On 16 June 2011, the West Midlands Police Authority was directed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission to record a complaint made by the mother of Mikey Powell, who died in police custody in September 2003. The family have only now been able to release this information due to reporting restrictions.
Mikey’s mother, Claris Powell, had complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) after the West Midlands Police Authority (WMPA) failed to accept a complaint about a report that it issued following the inquest in to Mikey’s death.
The report, published in March 2010, ‘The organisational response to the deaths of Michael Powell and Linda Burt’, was ‘commissioned at the request of West Midlands Police Authority following the conclusion of the inquests into the deaths of Michael Lloyd Powell and Linda Burt.’ It was ‘designed to update the Authority of any organisational issues and response following the narrative verdicts reached by the juries in those cases.’
Mikey Powell’s family were unhappy with the report and found that it was misleading as to the circumstances surrounding his death and the conclusions of the inquest jury. As a result, Mikey Powell’s mother Claris Powell made a complaint to the WMPA. But the Authority refused to record it as it was not about the conduct of the Chief Constable. The family appealed this decision and now the IPCC has ordered the WMPA to record the complaint.
The erroneous report
The contents of the misleading report are significant as it lays out the WMPA response to his death. An inquest jury in December 2009, after a month long inquest, decided that Mikey Powell died as a result of positional asphyxia after being placed on his front in the back of a police van. The jury also found that, on the balance of probabilities he had died in the police van. The report issued by the police however claimed instead that Mikey was unconscious when they arrived at the station which also appeared to cast doubt on the finding of positional asphyxia as the cause of death. The report suggested that ‘ultimately the jury were persuaded’ by the view of a single specialist as to the cause of death and that ‘[t]his view was not supported by the other medical evidence provided at the Inquest.’
Mikey Powell, a 38-year-old father of three, died on 7 September 2003 after being detained outside his mothers home in Birmingham. He was suffering from a mental health breakdown and had smashed a window in the family home. His mother called the police assuming they would assist him or take him to hospital. However, once police arrived, Mikey broke a window in their car and, as a result, the officers drove at Mikey and he was injured. A friend tried to help by keeping him calm but police then used CS spray on Mikey and his friend. During the struggle, Mikey was also struck with a baton and held on the ground by up to eight police officers. After being held of the ground for up to 15 minutes Mikey, covered in blood, was then taken (face down) to Thornhill Road police station instead of a hospital. At the station he was again carried in face down where officers discovered he was not breathing. An ambulance was called, but it was too late.
Further IPCC investigation
The IPCC is now also investigating another complaint by Mikey Powell’s family. In a few weeks, the IPCC will meet Mikey’s mother and other members of his family to discuss their investigation into her complaint about the evidence of the police officers in the van that transported Mikey to the police station. She complained about the conduct to West Midlands police in December 2010. They decided in January 2011 to take no action. Claris Powell appealed to the IPCC. In March 2011, it upheld her appeal and found that the complaint should be recorded by West Midlands police as potential misconduct. It was then decided that the complaint should be investigated by West Midlands police but under IPCC supervision. Mikey’s family were unhappy with this decision and as a result of threatening a legal challenge, the IPCC has now taken over the investigation.
Tippa Naphtali, Mikey Powell’s cousin, told IRR News: ‘On behalf of the whole family I can only say that this has been a long and arduous process for us to have gone through. We are pleased that the West Midlands Police Authority will have to address my Aunt’s complaint, and that there will now be an independent investigation of the accounts given by the officers in the van. For us, it felt like further injustices were being committed against Mikey, and we were unwilling to allow this to happen. Eight years on from Mikey’s death these announcements give us further hope that justice is never out of reach if we persist. We fight on not just for Mikey, but also in solidarity and support of other families affected by deaths and abuses in custody.’
Injustice – a film by Migrant Media