Family of a mentally ill man killed in a Samoan prison are begging the Government to intervene in the long-running case when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern travels there this weekend for Cyclone relief efforts.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has told Hans Dalton's family the Government is "constrained" in what assistance it can give until an inquest is concluded in New Zealand, but the family says their attempts to get justice through a Coronial inquiry has been stymied in part by Samoan officials.

Hans Dalton, 38, died in December 2012 after traveling there with family. Dalton's family sought help from local authorities after Dalton had a mental health episode.

He was transferred to Tafa'igata prison, run by police, after becoming agitated. He had committed no crime and was taken there to cool down.

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He was found dead the next morning; his bruised body found upside down in a drum full of water inside a cell. Police declared the death a suicide but later laid a murder charge against an inmate.

That conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court due to a lack of evidence, a decision approved of by Dalton's family.

A 2014 report by the Samoan Ombudsman said Dalton's death told "of the pitifully low performance (the prison)... It reflects miserably on the capacity of Samoa Police to be sensitive and responsive to the situation of a mentally ill person".

Natasha and Nicholas Dalton, with lawyer Olinda Woodruffe (centre), hope to get justice for their brother Hans who died in police custody in Samoa in 2012. Photo / Peter Meecham
Natasha and Nicholas Dalton, with lawyer Olinda Woodruffe (centre), hope to get justice for their brother Hans who died in police custody in Samoa in 2012. Photo / Peter Meecham

Nearly six years on the family claim they've been let down by Coroner Judge Peter Ryan after he proposed completing the inquiry in chambers- without an inquest- and suggested only calling Dalton's family members as witnesses.

Samoan officials have stonewalled repeated information requests, and the family feels nothing has been done to compel Samoan witnesses to provide information despite the two countries having a Friendship Treaty.

Dalton's sister Tasha Dalton last week wrote to Ardern and Peters pleading for "any assistance and support possible".

"Our lawyer has worked tirelessly during this time to get some form of resolution and finality for our family only to be met with further delays, failure of full disclosure and a lack of accountability and justice from the Samoan Government and Government Departments," she wrote.

Lawyer Olinda Woodruffe with some of her own information on the death of Hans Dalton, on the right, and the much smaller amount she was given by the coroner on the left. Photo / Peter Meecham
Lawyer Olinda Woodruffe with some of her own information on the death of Hans Dalton, on the right, and the much smaller amount she was given by the coroner on the left. Photo / Peter Meecham

Peters wrote back this week saying that while he had "the greatest sympathies" for the family, the pending inquest meant the Crown "are constrained in what engagement we can have".

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He said the Ministry was assisting the Coroner's office with its inquiries of Samoa, which the Daltons and their lawyer Olinda Woodroffe dispute because of the lack of information Samoa has provided.

In a separate response to the Herald on Sunday, Peters said "this topic will not be raised with the Samoan Government at this time and such steps will not be considered until the Coroner's investigation is completed".

Dalton's mother Christine Wilson said she was disappointed with the response and her son Nicholas Dalton said they felt powerless.

"For a few years now we've been trying to obtain justice and nothing much has really happened. It seems the Samoan Government doesn't really have a desire or interest to see justice in this case," Dalton said.

Hans Dalton. Photo / Supplied
Hans Dalton. Photo / Supplied

"We can't do much as a family against the Samoan Government. There's only one way we can see: To have some sort of assistance from the New Zealand Government, because how many years have gone by and nothing has happened? Even though we've tried to go about it through the right channels."

Under the Coroner's Act 2006 a Coroner's inquiry serves to identify the circumstances of a person's death including its cause, to make recommendations or comments to prevent future deaths, and to determine if there is a public interest in the case being further investigated.

By law a Coroner has the same powers to call witnesses as a Judge, however a Coronial Services spokesperson told the Herald enforcement was only possible "with the permission and assistance of that foreign nation".

"Jurisdiction exists to investigate a death that occurred overseas if the body of the person concerned is in New Zealand. However, jurisdiction to investigate a death overseas does not automatically grant wide extraterritorial jurisdiction to coroners," the spokesperson said.

The inquest, due to start in February, has been adjourned at the request of Dalton's family, who intend to apply to recuse Coroner Ryan.

'THE FAMILY ARE POWERLESS'

Hans Dalton died while on a family trip to Samoa.
Hans Dalton died while on a family trip to Samoa.

Hans Dalton's brother Nicholas Dalton has penned a separate letter to the Government, published here with permission:

To the New Zealand Prime Minister,

Greetings. I know you are a busy woman with your job, but if possible I would like to meet with you to discuss the brutal murder of Hans Dalton (an innocent man who was mentally unwell at the time); who was beaten to death and then dumped upside down in a 40 gallon drum of water whilst in a Samoan prison under the supervision of the Samoan police.

This happened in December 2012 and since then no one has been held accountable for his murder. The Samoan Government have done nothing but delay and deceive the family of Hans Dalton in their quest for justice. The family are powerless... Please help us Prime Minister in your capacity as leader of New Zealand.

If you feel you are uncomfortable talking to the Samoan Government I will be happy to accompany and support you. Please don't follow the lead of the last two Prime Ministers and do nothing. All it takes for evil to grow is for good people to do nothing.

Yours faithfully and Sincerely,

Nicholas Dalton