Families united in grief

Families united in grief


Written by: Harmit Athwal

On Saturday 25 October, over 300 people marched on Downing Street to remind the Prime Minister about the number of deaths in police, prison and psychiatric custody.

In the tenth annual march organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC), the demonstrators, mainly family members and the friends of those who have died, marched in slow silence on Downing Street.

Numerous families affected by the death of a loved one joined the annual march: the family of Jean Charles de Menezes were present – in the UK attending the inquest into his shooting by armed police officers in 2005; the family of Christopher Alder who died after being arrested and left on the floor of Queens Street police station in Hull in 1992; the family of Leon Patterson who died in Stockport police station in 1992; the family of Brian Douglas who died after being hit with a police baton in 1995; the family of Roger Sylvester who died after being restrained by up to eight Tottenham police officers in 1999.

More recently formed family campaigns were also present: the families of Jason McPherson who died in Notting Hill police station in 2007; of Sean Rigg who died, in August, after being arrested by Brixton police officers; and the family of Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah who died in July after being arrested by police in High Wycombe.

The UFFC, backed by the TUC, is calling for a public inquiry into deaths in custody, of which there have been 182 in the last year.

Families speak out
  • Nasrit Ullah sister of Habib Ullah: ‘We want to know how our brother died … Why did it take five police officers to restrain one man, what methods were used and how did they restrain him? Why did it take 5 to 6 hours for them to come to our home to tell us that that our brother has passed away … We just want to know what happened to our brother.’
  • Samantha Rigg-David sister of Sean Rigg: ‘We, the Rigg family have been left devastated by the sudden and untimely death of our brother Sean Rigg, who died at Brixton Police station just two months ago. We are outraged that Sean’s death has happened regardless of the countless recommendations made in previous cases, we have been reluctantly thrust into this legal quagmire where miscarriages of justice appear to be commonplace. We are not naive and do fully realise what we are up against, yet refuse to be deterred or silenced. A family should not have to push this hard for the truth … When is too much enough?’
  • Brenda Weinberg – sister of Brian Douglas: ‘While our loved ones are forever alive in our hearts this fight for justice may be endless but never futile.’
  • Pauline & Andy – parents of Paul Day: ‘After six years of heartbreaking research into the death of our son Paul we finally forced a police investigation into the circumstances surrounding his treatment at Frankland Prison. The investigation has been on-going for over nine months and will be completed by the end of this year. We are hoping for a favourable decision from the CPS into their findings as we believe we have supplied more than enough evidence for convictions for the treatment that Paul received. Hopefully if we get justice we can finally rest in the knowledge that we did not desert or let down our beloved son Paul.’
  • Sieta Lambrias – sister of Mikey Powell: ‘It’s been five years now since my brother Mikey Powell died. We were convinced that his case would bring us justice and help put a stop to deaths in custody. How wrong could I have been? The criminal justice system seems only interested in protecting the [police] force and not the victims. I tell everyone I know, if they should have to lose a loved one I pray it’s not in the hands of the police.’
  • Janet Alder – sister of Christopher Alder: ‘They have lied to us year after year and year after year more people are dying at the hands of the state. We have to find the evidence ourselves as the state will not do it properly. My question to the authorities is “What would you do if your family member died in this horrific way?”‘
  • Susan Alexander – mother of Azelle Rodney: ‘It seems I have come on a three year journey with no inquest. My son’s case has been caught up in a political tangle. I’m doing what I can to change things to make things better for other families. Justice is the light at the end of the tunnel. I am not sure how it’s going to come but it must come.’
  • Samantha Patterson – sister of Jason McPherson: ‘It’s been two years since Jason’s death and we have not even had a pre-inquest. We do not even know what the police have said in their statements yet. It’s all designed to string out this process as long as possible to wear us down but we are not going to be worn down. The IPCC made a lot of promises that they have now broken. They have failed to keep us informed in any way.’

Related links

Injustice – a film by Migrant Media



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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