NT government to pay almost $1m to tear gassed inmates

Glenn Campbell/AAP PHOTOS

The Northern Territory government has been ordered to pay almost $1 million to four former Don Dale inmates who were tear gassed almost a decade ago at the youth detention centre.

The four detainees were exposed to CS fogger tear gas by a prison officer after a violent incident broke out at the Darwin centre in August 2014, leading to a confrontation between another inmate and prison staff.

Josiah Binsaris, Keiran Webster, Ethan Austral and Leroy O'Shea were exposed to the gas while being locked inside their rooms.

In 2020 the High Court ruled the four inmates were entitled to compensation for the incident, finding the use of tear gas was deliberate, intentional and unlawful.

The NT Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the government to pay $960,000 to the ex-inmates, with $250,000 in damages awarded to Mr Webster and Ms O'Shea, $240,000 to Mr Austral and $220,000 to Mr Binsaris.

Justice Jenny Blokland said the detainees suffered "callous treatment" at the hands of prison guards after being exposed to the gas.

"There is a sense of grievance expressed as to why they were treated roughly, hand cuffed from behind, placed on the basketball court on their stomachs and hosed," she wrote in her judgment.

"Given what they had endured, they deserved to be treated with more care than the callousness evident on the available footage."

The judge found the plaintiffs were entitled to a higher award of exemplary damages as they were bystanders and youths who were under the care of the territory.

"They were treated as though they were the troublemakers," she said.

"The incident as a whole shows the plaintiffs were treated in a manner which recklessly disregarded their rights and interests."

She said the incident "must never be allowed to happen again" and held the NT government responsible for putting guards in a position where they thought they had no option but to use "unlawful unreasonable and excessive force".

"Young people in custody must be protected from exposure to such danger. This is fundamental," Justice Blokland wrote.

Graphic footage was shown on ABC TV in 2016 of the four detainees being tear-gassed.

That led to the 2017 Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children.

The NT government accepted in full or in principle all 227 recommendations at an estimated cost of $229 million.