Death case throws up police failings

Death case throws up police failings

Written by: Harmit Athwal

On 29 June, at a second disciplinary tribunal of police officers involved in the failed police investigations into the murder of Jay Abatan in January 1999 in Brighton, two police officers were found guilty of various misconduct charges – for which they were reprimanded or cautioned.

The tribunal revealed many troubling details about the police investigation: the police failed to set up a major incident room or record details of the case on the Holmes computer system that should have been used in such investigations; the day after Jay died the number of officers working on the case was reduced from eight to five; police officers alleged they were told to work on Jay’s case during ‘downtime’; CCTV was not seized on the night of the attack. A further delay of many months occurred before any CCTV footage was requested. A potential eyewitness was not spoken to until 18 months after the incident. (He has learning difficulties and found it difficult to recall what had happened.) Internal memos revealed that racial motivation was originally discounted as a factor in the attack.

For the family of Jay Abatan, the decision to issue only a reprimand and two cautions for the serious failings into the investigations of Jay’s murder is another blow. Michael Abatan, Jay’s brother, told IRR News: ‘Jay deserves justice. I want 2005 to be the year when the police deliver justice for Jay and his family. The police must address institutional racism which is still manifest in the police force and adopt all the Lawrence Inquiry recommendations. What happened to my brother could happen to any one of you out there today. It is clear to me that Black families will continue to struggle to get justice. The authorities have not learnt the lessons of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.’


Jay Abatan, a 42-year-old Black man and father of two, died five days after being attacked by a gang outside the Ocean Rooms nightclub in Brighton on 24 January 1999. He was attacked on his way home after a night out with his brother and a friend. The three were getting into a cab when they were attacked by a group of White men. Jay did not even have the chance to take his hands out of his pockets before he was punched and kicked to the ground. He suffered severe brain damage and was pronounced dead after five days on a life support machine. (For further details read IRR News Story: Justice for Jay Abatan – ‘an uphill struggle’)

After his death, two men were arrested and charged with Jay’s manslaughter. However, by the time of the trial in May 2000, the men faced reduced charges of affray and actual bodily harm to Jay’s brother, Michael, of which they were ultimately cleared. The jury was not told that Jay had died as a result of injuries sustained during the same attack because the Judge thought it might influence the verdict.

The Sussex police’s investigation into Jay’s murder came under the spotlight when Jay’s family voiced concerns that police officers had made fundamental errors throughout their inquiries and failed to explore a racial motive for the attack. As a result of their concerns a ‘review’ of the Sussex investigation was carried out by Essex police. In their review between July 1999 and December 2000 when it issued its report, Essex police catalogued at least fifty-seven failings and inconsistencies in the original investigation into Jay’s murder. These fifty-seven failings and inconsistencies were leaked to the press.

In December 2000, as a result of Essex police’s inquiry, the original investigating team in Sussex was replaced by another team and it was announced that the murder was being treated as a ‘racist killing’ – two years after it took place. Sussex police then asked the Police Complaints Authority (PCA, which was replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission – IPCC in April 2004) to review its investigation to see whether there were grounds to discipline any of the original officers involved. Ken Jones from Avon and Somerset police was called in by the PCA to undertake this investigation. Subsequently, Ken Jones was made Chief Constable of Sussex police and another officer was assigned the task to continue the investigation. Avon and Somerset police completed their investigation and their report was handed to Sussex police, who have since consistently refused to release the full 300-page report. But it was as a result of these investigations that three officers were charged with disciplinary offences.

Disciplinary tribunals

At the recent disciplinary tribunal which started in the middle of June, Sussex police officers, Detective Inspector (DI) Andy Young faced nine charges of misconduct and Detective Inspector Martin Sapwell faced four charges (he was a detective sergeant at the time of the attack). Both men denied the charges. Andy Young was found guilty on four charges and received a reprimand, Martin Sapwell was found guilty on two charges and received two cautions.

DI Young: He was not conscientious and diligent in his duties in the course of the investigation. He was found guilty of the following charges:

  • Failing to notify Tanya Haynes (Michael’s partner) of the decision not to continue with the joint enterprise basis of the case;
  • Failing to ensure that injuries to a witness namely Lloyd Jeffers were photographed.
  • Failing to manage effectively the allocation and receipt of said actions;
  • Failing to effectively secure evidence by ensuring that suspects’ addresses were effectively searched and that potential evidence was secured in respect of CCTV recordings;
  • Failing to be objective during the investigation on a number of occasions stating that the suspects were decent people and that they would not have meant to kill Jay Abatan, making comment that the whole incident was an unfortunate accident.

DI Sapwell: He was not conscientious and diligent in his duties in the course of the investigation. He was found guilty of the following charges:

  • That on a number of occasions during that investigation he displayed a lack of professionalism and empathy towards the Abatan family.
  • Failing to investigate the evidence available in relation to a witness and additionally preventing the girlfriend of one of the suspects from being interviewed by writing ‘not being a line of enquiry’ on an action form.

Detective Superintendent Alan Ladley was found guilty of misconduct at a separate tribunal in December 2004. He was found guilty on five charges and was reprimanded and fined nine days pay. It was found that DI Ladley was not conscientious and diligent in his duties in the course of the investigation. He was found guilty of the following charges:

  • Continuing to deny that there were any problems with the investigation until the Essex Review was published, producing a briefing note to DS Jeremy Paine stating that the matter had been reviewed on a number of occasions when this was not in fact the case;
  • Inappropriately using message forms to record actions and failing to ensure that actions were endorsed with the result of enquiries;
  • Failing to ensure the efficient management, allocation and receipt of enquiries;
  • Failing to ensure completion of the action to trace a woman with a riding crop identified on the 24 January 1999 by Sergeant Johnson, this action not being raised until 25 April 2000, some 15 months after the event;
  • Failing to properly and effectively supervise DI Young.
The future

Jay’s family have vowed not to rest until they have justice and Sussex police have been held fully accountable to them for their actions. Michael Abatan told IRR News that the family intends to take legal action against Sussex police. They also hope to meet Sussex police to discuss the failings revealed in the investigations and once again to request a copy of the report by Avon and Somerset police into the failed investigation. Michael would also like to meet Charles Clarke and Jack Straw to discuss the case. On 12 June 2000, in the early stages of Sussex police’s first investigation (and in the middle of the Essex review), it was Jack Straw who, as the then Home Secretary, wrote to the family reassuring them that the investigation was thorough and that Jay’s death had been classified as a racially motivated incident and had been investigated as such throughout. In another letter from Charles Clarke (dated 7 June 2000), in response to a question from the family’s MP, he reassured the family that the case had been ‘reviewed on a number of occasions internally by Sussex Police to ensure all realistic lines of enquiry were followed’.

In support of the Abatan family’s campaign for justice, Doreen Lawrence commented: ‘When Stephen was murdered in a racist attack, we were treated as second-class citizens due to the colour of our skin. The police admitted to institutional racism and claimed to make steps to change. The fact that the failures around Jay Abatan’s murder investigation happened after the publication of the Lawrence Inquiry is an indictment of the institutional racism that we faced, which is alive and well in Britain today. Until this is addressed, the Black communities will not see justice or equality. I fully support Jay’s family in their campaign for justice. I do not want to see another family go through what we have been through. The police must address the failures in this case if they are to prove they have learnt the lessons of the Lawrence Inquiry and look forward to the day when the Black community’s lives are given the same value as others.’

Related links

Justice for Jay

A petition in support of the Justice for Jay campaign

IRR News Story: Justice for Jay Abatan – ‘an uphill struggle’

National Assembly Against Racism

For further information please see the Justice for Jay website or contact Michael Abatan on 07979 850 262 or email: Further action: you can write to your MP and ask for pressure be put on Sussex Police to release the Avon and Somerset report or sign the petition at The National Assembly Against Racism website.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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