Family welcomes coroner's findings

THE family of a man took his own life while in custody at Echuca Police Station has welcomed Coroner Jacinta Heffey's recommendations.

Stephen Niit, 45, died on December 23, 2009, after using his dog's collar to take his own life.

Mr Niit had been allowed to take his dog, Tilly, into the cell with him.

Coroner Heffey delivered the findings of a inquest into Mr Niit's death on Tuesday and recommended Victoria Police institute an "alert" process to be widely broadcast among members providing information about deaths and "near-misses" in respect to people in custody in police cells.

Mr Niit's wife Lisa released a written statement to the Bendigo Advertiser.

“Stephen was a loving father and husband, who is greatly missed by his family and friends," she wrote.

“We as a family are pleased that the coroner has recommended Victoria Police institute an alert system to inform members of deaths and potentially fatal incidents in police cells.

“We believe an alert system would remind police about the importance of complying with procedures and not becoming complacent about the risks faced by people in police custody.

“We hope the coroner’s recommendations, along with the decommissioning of police exercise yards following a review in 2010-11, will help prevent any other family from going through the heartache that we have.”

Maurice Blackburn principal Dimi Ioannou is representing the family in a compensation claim over Mr Niit's death. 

In her findings, Coroner  Heffey said assessing "suicidality" was an extremely difficult skill.

"The suggestion of 24-hour phone or online access to forensic mental health nurses/doctors as suggested by the submission of the Loddon Campaspe Legal Centre is superficially attractive but I wonder at its usefulness," she said.

"Mr Niit gave no indication to Echuca police that he was intending to kill himself ... the answer, in my view, lies in applying monitoring and checking practices as set out in the Standard Operating Procedures and the Victoria Police Manual, and removing all hanging points and any item that could be used to self-harm.

"No exceptions should be made, even if motivated by compassion.

"A departure from the rules may, as in this case, lead to totally unexpected outcomes."

If you need help call Lifeline on 131 114 or beyondblue.org.au 

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