Prison nurse Dame Phyllis Frost watched the film as Veronica Nelson asked for help

The coroner heard that the paramedics present believed she had “been gone for some time”.

On Thursday, the inquest learned that George, who had worked as a nurse for 13 years, was the only nurse working the night shift at the Dame Phyllis Frost Center on the two nights Nelson was there.

Stationed at the medical center, she was responsible for caring for new arrivals and detainees in the prison’s general population units.

George told the coroner that she had no interactions with Nelson during the newcomer’s first night, but peeked through the glass window on the way to the bathroom and saw her sleeping.

Video footage shown at the inquest showed the following night – the night of Nelson’s death – George was again working alone when she showed up at the inmate’s Yarra Unit cell at around 1:30 a.m. to provide her with paracetamol and anti-nausea medication.

She spent less than a minute peering through a trapdoor—with three prison guards nearby—before she opened the inmate’s clenched fingers to hand her the pills.

George said she didn’t ask for the cell door to be unlocked because she was afraid of the officer in charge, but admitted that she should have.

“I should have checked on her. I should have asked the officer to open the door,” she said.

“Veronica was so polite and calm. I thought she was fine at that stage.”

Over the next two hours, George was alerted again to more pleas for help from Nelson over the intercom to prison officials. But security footage showed the nurse did not return to her cell and spent hours watching a movie on the prison computer.

She said she told prison officials they should bring the 37-year-old back to medical cells, but Nelson refused.

“You watch a movie for hours, don’t you?” asked coroner’s assistant attorney Sharon Lacy.

“Yes,” replied George.

The nurse left the prison at 6:30 a.m. without making any medical certificates about Nelson’s health, before returning to do so after learning that the inmate had died. George told the coroner that she forgot to do this earlier.

“I don’t know what happened to me that day,” she said.

When pressed about her actions, the nurse agreed that not checking Nelson’s electronic medical file was an oversight she could not explain, but stated that she was not aware of the number of intercom calls Nelson made to prison guards.

Coroner Simon McGregor is looking into Nelson’s death as part of a five-week inquiry after it was revealed she unsuccessfully sought bail on her own, without legal representation, before being held in custody at the Dame Phyllis Frost Center over allegations of shoplifting.

The inquiry previously heard that Nelson was one of 505 First Nations people who have died in custody since the findings of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were handed down in 1991.

George had previously asked the court to withhold his name, but McGregor ruled against it.

The inquiry continues.

The images and audio contained in this story were released to the media with the family’s permission. For 24/7 crisis support run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, contact 13YARN (13 92 76).

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