By Victoria Stone-Meadows
The Victorian State Coroner has recommended changes to the prisoner parole system in the state while handing down her findings on an inquest into the death of Dermot O’Toole in 2013.
Mr O’Toole was stabbed to death in his jewellery store in Hastings on 12 July 2013 by Gavin Perry, who was on parole at the time of the murder.
Now four years later, on 8 July 2017, the coroner has released findings regarding Mr O’Toole’s death and how the parole system failed the O’Toole family.
Mr O’Toole was survived by his wife Bridget, who now lives in Lynbrook, and was also assaulted during the attack that led to his death.
On 10 December 2015, Mrs O’Toole wrote to the Coroner’s Court requesting an inquest as part of the investigation into her husband’s death.
In her request she stated that there were, in the O’Toole family’s view, serious issues specific to Mr O’Toole’s death which could not be addressed by findings in other investigations into deaths that were caused by people who were on parole at the time.
In her letter of request, Mrs O’Toole said the conditions of Perry’s parole and the lack of oversight regarding his previous drug use were failures of the system that caused her husband’s untimely death.
The coroner’s findings were mainly based on a submission from the Deputy Commissioner of Operations Mr Roderick Wise, who is responsible for overseeing Victoria’s prison system.
Mr Wise outlined that while there had been major changes implemented in the parole system since Perry’s arrest that address many of the issues raised by Mrs O’Toole, there was also room for improvement.
The coroner’s report shows Mr Wise had “no doubt” that Perry would have been assessed as being at high risk of re-offending under the new tools used by parole assessors.
One point of contention bought up during the inquest was the lack of access correction officers have to parolee’s medical records as a method for assessing the likelihood of reoffending in relation to drug use.
The coroner has put forward a recommendation that the Minister for Corrections explore whether Corrections Victoria and the Adult Parole Board should be granted coercive powers to obtain the health and medical records of offenders.
The coroner recommend the change as a way to keep the parole board accurately informed of all relevant matters when conducting risk assessments for parole applications.
The coroner also recommended that Corrections give consideration to integrating random drug testing into the supervision and reporting regime for any parolee subject to a drug and alcohol testing condition as part of their parole order.
Currently, parolees with a history of drug use are subject to drug tests at set times and the coroner would like to see random testing introduced to avoid a system of self-reporting of drug use by parolees.
Mrs O’Toole said while the family were disappointed the coroner’s court didn’t conduct a full inquest to Mr O’Toole’s death, any recommendation was a step forward.
“Any recommendation is a good recommendation and hopefully they will be implemented and officers will be allowed to go knock on parolees’ doors and get a random sample drug test,” she said.
“They have to not allow them to report in half an hour or an hour because anything can happen; they can swap samples, these people are very clever.”
Mrs O’Toole says she feels as if the inquiry into her husband’s death is never-ending, but recognises the importance of looking over every detail.
“The coroner had said she wasn’t interested in looking backward, but we have to look back in order to move forward,” she said.
“The government and ministers have three months to respond to the report and the coroner’s officer will be in contact again to let me know their response, so it’s never over.”
“But, if it highlights in adequacies in the system, that’s a great thing and we need to keep pressure on governments to make these changes happen.”