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03 March 2014

Veronica Paris Baxter (1975 – 2009).

Veronica, an aboriginal from Cunnamulla county, in the south-west of Queensland, had been living as a woman since 1994 when she was 19.

In March 2009, three days after the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, she was arrested in a police sting in Redfern, Sydney, and charged with supplying a prohibited drug, and held at the NSW Silverwater Metropolitan Reception and Remand Centre, a maximum security jail for men. She was not offered the opportunity of solitary confinement in a women's jail instead, that by law should be offered to non-op trans women. She was in the general male population of the prison. She had not been checked for 14 hours – a contravention of policy – when she was found hanging in her cell from a 1.5m (5 foot) bunk despite being 1.98m (6'5'') tall.

After two years of public campaigning, an inquest was held April 2011, a few weeks after the death of Paris' mother. Two days were slated for the inquest, but it was over by 15.30 on the first day. The only witnesses called were the Police Investigative Officer, a Corrective Services Investigative Officer and a Programmes Manager who had arranged for the gaol Transgender Correctional Officer to talk to Paris. All witnesses were vague in several important areas of their individual responsibility areas. No reason was given why the gaol Transgender Officer was not called. A finding of "asphyxiation, which occurred as a result of him hanging himself with the intention of ending his life" was issued using Paris' male name.

At 18.30 the Deputy Coroner held a press conference and invoked s75(5) of the Coroner Act, 2009 which inflicts a $1100 fine or six months imprisonment for an individual who publishes anything about the case, and $5500 for a media outlet. Within 30 minutes all articles placed by the Associated Australian Press, Sydney Morning Herald, and Australian Broadcasting Corporation relevant to Veronica had been removed.

Activists asked why, and were given the reason of protecting the family. Veronica's brother William Drury replied:
“I had not been contacted by any person from the Coroners Office. I was rung twice by the Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS) Solicitor who, among other matters, urged me to accept the continuation of the gag. I did not want this, as I want my sister's case to become very public, so such a tragedy never happen again.” 

The family then transferred authority to act on their behalf from the ALS to the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), in that ISJA were willing to take instructions from the family. Paris' two bothers, William and Geoffrey, informed the Deputy Coroner that they wished to allow media articles, and the non-publication order was lifted.

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