Deaths in custody news round-up

Deaths in custody news round-up


Written by: Harmit Athwal

The last month has seen a number of developments in relation to deaths in custody: a misconduct hearing, the ten-year anniversary of the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, an inquest, new deaths in custody and a new government ‘review’ of deaths in police custody.

Jean Charles de Menezes remembered 

JeanCharlesdeMenezes_ten_yearsOn 22 July, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes commemorated the ten years since his death, at the hands of armed police officers. He was shot eight times while sat on a tube at Stockwell station.

The vigil, organised by the Newham Monitoring Project, was held outside the station, in front of the mosaic that commemorates him. A minute silence was observed at the moment De Menezes was shot. Jean’s cousins then spoke about him and the impact of his death on his family. A priest gave a blessing in Portuguese and friends of de Menezes sang a song they had written for him before placing flowers below the mosaic.

Philmore Mills

On 20 July, a Thames Valley Police (TVP) misconduct inquiry into the conduct of two police officers involved in the death of Philmore Mills, who died in Wexham Park Hospital after being restrained by police officers and security staff on 27 December 2011, came to a premature end after just three days (it had been due to last two weeks). The hearing found that the police officers, who had been charged with breaching standards of professional behaviour, had not breached professional standards but their training was found to be inadequate. The proceedings commenced in private despite a recent law change to enable such hearings to be held in public. Unusually, the hearing also took place before the inquest has been held.

The family released a statement after the hearing:

A misconduct hearing called by TVP came to a disappointingly abrupt close on Monday 20 July. Just three days into the hearing, TVP concluded that the officers involved had not breached professional standards. The officers were judged against their training, which was found inadequate in key respects, and they were somehow excused of the need to exercise any common sense in exercising their police powers. It was a frustrating process for the family to sit through, behind closed doors with most of those involved in the process either serving in the police or having served in the police. We were shocked to see the police exonerate each other without the two officers having to answer any questions about their conduct. They were therefore not held to account by this inadequate process.PhilmoreMills

Our father Philmore Mills aged 57, was a patient being treated for pneumonia at Wexham Park Hospital, now known as Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, when he died on 27 December 2011, shortly after being restrained by two police officers and hospital security. Three and half years on we still have many unanswered questions and now look to the inquest in 2016 where we can take a full part in the proceedings which will be held in public.’

Kate Maynard, the family’s solicitor said: ‘These proceedings came under the old regime for police misconduct hearings where they are usually held in private, and where the panel is chaired by a senior officer of the same force. The panel relied on expert evidence given by retired police officers to exonerate the officers, and the family was unable to test the evidence. It really doesn’t feel that justice is done in these circumstances.’

Aston McLean Williams

Aston McLean WilliamsAs the one-year anniversary of 27-year-old Aston McLean’s death approaches, his family has called for his body to be released so that his funeral can be held. Aston died on 6 August 2014 after being knocked over by a Thames Valley Police armed response vehicle responding to reports of a break-in in Wokingham Road, East Reading, in the early hours of the morning. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Earlier this year his family and friends held a march in his memory through Reading to the police station. And one-year on the family is still awaiting the results of an accident investigation. The IPCC is conducting an investigation and ‘the driver of the police car has been served a notice informing them they are under investigation for potential criminal and misconduct matters.’

Dean Joseph inquest

On 20 July, the inquest into the death of Dean Joseph commenced at St Pancras coroner’s court and is due to last for a month. Joseph died after being shot by armed police officers called to a Canonbury flat in September 2014 – the first shooting of a black man since the death of Mark Duggan in August 2011. Police were called after Joseph held his ex-girlfriend hostage at her flat. According to evidence already heard, the officers involved wrote up their accounts together, over ten hours, three days later, despite the IPCC asking the Met not to allow this and instead that the officers should be interviewed individually – they declined.

Mark Yafai

On 8 July, 27-year-old Mark Yafai from Birmingham died in hospital after falling ill in a cell at Coventry police station on 1 July. He had been arrested on suspicion of affray at a Coventry hotel and held at the station when he became unwell.

Ranique Edwards

RaniqueEdwardsOn 15 June, 24-year Ranique Edwards was found hanged in Wormwood Scrubs prison in west London. His mother, Maureen Walker, has claimed that she was told three different stories by prison staff as to how he was found. She  says she was told that he was found in a bathroom, then a toilet and then that he had been found ‘over the window’. She also claims that he was being bullied as a result of the offences that he was awaiting sentence for (rape and assault). (Kilburn Times, 28 July 2015)

Theresa May announces review of police deaths

On 23 July, home secretary Theresa May announced a review into deaths in police custody. In a speech made in Brixton, she said: ‘In my time as Home Secretary, I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers, who have encountered not compassion and redress from the authorities, but what they feel as evasiveness and obstruction.’ She promised to establish ‘a major independent review of deaths and serious incidents in custody.’ However the review ‘will not reopen and reinvestigate past cases and it will not interfere with ongoing inquests, investigations or IPCC reviews which have yet to be completed.’ The two aims of the review will be ‘to examine the procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody.’ And ‘to identify areas for improvement and develop recommendations to ensure appropriate, humane institutional treatment when such incidents occur.’ The announcement came on the same day that the IPCC released figures on deaths in police custody which have reached a high, after 17 last year, and only eleven the year before.

Families and campaigners have cautiously welcomed the inquiry:

  • Habib Ullah family: ‘We are pleased to hear that the Home Secretary has announced this Review but it has to make sure that families are at the heart of it. We’re also concerned that there was no prior consultation before the announcement. Any review needs to come up with practical recommendations that recognise that the current processes in dealing with deaths in custody/after contact with the police are not fit for purpose and fail families. Justice4Paps are also cynical that there is a danger of the real issues of accountability and officers being prosecuted, will get lost in a battle between May and the Police Federation. This issue is far too important for politicians to use it for point scoring or settling old scores.’
  • Ajibola Lewis, the mother of Olaseni Lewis: ‘For our part, we are surprised that the proposed review, its purpose and its scope is being announced without any prior consultation with us or other families in our position. If the review is going to be more than an exercise in public relations, and if it is to enjoy the confidence of families in our position, it must find a meaningful way to learn from and reflect our experiences. We find deep seated and repeated failures on the part of all of the agencies of the state to whom we look to take responsibility to investigate and prevent such deaths, including those concerned within the senior management of our police service, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Coroners Courts. We find that these agencies of the state do not seem to understand that if they listen to us, if they enable us to take part properly in the process, they would allow us to help them achieve a more effective investigative process and more effective outcomes – that this would be in the best interests of all concerned, families as well as the officers whose actions resulted in the deaths of our loved ones. If the review is going to achieve any semblance of success, it must look at the reasons behind these failures in the machinery of accountability – the process by which officers are seen to be accountable to the rule of law, so that the police service and the criminal justice system at large may enjoy the confidence of all of us in the public.’
  • Kedisha Burrell, the sister of Kingsley Burrell: The review is a ‘step in the right direction’ and ‘When it comes to Kingsley, it is too late, but, importantly, it highlights the fact there is a problem to do with police and the confidence of the public. Hopefully, what Theresa May has put forward will prevent other families going through the same pain we have gone through.’
  • Marcia Rigg-Samuel, one of Sean Rigg’s sisters: ‘Families of those who have died in police custody have for too long been badly treated by state agents, only to be faced with intrusive means assessments of their extended family when applying for funding for legal representation at the inquest. Meanwhile, state agents are automatically represented by teams of lawyers. There is a clear need for a radical overhaul of how the whole system works following a death in police custody, and I hope that the independent review will address this, as well as the root causes of these avoidable deaths and ensuring accountability for those who fail in their duties to members of the public.’
  • Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST: ‘For the review to be effective bereaved families, their lawyers and INQUEST will need to play an integral role in the review, and the Reviewer will need to take full account of their views and experiences. It must also address why so many previous recommendations from reviews, inquiries and inquests have not been acted upon. It is too early to tell if this is more about a public relations exercise than a real attempt to bring about effective systemic change and the necessary accountability of police officers.’

Other news

Vans with cameras: On 28 July, Met police commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, announced that police vans transporting detainees would be fitted with CCTV. He has promised that each London borough will have at least one van with five video cameras, three microphones and two monitors. According to the Met, ‘The system turns on when the ignition is started, audio and visual recording commences immediately. Both systems continue recording for 30 minutes after the ignition is switched off … All data will be automatically overwritten after a minimum 22 days.’ The news comes after concerns raised by a number of bereaved families, including the family of Sean Rigg who died in Brixton police station in July 2008.

Related links

Newham Monitoring Project

Justice for Philmore Mills

Justice for Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah

Sean Rigg Justice and Change Campaign

Olaseni Lewis Campaign for Justice and Change

Campaign for Justice for Kingsley Burrell


IRR News: Justice for Sheku Bayoh campaign launch

IRR report on BAME deaths in custody: Dying for Justice

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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