goes out to the family. So sorry for your loss.

The Warrel and Yates families and the Nyoongar Tent Embassy and
supporters are outraged at the state government and private company
serco's descision to restrict an incarcerated aboriginal man from
attending his mothers funeral service and burial.

We cannot believe this is happening as funerals to us are a most
sacred and important part of our culture. This is our sorry time and
must be respected at the highest level. It is our time to say goodbye
and grieve with our families. For these reasons we will be holding an
action outside of the Department of Corrective Services from 11am
Tuesday 18th September 2012, and call on Commissioner Ian Johnson to
meet with us and sit with the family to engage discussion and overturn
the decision IMMEDIATELY, and also the Premier Colin Barnett.

This decision breaches many of the articles within the Declaration on
the RIghts of Indigenous Peoples, as well as our right to self
determination as was passed in the 1970's UN resolution 2625, as well
as many human rights breaches.

We as Aboriginal people cannot understand why each successive
government makes decisions which are not in the best interests of our
people and will simply lead to further increasing social justice
issuesand stepping back from the process of conciliation, which
AUstralia promotes constantly to the international arena, meanwhile
oppressing our people in a continuing and ongoing genocide with racist
and ignorant policies which are of no benefit whatsoever.

We are also deeply concerned that the governments and sercos policies
regarding funerals will simply lead to an increase of self harm or
suicide increasing deaths in custody rates even higher...

'To the Commissioner Iam Johnson, how could you make a rule where my
sisters son cant be at his mothers funeral. he is getting punishedfor
his crime, but the punishment YOUR HANDING OUT IS THE MOST SEVERE
PUNISHMENT EVER! Havent you got a heart or have you got a mother and
father and family. if it ever happened to you how would you feel or
are you MADE OF STONE. Commissioner I hope you get punished in a
svere way. theres a grandson in there who cant attend his gradnmothers
funeral and you have to stand before god and he has topunish you for
your sins and i pray he does. i hope you couldsleep well after this is
over and if you got any concern I dont think anywhere in this world
there is a punishment like this and you are so heartless. There gonna
be a lot of suicides in the prisons because of your rules.' Aunty Vera
Warrell (deceased sister and mans aunty)

Our people will continue to rise and speak up unitl major changes are
made the way we say not the other way around. We have been victimised
for far too long and its our time now. So to the government, u NEED

For more information please contact Vera Warrel on 0407059339
or Marianne Headland Mackay on 0401320047

What is wrong with the person system?
The guards need to have a good look at themselves.
Panadol for a heart condition, these guards should be sacked.
Have a blanket he was told.
Is this Australia, or a third world country.
This young mans death was caused by the government and prison system,
Not by anything he had done.
Just not good enough Australia

That is all this so-called newspaper saw fit to write about Anthony like his life mattered so little:

Yes absolutely, like you I am disgusted myself.

As a close friend of Tony's, his story certainly needs to be told and discussed. I truly believe the system did fail Tony.

Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/09/2012 - 4:14pm I ask you what parts of this story are not true? I identify myself as someone who is close to the Axtell family and through these turbulent times I am well aware of the facts. You seem to think you know the case well so why not declare yourself and share your wisdom? Who is it defamatory against? Please enlighten us and tell us what you know.

Sadly for Tony and his family it is too late, but change needs to take place so that what occurs behind closed doors does not affect other families in simular circumstances. All Australians should be treated with the equality and respect that unfortunately was missing in Tony’s case.

RIP my friend, you will greatly missed.

We contacted State Labor and Greens shadow ministers for the Department of Corrective Services, Fran Logan and Giz Watson, and on September 25 the following questions will be asked in the Legislative Assembly by Mr Logan:

8724.Mr F.M. Logan to the Minister for Corrective Services
I draw the Minister's attention to the sudden death of Mr Anthony Nigel Axtell at Royal Perth Hospital on 18 September 2012 whilst in the custody and care of the Department of Corrective Services and I ask:

(a) have the family of Mr Axtell asked for his body to be flown back to his home town of Brisbane, Queensland and was this request rejected by the Department of Corrective Services;
(b) if Mr Axtell's family's request for repatriation of his body has been rejected, on what grounds and why; and
(c) what cost would the Department incur if it was to agree to the repatriation of Mr Axtell's body to Brisbane?$file/AQ381226.pdf?OpenElement

This is such a sad and angering story to happen to a good human and a wonderful family. My condolences to the Axtell family from mine. I hope this pain and anger does not weigh you down for the rest of your lives and you eventually find peace. The WA system (police, cutodial and health) once again appears to have fallen well short and failed yet again. RIP, old mate.

Every death is a loss, but, for all those anthony did wrong by............ X XXX XXX XX XXXX XXX XX XXXX (DELETED BY INDYMEDIA EDITOR(S))

What a disgusting human being you are, and don't even have the guts to use your real name. Bet you feel real tough sitting behind that keyboard and insulting a dead person who can't defend themselves and upsetting his family and friends. Shame on you!

What sort of cryptic comment is this? I've known Tony for a long time - he was a great father, friend and a good man. What a horrible thing to say about someone who now cant even defend himself.

Mulrunji's story is the story of many - his story must not be forgotten

"Shortly after he is placed in the cell he appears motionless"

"dragged to a cell..."

"fifteen minutes for an ambulance to arrive and not once did they try to revive in the meantime..."

"no need to worry when your friends investigate..."

Hi there , to all you people out there Anthonys death is no freak show as some people like to make out. Tony's death is a sad and sudden new stage of our family's life as we must go on knowing our son is never coming home , alive.we have manage to get his body flown home , after all the drama in Perth, here to Queensland, where he will be laid to rest in peace , with his relatives.
Tis a crying shame that the WA government can't get their act together and support our family in a time as such. After the jails in perth must get their training somewhere in the third world as they are far beyond human.
What are we becoming , "leepers', and the jail staff becoming gods. wake up and get a life, we are not done , we will fight to regain our son's dignity and pride. So get things rolling Brian Axtell

I just want to add that when Darren and I first arrived in WA to see Tony we had to first go to Casuarina Prison and register as a normal visitor of the prison and then deal with someone in the security section to book the appointment. The visitor registration went smoothly, however, we had to call numerous times to try and organise an appointment for that day as Darren was not sure what state Tony was in and didnt want to delay getting in to see him as we were only there for 4 days, which turned into 4 weeks.

When we asked about the length of the visits, they said 1 hour a day and we were lucky to be getting that as he was only on remand. The prison would not allow longer visits even though we were from out of state. If had he been an actual prisoner we would have only been allowed 1 hour per week!!!

As Tony's conditioned worsened they did allow longer visits each day, but I was disgusted to think that had he been a prisoner and not on remand they would have only allowed us to see him once a week, even though he was at deaths door.

He had so many friends that would have loved to see him before he died and I'm sure he would have loved to see them, but none of them got the chance to say tell him loved him or were thinking about him, or to even say good bye.

The doctors knew he was not going to make it, even if we didn't want to believe it and between the hospital and the prison, they couldn't even allow his friends to see him.

As an old mate of Tony's, I to am dealing with the loss although nowhere near what his family are dealing with. After talking to his partner at his Memorial service last Friday and with Daz today I found myself sad and really bloody angry with the arogant systemic failure's that ultimately lead to Tony's death. I only hope that all the self serving bastard's involved from top to bottom are held accountable and if found guilty of a crime find out what it's like to be treated the same way they treated Tony. All my love and support to the Axtell family

Miss ya brother your memory will live on in my heart and head.
You should still be with us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

People are so quick to jump on the bandwagon in support of Anthony's family without knowing the full background story. How bad was his heart condition before he went into custody? Was he taking his medication before he went into jail? Was his heart a ticking timebomb and it was only a matter of time? What was his lifestyle leading up to his death? Is there something Anthony could have done to prevent his heart condition worsening?
He was in jail because obviously he deserved to be in there. I am sure many people complain about being cold in jail and the nurses and staff have to make a decision on who is genuine and who isn't. In this case, yes they got it wrong. They should not have withheld his medication, I agree with that totally. The facts seem to point to him passing away whether he was in custody or not. Its just a shame that he passed away how he did and now someone else gets totally blamed for his death.

To the person on 07/02/2013, you are missing the point. There is a simple rule that all organisation have to abide by, from day-care centres to top levels of parliament, and that is a "DUTY OF CARE" (I'm sure you've heard of it). If Anthony was shown "DUTY OF CARE",there would be none of this going on. Would that have changed the outcome for Anthony, that is a question that he and his family will never know. And someone will be held accountable for this lack of "DUTY OF CARE".