Impact statement from Nathan Booth’s family

30 May 2024

Nathan Booth was reported missing in July 2019, and after months of inaction from the police, his body was found in December that year, in the Murrumbidgee. After five years of waiting, the inquest into Nathan’s death is continuing this week. Yesterday Nathan’s family made a statement, which we have published with their permission.

Impact Statement from Nathan Booth's Family

Final statement as read yesterday outside the ACT Magistrates Court by Ida Hanley nee Booth on behalf of the Booth family:

Thank you for joining us today as we seek justice for Nathan. Today marks the beginning of our healing process as we uncover the truth behind Nathan’s disappearance. We are here because we never gave up. We knocked on every door, determined to find the truth. We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t persevered and kept knocking on every door until the truth was found.

This truth-finding process wouldn’t be possible without the commitment of Coroner Ken Archer and Counsel Assisting Joe Kellaway. Thanks to their efforts, we have reopened the proceedings and started our journey towards finding answers. They listened to our stories, understood our pain, and gave us the opportunity to voice our concerns. They kept their word and investigated the matters we brought to them.

But things were very different five years ago.

Nathan went missing on June 27, 2019 and his remains were found in the Murrumbidgee River on December 1, 2019. We, Nathan’s family were only notified his remains were identified on December 20, 2019.

From the outset, there have been major issues and flaws identified with the police investigation, including that:
• The crime scene was not properly secured or treated as a potential homicide.
• Key witnesses with vital information were not interviewed by police.
• Contradictory statements from those interviewed were disregarded.
• Rumors of foul play, threats, and Nathan’s involvement with drugs/criminal elements were not adequately investigated.
• Forensic testing does not appear to have been conducted on evidence found at the scene.

From the moment his remains were discovered on December 1st, 2019, the authorities’ actions and words demonstrated nothing but a lack of care, interest and racist bias. The crime scene left unprotected, potential evidence contaminated – all pointing to a premature conclusion by police authorities that Nathan’s death was an unfortunate “misadventure.”

We know the facts. The facts are that the term “misadventure” has historically been used as a way to dismiss or downplay Aboriginal deaths, avoiding proper investigation and accountability. This has perpetuated systemic racism and discrimination against Aboriginal people… which is highlighted by so many reports, research and evidence and statements – Including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 which proved majority of Aboriginal deaths were simply labelled as “misadventure” by coroners and authorities, with no thorough investigation conducted.

This term implies the death was merely an accidental occurrence, absolving authorities of responsibility and denying the inherent dignity of the deceased’s life. Coronial inquests have frequently ruled Aboriginal deaths as being due to “misadventure”, failing to examine the underlying systemic issues and injustices that contributed to the deaths. This avoids scrutiny of how the person was treated by authorities prior to their death, which the Royal Commission recommended all inquests should cover.

By labelling Aboriginal deaths as mere “misadventures”, a pattern of impunity has been allowed to persist, denying justice and accountability. This has compounded the trauma and anguish in Aboriginal communities and families, like our family who are before you today, forced to grieve without closure or consequences for those responsible.
This insidious term [Misadventure] has become a cruel euphemism, allowing authorities to dismiss Aboriginal deaths without accountability. Just as the Royal Commission condemned the use of the term “misadventure” to avoid scrutiny of Aboriginal deaths in custody, we condemn its invocation to deny Nathan and our family justice – … “justice” which is automatically afforded to any white person in this Country…but not us, not any Aboriginal people, families or communities.

Nathan’s investigation has been haunted by an outward disregard for truth by authorities, systems and the government from the outset. Contradictory statements brushed aside, key witnesses ignored, and a willful blindness to the rumours of foul play circulating in our community. All because Nathan’s struggles personal struggles made his life expendable in the eyes of the law.

We heard the haunting words of an officer at the scene: “Looks like he took a hit” Yet this was disregarded, his death prematurely ruled an ‘accident’ without a full accounting of the facts. This is yet another tragedy (among so many tragedies covered up by systems and authorities), involving the life of an Aboriginal man, where evidence of discrimination, neglect and racism was overlooked until it was too late.

The lack of care and interest from authorities extended even to the most basic investigative steps… No forensic testing of the belongings found with Nathan’s body. No scrutiny of how he came to be in such treacherous terrain, improperly dressed for the elements. A complete failure to do their job, fuelled by the systemic biases and racism that have forever tainted this case.

We have listened to the whispers, the rumours of threats from criminal elements that the authorities turned a deaf ear to since 2019 when Nathan was found. We have watched as authorities cherrypicked statements to weave a narrative convenient to their prejudices, ignoring the pleas of witnesses to dig deeper and look at the facts before them.
And through it all, we have been met with obstruction at every turn, our pain is compounded by the knowledge that if Nathan was not an Aboriginal man, a full investigation would be demanded as a matter of course, without any barriers or reluctance by authorities.

But we will not be silent bystanders in this injustice. Not now, not ever.

We will not rest until those responsible are held accountable for their actions, until the truth is told, regardless of whose reputations or prejudices it implicates. For too long, we have been subject to and witnessed the systemic racism, abuse and violence inflicted upon our people by the very ‘institutions’ sworn to protect us. The unjust treatment of Nathan’s case stands as clear evidence of how little Aboriginal lives are valued by those in power and remain enabled by colonial systems that cover up the truth. These continued injustices that our people have endured are a stain on our national conscience that can no longer be ignored.

Racism is killing Aboriginal people every day and this Country so called “Australia” is built on nothing but racism.

Let us be clear – there is no “misadventure” when Aboriginal people are subjected to systemic abuse, racism, intergenerational trauma, economic oppression, and social marginalisation by the very institutions meant to protect us. The true misadventure is the intentional ignorance and complete disregard that allows these injustices to persist.

We owe it to Nathan; we owe it to all of the Aboriginal lives lost at the hands of Australia’s colonial and racist systems. No more hollow gestures, no more empty apologies and no more “misadventure”. Only justice for our brother, our son, our family member whose life was stolen and devalued by a system that continues to fail us and our people at every turn. The choice is yours. Whose side of history will you stand on? We have made ours, and we will not be deterred until the truth we can no longer ignore is finally reckoned with.

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