Detainee 'used ice, had heart disease'

A New Zealand detainee who died at Villawood detention centre had the drug ice in his blood and suffered from heart disease, a Sydney coroner has been told.

Robert Peihopa, a 42-year-old father of four, had used the drug at the centre as well as in jail, counsel assisting the coroner Naomi Sharp said during her opening address on Monday at Glebe Coroners Court.

A forensic pathologist was expected to testify the direct cause of his death on April 4, 2016, was “methamphetamine toxicity complicating ischaemic heart disease”.

The autopsy revealed Mr Peihopa had a focally severe narrowing of the right coronary artery of up to 80-90 per cent, while methamphetamine and amphetamine were detected in his blood.

A cardiologist would give evidence about whether the narrowing, the taking of the ice and/or a physical fight played a role in his death, Ms Sharp said.

Mr Peihopa, a NZ citizen who has lived in Australia since he was about 15, had an extensive criminal record, which included mainly driving offences such as driving while under the influence of illegal drugs.

From about 2002, the Department of Immigration warned his visa might be cancelled if he was convicted of a further offence.

In January 2014, he was jailed for reckless driving, driving under the influence of drugs and other offences and in 2015 was advised his visa had ben cancelled on character grounds.

Deemed to be an “unlawful non-citizen”, he was detained at Villawood from July 7, 2015.

Another NZ national detainee was expected to give evidence that on the day of his death Mr Peihopa told him he had smoked ice the previous evening and suspected another detainee had stolen money from him.

The detainee later heard “a loud thud noise” and saw some “Maori boys” running out of a unit shortly before Mr Peihopa collapsed.

The witness began CPR and noticed a large, fresh cut on the side of Mr Peihopa’s face.

Evidence would be called from officials on issues including the Department of Immigration’s knowledge of drug infiltration at Villawood, its investigations into Mr Peihopa’s death and search operations carried out by Serco, which is contracted to provide security services.

One witness was expected to say Serco “received information from an informant” in January 2016 that Mr Peihopa had been accessing drugs thrown over the fence as well as from one of his visitors, Ms Sharp said.

The inquest is set down for five days.


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