Dylan Voller tells royal commission of road trip from hell

Dylan Voller speaking at the Royal Commission on Monday. Dylan Voller being manhandled by staff at the Darwin facility. Photo: ABC Four Corners
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Northern Territory prisoner staff forced a teenage detainee to endure a 15-hour road trip to hell with little water and no toilet stops, the royal commission into juvenile justice has been told.

Dylan Voller told commissioners he had been taken by road from Alice Springs to Darwin and was handcuffed in the back of a stifling hot van with no air-conditioning with only a hot chocolate and sandwich for the journey.

He was forced to defecate in his shirt, while the guards’ cigarette smoke made him vomit from nausea.

“I threatened self-harm . . . choking myself with seat belts,” Voller said.

He also gave evidence about being put in isolation in the Alice Springs Detention Centre and officers refusing his pleas to be let out to go to the toilet.

“I had been asking for at least four or five hours . . . I was busting,” he said. “I had to defecate in a pillow slip.

Voller, now 19, was the teenager who appeared in ABC’s Four Corners program last July, strapped to a mechanical restraint chair and wearing a spithood, and being tear-gassed during a 2014 riot at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

The image helped spark the royal commission.

His harrowing evidence on Monday has sparked further widespread outrage.

Voller admitted he regularly spat at officers in a state of panic when up to four of them were holding him down and hurting him.

“It was a disgusting thing that I did, I do regret it but it became a mechanism because … I was defenceless, I couldn’t stand up and put them off me,” he said.

“It was pretty much a game for them, restraining us.”

Voller said he had been kept in restraint chairs for up to three hours and an officer who was filming his treatment wearing a spithood would turn the camera off, taunt him, and then start reshooting as he became angry.

He admitted to depression.

“I cut my wrist on one occasion, I tied sheets around my neck at least five times to the point where I passed out and had to be taken to hospital,” Voller said.

“There was no help in Don Dale, I was lonely, I kept being bullied from other officers and inmates.”

Voller,​ now an inmate at the adult prison at Holtze in Darwin, told commissioners how he suffered ADHD as a child and had been kicked out of school as a 10-year-old “and never went back” when he refused to take Ritalin “because it made me sick”.

He was first put into detention at 11 after living in government home home where older boys not only taught him to smoke marijuana but introduced him to a life of crime.

The court heard Voller was regularly strip-searched from the age of 11 and on one occasion was left in a cell overnight with no mattress, sheets or clothes.

“They turned the aircon on full blast, I was freezing all night…. I was actually crying asking for a blanket,” he said.

Voller listed a series of incidents where guards had taunted or abused him. including one occasion when an another individual who previously had been found not guilty of assaulting him had been permitted to return to work at Don Dale. “I put my head down. I couldn’t look at him”.

They included offering water and throwing it on ground and using the refusal of food as a discipline measure.

Voller recalled a guard on night duty taking pity on him after he had been refused food who pushed muesli bars, fruit and toast through his grill in the early hours. “He didn’t agree with them starving me, I guess.”

Voller said as part of the system at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre he had to wear a red shirt denoting he was “high risk” in the behaviour management system, and was told there was no way of appealing his classification.

Teenage detainees could earn up to $4.50 a day if their behaviour was good.

Voller said the jail deducted $1.50 “for rent”.

He claimed the prison had a rewards system where boys would earn fake money for good behaviour, which could then be spent on rent, toiletries, socks, underwear and CDs.

No prison guards were permitted in the Darwin Supreme Court when Voller gave evidence.

Voller will not be cross-examined despite making allegations against 31 guards.

Voller frequently failed to give evidence that tallied with a statement he had provided counsel assisting the commission Peter Callaghan SC, and as hours passed he began blinking frequently as if under stress.

At the end of his of his evidence Voller was invited to read a statement.

However, the audio was muted after he had completed a few sentences.

But when he finished, the public gallery broke into applause.

Earlier, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory heard submissions aiming to stop Voller’s evidence being streamed live across Australia.

Northern Territory solicitor-general Sonia Brownhill made an application to suppress elements of Voller’s testimony from the public broadcast saying he could identify current or former prison employees in his evidence.

Jon Tippett, QC, appearing for former Corrections Commissioner Ken Middlebrook, who resigned in the wake of the Four Corners program, told the hearing that vulnerable witnesses like Voller usually gave evidence behind closed doors but he “wanted to tell his story to the world”.

Commissioners Margaret White and Mike Gooda rejected the applications and Voller began his evidence.

Voller’s legal counsel, Peter O’Brien, told the royal commission his client was determined to give evidence in the most public way possible.

“He wants to give his evidence open and freely with [appropriate] safeguards in place,” Mr O’Brien said.

Mr O’Brien told commissioners that Voller had principally sought to give his evidence in person rather than via a telelink from prison.

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