Coroner probes obese Indigenous prisoner's death
When Michael Suckling was jailed for driving a car that killed his friend he weighed 82 kilograms.
Three years later, after suffering poor mental health and being medicated for severe pain due to injuries suffered in the crash, the 41-year-old Aboriginal man died in his cell weighing 199 kilograms.
A state coroner is investigating the circumstances leading up to his March 2021 death and the quality of healthcare given to Mr Suckling, in an inquest in Melbourne that began on Friday.
Mr Suckling grew up in Gippsland and worked as a plasterer. He was in a relationship with his childhood sweetheart and had two children.
However, drugs later wreaked havoc on his life, counsel assisting Sharon Lacy told the Coroners Court.
On January 6, 2018, Mr Suckling was driving a car that crashed at Castlemaine, killing one of his friends and injuring another.
He was convicted for this and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Mr Suckling was hospitalised the crash and suffered multiple injuries, including rib and spinal bone fractures.
Ms Lacey said he entered the prison system in a great deal of pain.
He struggled to move around due to his injuries, was medicated for the pain and also suffered from depression and PTSD.
Mr Suckling was moved from Metropolitan Remand Centre to Port Phillip Prison and transferred to Ravenhall about seven months before he died.
Between 2018 and his death in 2021, Ms Lacy said he had gained 117 kilograms and was considered morbidly obese.
His body was found by his cellmate on March 7, 2021, after the morning headcount.
He died from an enlarged heart connected to his obesity.
Ms Lacy said the inquest will consider why his heart stopped and the circumstances leading up to his death.
"The inquest will hear evidence in relation to the excessive and rapid weight gain Michael experienced in the three years he was incarcerated," she told the court.
She said the quality of care, treatment and supervision of Mr Suckling in custody will be investigated, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Ms Lacy said the evidence would reveal important philosophical and structural questions about rights, freedoms, and responsibilities of prisoners and custodians.
"Including, what responsibility does the government, the prisoner operator and the prison health provider each have to intervene to stop a prisoner from eating themselves to death?
"Are the entities breaching a prisoner's human rights if they try to stop it or intervene in their canteen buyer? Are they providing insufficient care if they don't intervene?
"And further, what does the equivalency of care principle look like for an Aboriginal man who has complex health issues, is obese, increasingly unwell and suffers from both mobility and mental health issues."
The inquest before coroner Leveasque Peterson continues.