On 3 July 2008, during a police search of a car in High Wycombe, 39-year-old Habib Ullah, became ill, was taken to hospital and pronounced dead.
His family are concerned that the police version of what happened may not be accurate. They also are angry that they were not informed about the death till the day after it happened and had to learn of it ‘through the grapevine’.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which is carrying out an investigation into the death, put out a statement: ‘Thames Valley Police officers stopped a car and conducted a search, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, on three people sitting in a car in a public car park. In the course of the search, one of the people, a man, aged 39, encountered breathing problems and an ambulance was called. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead … In the course of the incident a package was seized. It will be the subject of forensic analysis.’
Habib’s family allege that six police offices struggled with Habib for up to half an hour before he died. They contest the idea that a substance was found in the car. The police had to retract this ‘fact’, especially as it emerged that fellow passengers had been released the same evening without charges. The family were also most critical of the fact that when the police issued a statement to be read out at the mosque (a place where community concerns would be aired) they used the word ‘raid’, when there had been no raid but it was an emotive word which would colour the way that people would receive the death.
Zia Ullah, a cousin of the deceased and a High Wycombe Community Advocate who has been challenging the official version of events with both the IPCC and the Association of Chief Police Officers has released a statement on behalf of the family in which he said, ‘As you can imagine, there is huge resentment in the community … stories were now going out that a raid had occurred and that a person had choked on the drugs that he tried to swallow … I am both saddened and shocked at the extent of closing ranks … we need to stop and bear a thought for the family.’
IRR Factfile on Black deaths in custody