Investigation unlikely over Kiwi's death in restraints in Japanese hospital

by Eric Frykberg / 14 July, 2017

Kelly Savage, 27, died in a hospital in Japan on 17 May (file photo). Photo / Supplied

Kelly Savage's family unlikely to find out exactly what happened to him in a Japanese hospital.

The controversial death of a New Zealander in Japan has brought back painful memories of a similar case in Samoa - where a five year battle for justice has yielded no results.

Both cases involved victims with mental illnesses, and both involve families who can't get answers on why their loved ones died in foreign lands.

The most recent tragedy involved a 27-year-old New Zealand man, Kelly Savage, who died in a Japanese hospital, after being restrained on a ward bed for 10 days.

His death certificate mentioned cardiopulmonary arrest, but his family think deep vein thrombosis from being tied down to a bed is more likely.

Attempts to prove their case were stonewalled: Mr Savage's family could not access medical records, nor could they commission an independent investigation.

His brother, Patrick Savage, said it was immensely disappointing.

"I love Japan and Kelly loved Japan a lot and in many ways it is a great place to live," Dr Savage said.

"But this is just not acceptable and if Japanese people knew this was going on they would be embarrassed and shocked."

Kelly Savage with his mother, Martha, and father, Michael, during his graduation from Victoria University with a BA in Japanese and Psychology. His mother is a professor of geophysics at the university.


The Japanese Embassy in Wellington said it referred the family to a special board within Japan which would investigate this case.

But Dr Savage said when he contacted this organisation, it turned out to be impossible to launch an inquiry.

"Unfortunately it turns out that they don't really have any power to do so," he said.

"The only way they can initiate an investigation is if the hospital where the accident occurred actually reports themselves for an investigation.

"Unfortunately the hospital does not want to report themselves so (the investigators) have no power to independently investigate."

Echoes of earlier case in Samoa

Dr Savage's fruitless struggle in Japan has brought back bad memories for Christine Wilson, who lost her son, Hans Dalton, in a Samoan prison in 2012, and has been thwarted in her quest for justice ever since.

"I feel immense sadness and compassion for (Kelly Savage) and his family and loved ones," she said.

"There were so many similarities with what happened to Hans, with not being able to get accountability (from the authorities)."

Hans Dalton drowned in a barrel of water in a Samoan jail after he had been arrested by the police.

The case produced legal turmoil in Samoa and was the subject of a $15 million lawsuit filed against the state of Samoa in October 2013.

But Christine Wilson's lawyer, Olinda Woodroffe, has not been able to get a fixture after almost four years of trying.

Further, she said New Zealand coroner Peter Ryan was trying to investigate but was not succeeding.

The coroner's office would not comment - beyond confirming it was investigating the case.

But Olinda Woodroffe said the coroner himself told her he had been blocked by Samoan officials.

She said he had made inquiries from the Samoan police, the Ministry of Justice and the attorney general but they had not responded to his inquiries.

Asked about this inaction by the Samoan authorities, an official at the Samoan High Commission said she knew nothing about anyone in Samoa stonewalling anyone.

And it would not be her business anyway - inquiries should be referred to the police and Ministry of Justice within Samoa - not to the High Commission.

Olinda Woodroffe said she had tried to do this several times.

Tokyo's Embassy in Wellington also knew nothing about the details of the Japanese case.

An official there, Kiyohiko Hamada, made a general statement saying the standard of medical care in Japan complied with international standards.

 This story was first published on the RNZ website.


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