The family of a mentally ill man killed in a jail cell have exhausted their personal funds in the pursuit of finally knowing what happened six years ago.

Now Hans Dalton's family is crowdfunding to help pay for legal fees as they seek answers from next week's coroner's inquest, while their lawyer has also made a last-ditch plea to Justice Minister Andrew Little for financial aid.

Dalton travelled with his family to Samoa in December 2012 but suffered a mental health episode during a cyclone. His family sought help for the 38-year-old from local authorities but when he became agitated he was taken to Tafa'igata prison.

The next morning, Boxing Day, Dalton's bruised body was found hanging upside down in a drum of water inside a cell.


Police initially declared the death a suicide but later charged an inmate with murder, who's conviction was later overturned due to a lack of evidence.

Since then efforts to hold an inquest into Dalton's death have been frequently delayed, while Coroner Peter Ryan also proposed completing the inquiry without an inquest.

Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters met with the Dalton family in September this year and shortly after an inquest was scheduled for next week in Auckland.

But now Dalton's mum Christine Wilson told the Herald her family has exhausted their personal funds in the quest for justice.

"It is now almost six years since that terrible tragedy," she said.

"Despite being promised a full in-depth inquiry at the outset it is only now, almost six years later, following our meeting with Winston Peters, that we have the dates set down for the hearing."

Hans Dalton's death in a Samoan prison is currently unexplained. Photo / Supplied
Hans Dalton's death in a Samoan prison is currently unexplained. Photo / Supplied

A Givealittle page has been created to help fund the family's legal fees.

"I begged for help for my son from the medical authorities in New Zealand and Samoa when I was alerted to Hans' situation," Wilson said.

"I was assured that Hans would be well cared for. This did not happen. My son was found dead in a Samoan prison, with his head in a 44 gallon drum of water. To date, no one is held accountable for Hans' death."

A 2014 report by the Samoan Ombudsman 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".

Olinda Woodroffe, who has been the Dalton family lawyer since 2013 and also has 20 years of legal experience in Samoa, told the Herald she was only granted 30 hours of paid preparation time by legal aid for the inquest.

She wrote to Little and the Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, asking them to approve a one-off legal aid grant.

However, she said she was told the ministers had no discretion to approve a payment, despite Woodroffe saying she had been given a one-off grant before when acting at a coroner's inquest for Folole Muliaga's family.

The Dalton inquest is due to begin on Tuesday.