One of the security guards blamed for the death of an Aboriginal elder in the back of a faulty prison van has broken her silence, saying the tragedy weighed heavily on her conscience but there was nothing she could have done to prevent it.
Sacked GSL guard Nina Stokoe broke down several times during an interview with Channel 9, part of which was aired last night, as she recalled Mr Ward's death.
<a rel="nofollow" href="http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/wan/index.php?rn=12735368&cl=14113838">VIDEO: Mr Ward prison guard has apologised </a> "He (Mr Ward) is on my conscience," Ms Stokoe said.
"When I close my eyes he's there. I still see him in the back of the van."
Mr Ward, 46, suffered fatal heatstroke in searing temperatures when Ms Stokoe and her colleague Graham Powell transported the alleged drink driver from Laverton to Kalgoorlie in a prison van with broken air-conditioning on January 27 last year.
In the interview, Ms Stokoe said she wanted to apologise to his family.
"I can understand how they feel . . . Ionlywish that it never happened and that he was still around . . . I'm so sorry it happened," she said.
Ms Stokoe said she and Mr Powell had been used as scapegoats since the death, suggesting the real blame lay with the use of notoriously faulty prison vehicles and that Mr Ward's silence helped lead to his death.
Her comments follow severe criticism of her and Mr Powell after a highly publicised inquest was told that the pair had failed to check the van's air-conditioning or stop and check on Mr Ward's welfare during the non-stop 360km trip.
State Coroner Alastair Hope said in his findings the pair had breached their duty of care and contributed to an avoidable death along with their employer and the State Government.
He recommended the Director of Public Prosecutions consider the prospect of criminal charges.
Both guards were sacked by GSL, now G4S, which used the Stateowned fleet to transport prisoners.
Ms Stokoe claimed breaks had not been compulsory and guards routinely relied on passengers to bang on walls or yell if something was wrong.
She claimed she had seen Mr Ward sip water, sleeping and later sitting looking out the window during the trip and could not have known when he became distressed because he never made a sound. "I couldn't do anything to help him . . . I couldn't save him," she said. "I keep thinking if he only just said something he would still be around now.
"At night time I always picture myself in the back of the van and how I would have let someone know that something was wrong.
"I don't understand why he never did that.
"(We have) probably been scapegoats, but at the end of the day we were the ones that were driving the vehicle. We had no choice what vehicle to drive."
A G4S spokesman declined to comment yesterday.
The WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee is lobbying the Government to strengthen the powers of the independent prisons watchdog and the State Coroner in response to the inquest into Mr Ward's death.
Committee chairman Marc Newhouse, who will raise concerns with Attorney-General Christian Porter in a fortnight, said yesterday the Government needed to go beyond a commitment to implement Mr Hope's recommendations.
"We support most of the recommendations, but some of them are pretty weak," Mr Newhouse said.
He said the independent Inspector of Custodial Services should be given the power to issue notices enforceable in court when there was a failure to act on his concerns, rather than just the ability to issue "show cause" notices as recommended by Mr Hope.
Legislation should also be amended to force the Government to table a response in Parliament to the Coroner's recommendations and to respond by a set date, he said.
CHRISTIANA JONES and AMANDA BANKS