Dylan Voller, the teenager featured on the Four Corners report that has sparked a royal commission into the Northern Territory’s Don Dale detention centre, fears for his safety in prison after a senior guard allegedly said to him on Tuesday: “You bloody well deserve everything you got.”
Voller was one of five boys exposed to tear gas in the behavioural management unit of the centre in August 2014 and was later shown hooded and shackled in a mechanical chair.
He had also been subject to abuse at various youth detention centres dating back to 2010, which was the subject of a separate confidential report.
His lawyer, Peter O’Brien, said three of the guards who worked in the behavioural management unit, including the man who gave the order to release the teargas, now worked in Darwin Correctional Centre, where Voller is currently held.
Voller feared for his safety, he said.
“Dylan has told me this afternoon that he is in fear of his life and limb whilst he is in there, given the amount of publicity the story has gotten,” O’Brien told Guardian Australia.
“A senior guard, he said, told him this morning: ‘You bloody well deserved everything you got on that video’.”
A spokesman for the Northern Territory corrections minister said he could not comment on individual corrections staff or staff movements while a police investigation, sparked by the Four Corners report, was under way.
O’Brien said Voller wrote a letter after the program aired thanking the Australian community for “the support you have showed for us boys” and promising to make up for his “wrongs”.
Voller, now 18, has been in and out of custody since he was 11 years old. He is eligible for parole and O’Brien has called for his immediate release, saying he was now a high-profile target.
According to Four Corners, Voller has been targeted by guards at Northern Territory youth correction centres since 2010, when as a 13-year-old he was thrown across the room by a guard at Don Dale.
The repeated abuse was the subject of a report by the NT’s former children’s commissioner Dr Howard Bath, but the report has not been made public.
O’Brien, who is suing the NT government for assault, battery, and false imprisonment on behalf of Voller and another 16-year-old client, said the NT government’s “tough on crime” rhetoric permitted a culture of abuse.
“If you have got a minister that says, ‘we need to be tough on crime we have got to be cruel to be kind’, then you are going to end up with people working in these detention centres who say, ‘it’s OK to treat these children like shit because everyone does, including the government’,” he said.
Voller’s sister, Kira, told a rally at Alice Springs on Tuesday that the guards who abused him should be held accountable.
“These people are already full-grown adults and made the decision to harm that child while they were working,” she said.
“The government gave them that responsibility, to care for these kids, and instead they abused that role.”
The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, announced a royal commission into the Don Dale detention centre on Tuesday, saying he was “deeply shocked ... and appalled” by footage of apparent abuse.
He said the powers of a royal commission to compel evidence were “necessary to identify the systemic failures in the institution”.
Turnbull has promised to move quickly to establish the terms of reference and appoint an appropriate commissioner, with many saying the commissioner should be Indigenous, given that 96% of all youths in detention in the NT are Indigenous, according to an Amnesty International report.