A train conductor who asked police for help to get an Aboriginal woman off a train, sparking a chain of events that led to her death in custody, says he did so out of concern for her safety.
Tanya Day, a mother, grandmother and Yorta Yorta woman, was taken off a V/Line train from Echuca to Melbourne and arrested for being drunk in a public place in December 2017.
While in custody the 55-year-old hit her head five times and eventually died from a brain haemorrhage.
Conductor Shaun Irvine formed the view she was "unruly" because she had fallen asleep on the train with her feet in the aisle.
He told the court while it was common for passengers to fall asleep on the train, Ms Day was difficult to rouse and appeared to be "under the influence of something".
"I believed that her safety was threatened by allowing her to continue to travel in the state she was in," he said, citing risks such as falling and tripping.
"At the time I didn't believe she was in control of her actions."
He said Ms Day did not smell of alcohol but added he had a "bad sense of smell".
Other passengers aboard the train told the court they did not take much notice of her before stopping at Castlemaine.
Ms Day was taken to Castlemaine police station and placed in cell one. Police told her family they would hold her for four hours to "sober up".
CCTV footage from the holding cell shows Ms Day falling five times between 4.20pm and 6.39pm. At 4:40pm, it shows Ms Day falling forward to hit her forehead on the wall with significant impact.
The lawyer acting on behalf of Ms Day's family said there was no doubt racism played a role in her interaction with V/Line staff, her arrest and her time in custody.
"How can it be that a woman so much loved ... who was hurting no one, abusing and hitting no one ... could be removed in a manner of minutes from a train on which she was travelling?" Peter Morrissey SC told the inquest.
"She was vulnerable not simply because she consumed alcohol, she was vulnerable because of who she was."
Before attending the inquest, Ms Day's family and friends took part in a traditional smoking ceremony at a nearby park to honour her and other Aboriginal lives lost in police custody.
"Our mum should be alive today," daughter Belinda Stevens told reporters.
"We know that racism played a role in mum's death and that Victoria Police failed her."
The three-week inquest before coroner Caitlin English will look at whether racism was a factor in Ms Day's treatment - a first for a Victorian coroner.
On Thursday, Victoria promised to abolish the offence of being drunk in public.
Australian Associated Press
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