27 May 2014

sixty-seven years ago today - part 11 - Inquest into Reg Brown's death in Boggo Road Gaol

Our grandfather's body was found in a Boggo Road Gaol cell just 9 days into his life sentence. Five weeks later - exactly 67 years ago today - an inquest was held in Brisbane. On that Tuesday, City Coroner Thomas Elite, heard brief evidence from Dr Tonge - State Pathologist, a police constable, four prison officers  and Reg Brown's 20 year-old son. 

Reg's son, Ian, told the inquiry that only four days before his father's death, he had visited with him in Boggo Road Gaol. Although Reg warned his son not to 'get off side with the police, you will never win' and described the prison as 'worse than you could ever imagine', there were no good-byes, nothing to indicate his father was considering suicide. In this crusty courtroom environment Ian was shown, for the first time, his father's last words; a final and concise statement of innocence written and signed in pencil on a piece of gaol issued toilet paper.

 Each prison warden, one of whom we actually met, gave their testimony regarding the prisoner's final days; each concluded with the identical words, 'He never said or done anything which might suggest to me that he was going to take his own life.'

Although our grandfather was unwell and had been prescribed Phenobarbital by the prison doctor, this doctor did not appear at the inquest. After a reported one hour and forty minutes, the coroner ruled no suspicious circumstances. But as we show in Lingering Doubts, there are several reasons for suspicion. Unanswered questions remains to this day. Was our grandfather in an observation cell when he died? We have been told there was some contention about this matter amongst prison staff. Was Reg Brown assessed by the medical officer after receiving a life sentence? That same evening he was distressed, still professing his innocence and  subsequently suffered a severe  asthma attack. Even so he wrote a letter to his equally distraught wife and family.

At the time a half-hearted inquiry into gaol administration was taking place, following  the 1946 escape of three prisoners. But despite QPP leader Bruce Pie's demand asking for a full inquiry into Queensland's gaol administration and the suicide of Reg Brown, this did not occur. In 1949 in a heated accusation about another matter Bruce Pie said the Government 'would come at anything' to prevent the appointment of a Royal Commission.

This was a heart-breaking time also for the Armstrong family. Their daughter Bronia should have turned 20 years-old yesterday, 26 May - 67 years ago.
Deb and Jan

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We look forward to your comments and feedback or any information you may wish to share about our grandfather's case.