The family of a mentally ill Kiwi man who died in suspicious circumstances in a Samoan prison has requested the coroner overseeing his inquest recuse himself.
They have also raised concerns about a suppression order protecting the identity of a senior clinical psychiatrist who treated him before the trip to Samoa.
Hans Dalton travelled with his family to the island country in December 2012. But while there they were confronted with Cyclone Evan, the worst tropical cyclone to hit the Pacific nation in 20 years.
During the natural disaster Dalton suffered a mental health episode.
His family sought help for the 38-year-old from local authorities as he became increasingly agitated, but instead of being taken to a hospital he was moved to Tafa'igata prison due to the lack of facilities for mental health patients.
The following morning Dalton's bruised body was found upside down in a drum of water inside a cell.
Police initially declared the death a suicide but later charged an inmate with murder. However, the conviction was overturned due to a lack of evidence.
Since Dalton's death, his family have fought for an inquest to shed light on what happened in the prison.
The inquest was frequently delayed, while presiding Coroner Peter Ryan also proposed completing the inquiry without an inquest.
However, shortly after Dalton's family met with Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters in September last year an inquest was finally scheduled and held in December.
Despite expecting the findings of the inquest later this year, Dalton's family have now asked Coroner Ryan to recuse himself from the case, the Herald can reveal.
The official request by Dalton's mother, Christine Wilson, and her daughter Natasha Dalton was sent to the coroner last Thursday through the family's lawyer, Olinda Woodroffe.
"After due and thorough consideration of the relevant laws and facts, with her counsel, Mrs Wilson seeks recusal of Coroner Ryan on the basis that there is a reasonable apprehension that Coroner Ryan is not going to make a finding on the cause of death of the late Hans Dalton on its merits," the request, obtained by the Herald, reads.
"Mrs Wilson holds the view that a fully informed observer will share her apprehension."
Part of the Dalton family's criticism came after several unsuccessful efforts were made by the New Zealand police and the coroner's office to gather evidence from the Samoan Government over Dalton's death.
Interpol was also asked to assist with the requests.
On the opening day of the inquest, Coroner Ryan addressed the frustrations.
"Today, six years after the death, I have received no official information from any of the Samoa authorities with very limited exceptions, the main exception being that the Samoan Ombudsman kindly provided me with a copy of a report following a commission of inquiry into the Tafa'igata prison," he said.
The 2014 prison report said Dalton's death "reflects miserably on the capacity of Samoa police to be sensitive and responsive to the situation of a mentally ill person".
On behalf of the Dalton family, however, Woodroffe claimed in the recusal request that Coroner Ryan's statement was a "cover-up of his own failures to take appropriate steps to seek disclosure from the appropriate departments, at the outset. He has failed in his duty as coroner".
Coroner Ryan had also commented at the inquest that there was a "great paucity of information that is reliable".
"If this death had occurred in New Zealand I would have reports from police and inspector of prisons, plus witness evidence," he said.
"However, this death occurred in Samoa, six years ago. Repeated requests have been made from me to Samoan authorities to provide any police reports [and] statements from witnesses with any actual knowledge ... we will proceed but in the context of having very little information about what actually happened."
Dalton's family also accused Coroner Ryan of having "abused his power" and displayed bias towards Woodroffe by implying she was dishonest, which was cited as "a critical reason for Mrs Wilson's apprehension".
"Mrs Wilson remains [apprehensive] that Coroner Ryan's obvious bias against Mrs Woodroffe will lead to him making a finding on the inquiry to the death of her late son based on his bias, rather than on the merits of the inquiry," the recusal request reads.
In a letter accompanying the request, Wilson added: "I don't want anyone else to have to go through this experience."
A Coronial Services spokesperson confirmed to the Herald that Coroner Ryan had received the request for recusal from the Dalton family and is "currently dealing with the application".
"The duty coroner's office was first notified of Hans Dalton's death on 2 January 2013 following the repatriation of his body to New Zealand and jurisdiction was accepted by the duty coroner on 3 January 2013. This case is still active before the coroner," the spokesperson said.
The recusal guidelines for coroners came into effect in May 2017 after being developed by the Chief Coroner in consultation with the Attorney-General.
It outlines that coroners will recuse themselves on the grounds of conflict of interest or bias.
If a party considers the coroner should recuse themselves due to a possible conflict of interest or bias, the party makes an application to the coroner. The coroner then informs all parties and if objections are received, hears the application and makes a decision on whether recusal is required.
The Coronial Services spokesperson said coroners have recused themselves from past inquests due to conflicts of interest.
Included in the request for recusal, Woodroffe said Wilson also has "no trust and confidence" in the handling of a name suppression order for the senior clinical psychiatrist who treated Dalton before he went to Samoa.
The Auckland doctor gave evidence at the inquest but his identity has been redacted for "justice" and "public order" reasons, Coroner Ryan ruled.
"Coroner Ryan has continually turned a blind eye to the serious failures and neglect of [suppressed doctor] which Mrs Wilson believes has relevance to the death of her son," the request alleges.
"The granting of name suppression of [suppressed doctor] causes Christine Wilson concern that another person's life will be lost."
Woodroffe is considering an appeal of the suppression order to the High Court.
In a separate civil proceeding, the Dalton family tried to sue the Samoan Government for $18.9 million over the death.