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First Indigenous Person To Die In NSW Police Custody Since 2000

"We’re very concerned there’s been a procedural failure this time."

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It's been revealed that a woman who died in a New South Wales police cell in July was a 36-year-old Aboriginal woman.

Rebecca Maher died in the holding cells of Maitland police station on 19 July. She is the first Indigenous person to die in NSW police custody since 2000 when the Custody Notification Service (CNS) was introduced to alert Aboriginal Legal Service staff that an indigenous person was in police care.

“There wasn’t any notification that Ms Maher was being held by police,” Gary Oliver, the CEO of ALS, said.

“Usually NSW Police notify us through our CNS, and an ALS lawyer gives the person legal advice and checks they’re OK."

Maher was taken into custody after police found her disoriented and walking in and out of traffic.

The ALS says it was never informed that Maher was in custody and had no idea of her death until last week, almost a month later.

“We’re very concerned there’s been a procedural failure this time, and that we were not notified of Ms Maher’s detainment," Oliver said.

“If the CNS had been used by police when they detained Ms Maher, there may have been a different outcome."

The CNS was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The royal commission highlighted the high rates of indigenous incarceration and the high number of black deaths in police and prison custody.

Since the royal commission handed down its final report in 1991 there have been almost 400 Indigenous deaths in custody.

A coronial inquest into Maher's death is due to start in the coming months.

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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