The lawyer for the family of a New Zealand man found hanging upside down in a drum of water at a Samoan prison strongly disagrees with a coroner's finding and says there was enough evidence to determine he was forced into it.

Coroner Ryan, in a report released last week, instead listed four possible scenarios that lead to 38-year-old Hans Dalton being found upside down in a drum of water in a cell at Tafa'igata prison in December 2012.

While the cause of death was ruled to be drowning, Coroner Peter Ryan has not been able to determine exactly how Dalton died.

The scenarios were that he could have suffered a heart attack and fallen in, taken his own life, been "upended by others" and forced in, or lastly fallen in as he tried to cope with the heat and thirst.


Ryan said the evidence for the third and fourth scenarios were equally feasible and there was not overwhelming evidence to favour one over the other.

But Auckland lawyer Olinda Woodroffe, who was acting on behalf of Dalton's family, disagreed.

Lawyer Olinda Woodroffe believes there was enough evidence to determine how Hans Dalton died in a Samoan prison in 2012. Photo / File
Lawyer Olinda Woodroffe believes there was enough evidence to determine how Hans Dalton died in a Samoan prison in 2012. Photo / File

She said the evidence from the experienced forensic pathologist who examined his heavily bruised body determined his injuries were most consistent with him being assaulted.

"Going on the evidence from the doctor, I'm more inclined to believe Dr White than the coroner who never saw his body..."

The pathologist's evidence said that while she could not state it definitively, she felt Dalton being forced place into the drum was the most likely scenario, the findings said.

"Those two words in that sentence (forcibly and assault) is quite clear that the doctor was explaining her views from what she saw with her eyes and her years experience as a forensic pathologist," Woodroffe said.

New Zealand police and the coroner's office made unsuccessful efforts to gather evidence from the Samoan Government over Dalton's death.

But Woodroffe criticised the coroner's office for not reaching out to the correct authorities such as Samoa's Police minister and instead relied on court clerks. The majority of information used in the finding was supplied by her office, she said.


Dalton suffered a mental health episode while on holiday in Samoa after the worst tropical cyclone Cyclone Evan to hit the Pacific nation in 20 years struck. He was incarcerated because of the lack of facilities in Samoa for mental health patients.

A prisoner was charged with Dalton's murder, but the conviction was overturned because of a lack of evidence.

"The family has waited anxiously for six-and-a-half years without finality."

Following a meeting deputy prime minister Winston Peters in September last year an inquest was finally held in December.

Woodroffe said she was speaking out because she did not want another person to die like Hans Dalton did.

She also believed the DHB should provide patients travelling overseas with a letter describing their medical conditions to avoid any confusion. This would avoid family members without the right expertise having to explain the situation.