Image Caption: Veronnica Baxter who died in Custody
By Kieran Adair
Veronnica Baxter was an Indigenous transexual woman with a “Barbie doll body” – a well-known personality along Kings Cross’s Golden Mile.
On Tuesday March 10, 2008, just days after Mardi Gras, Veronnica was arrested on drug charges and sent to Silverwater Metropolitan Detention Centre.
Six days later Veronnica was dead in custody – reportedly found hanging in her cell.
Veronnica’s tragic death, and the circumstances surrounding it, have caused many to speculate that she fell victim to racism, or homophobia within the prison system.
Now, 15 months on, details obtained by City Hub add weight to this suspicion, and cast further doubt over the above version of events.
It has been alleged that, at her time of death, Veronnica’s fingers were broken – a detail missing from the initial reports, and one that would have made her incapable of hanging herself.
City Hub can also report for the first time, that Ms Baxter is rumored to have worked as a police informant during her time in the underground, leading her to have a contract put on her life – putting her at risk of retaliation, especially while in prison.
The development comes in the same week that Sylvia Hale, Senator for the NSW Greens, lodged a petition in the NSW parliament on behalf of a coalition of groups calling for a full Coronial Inquiry into Ms Baxter’s death.
Ms Hale first raised the issue of Veronnica’s death in June last year during parliamentary question time.
The then Minister for Correctional Services, John Robertson, assured Ms Hale that the department undertakes inquiries into every single death in custody.
Mr Robertson promised to, “obtain the relevant information and get back to Ms Sylvia Hale with the details.”
These details are yet to be provided, causing some to call foul play.
Community Action Against Homophobia spokesperson Rachel Evans said the circumstances around Ms Baxter’s death were being covered up.
“Why is this a cover up? Because for 15 months the Coroner has not released anything,” Ms Evans said.
This is not the first time alarm bells have been rung in relation to the matter.
It has previously been reported that prior to her death Ms Baxter’s cell was left unchecked for an astonishing 14 hours – against State Safety regulations, and creating the window of opportunity for a violent attack to take place.
Questions have also been asked as to why she was placed in Silverwater, a gaol for men, despite identifying as a women.
Justice Action reports that transgender women face a far greater risk of assault, particularly if they are placed within a male correctional facility.
Ms Baxter’s death has been attributed to many things; homophobia, racism, and her history within the Sydney underworld.
But without an inquiry these details remain the subject of speculation.
“The lack of information only exacerbates the buzz talk that goes about,” said Ray Jackson, president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association.
During a lifetime of activism, Mr Jackson has campaigned over too many Indigenous deaths in custody, including the death of another transgender prisoner in 1997.
He is critical of what he calls the Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham’s, “Code of Silence”.
“What have they got to hide?” Mr Jackson asked.
Rachel Evans was asking the same question.
“If they’ve got nothing to be frightened of, then why don’t we know why she died, is it murder?” Ms Evans said.
“That’s got to be on everyones lips, is it murder?”
Norrie May-Welby, a friend of Veronnica, had also spent her share of time in Sydney’s underbelly and margins.
“I know too many people who have died under suspicious circumstances and questions weren’t asked,” she told City Hub.
“Why am I still losing people in 2010?”
Both the offices of Ron Woodham and Minister for Corrective Services were contacted in relation to this story but neither returned comment.