A private security company and the federal government have spent tens of millions of dollars settling legal claims brought by Manus Island guards who were left physically or mentally damaged from riots at the detention centre.
Three more claims were settled last week, meaning 15 former guards employed by G4S have now been compensated in relation to the February 2014 riots which claimed the life of the asylum seeker Reza Berati.
Seventy-seven people were injured in the riots at the Papua New Guinea centre, including a person who was shot in the buttock and another who suffered a fractured skull.
The former guards claimed that G4S and the government were responsible for “catastrophic” failures in relation to the riots, including by inadequately training staff and not making personal protective equipment available to them.
The Victorian supreme court heard evidence last week from former guards, including one who said his mental state deteriorated so dramatically after the riot that he was unable to work and then became homeless, forcing him to live in his car.
Another former guard, Kerry Clifton, who settled her claim in 2020 but was giving evidence during the trial relating to three former colleagues, said that in the days leading up to the riot it became clear it was “getting a bit heated” because detainees had been told they would not be settled in Australia.
“One day, one of them said to me … when they slit my throat, that very first drop of blood would be very precious to them,” she told the court.
Troy Rivers, another former guard who also settled his case prior to last week, said the chaotic and terrifying riots continued to cause him nightmares, and he required ongoing mental health support more than eight years later.
“It has affected my mental health, I’m not the same,” Rivers told the Guardian. “Even last night [I] woke up a few times screaming.
“It’s a stain on Australia’s history.”
Kim Price, a partner at Arnold Thomas & Becker who represented the former guards, said that further details regarding the settlements – including the amount paid to individual guards – could not be released.
The settlements last week occurred only days into what was expected to be a weeks-long trial.
Price is also representing six more former guards.
“These further settlements reinforce the catastrophic and negligent failures by the commonwealth government and security firm G4S,” Price said.
Price is also taking legal action on behalf of two former guards against their previous law firms, Slater and Gordon and Maurice Blackburn, arguing that the firms were negligent in failing to commence proceedings on behalf of the guards within the six-year limitation.
“This means that these guards may not have the opportunity to seek compensation, even though their cases have merit,” Price said.
“These two individuals suffered intense trauma and have not worked since the riots.
“They are entitled to seek compensation for loss of earnings and pain and suffering, following the failures of the federal government and G4S to provide a safe workplace when riots took hold of the detention centre.”
Three more cases involving former guards are listed in Victoria’s supreme court next month.