Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15685


Mr MELHAM (9:00 PM) —Shortly I will seek leave to table a report provided to me by the family of the late Douglas Bruce Scott. Mr Scott was on remand for more than a month in Berrimah Prison, near Darwin, when he died in 1985. He was detained on a charge of using obscene language. It was a very minor offence, but the circumstances around the case are anything but minor. Mr Scott was found hanged in his prison cell.

Fifteen years later, a team of American and British forensic scientists found that Mr Scott's death was more consistent with strangulation. Their findings are detailed in a forensic report that was prepared at the instigation of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in the United States. These First Nations people from Connecticut have lent enormous assistance to Letty Scott, the widow of Douglas. The forensic report was requested by the Pequots on 1 November 1999, and the expert committee provided its report on 29 June 2000. It was instigated after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that Mr Scott had hanged himself. The forensic team was led by Dr Henry Lee, then Director of the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory and professor of forensic science at the University of New Haven. The team also included a professor of medicine from the University of Pittsburgh, the co-director of the New York Police Medicolegal Investigations Unit, and a forensic medical examiner for the Metropolitan Police in London.

The committee set out to answer some unresolved questions and to `review the available documentation regarding the death of Douglas Scott'. In their summary and observations in the report, the committee said, `There appears to be a significant possibility that the death scene integrity might be compromised.' The committee cast doubt on the idea that Mr Scott hanged himself—a conclusion it reached only after sifting through the evidence with trained forensic eyes. The report noted:

Based on the height of the ceiling in cell number 8, and the height of Douglas Scott, it is impossible for Douglas Scott to tie the sheet around the ceiling grate by standing on the floor. If Douglas threaded the sheet through the grate openings and tied the knot he would have needed to stand on the bed, wall table or stool.

On the basis of the evidence supplied to it, the committee rules out the possibility that Mr Scott would have used the stool to climb up and prepare the sheet for his suicide. In fact, the stool appears in some photographs but not in others, prompting the committee's concern about an `unexplained difference in articles located within the crime scene' in the photographs available. At the same time, there were no diagrams or measurements concerning the heights of the bed and the wall table, or as to their relative position to Mr Scott. Similarly, no evidence had been prepared that would allow the committee to assess whether there were fingerprints or footprints on the table. Questions were also raised about whether Douglas could have threaded a sheet through the grate in the ceiling and whether the grate could have supported his weight for any extended period.

Based on all the information that was provided to them, the committee concluded that whether the manner of death was suicide or homicide could not be accurately determined. The report states:

The reported and visible external and internal injuries, along with observations regarding the scene in which the death occurred, raise serious concerns about the security of the death scene and the possibility of the cause of death being other than suicidal. Additional information is necessary for determining the manner and circumstances of the death of Douglas Scott.

Mr Speaker, earlier I showed a copy of the report to my colleague across the table, the honourable member for McEwen. In response to a request from Letty Scott, I seek leave to table this report tonight.

Leave granted