Death under UK's police custody
|October 10th, 2016|
|located in:||United Kingdom|
|tags:||BAME, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), INQUEST, Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), UK|
There have been 29 deaths involving the police in England and Wales so far this year, including two fatal shootings, according to INQUEST, a London-based charity providing free advice to people bereaved by a death in custody and detention.
The independent charity’s casework team, which relies on donations and grants to carry out its work for truth, justice and accountability, has opened over 360 cases since January and the list goes on. In fact, more than 220 people died in prison, and two homicides and 73 self-inflicted deaths have been declared over the same period of time.
Two recent cases occurred in the most northern part of the UK, have raised public awareness on the issue and police watchdogs launched investigation after the second death involving Police Scotland’s use of pepper spray.
Last month Scottish Alan Hay, who became ill after having being pepper-sprayed following a disturbance in the area, died in hospital the next day.
The case follows the decease of Sierra Leonean Skeku Bayoh in May 2015; the man was detained, handcuffed and put in leg restraints following complaints he was attacking cars and wielding a knife on the street and shortly after died on the pavement because of suspected asphyxia caused by the OC spray.
In Scotland, police are given a remarkable degree of freedom, whereas in England and Wales the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has tough rules and officers involved in deaths in custody are required to give immediate operational statements and provide a second more detailed one within the following two days.
So, is the delay involved in resolving these cases blamed on the geographical area where they occurred?
The various dynamics going on under police custody actually reveal a contradictory scenario up and down the country. On one side officers and staff regularly face violent and threatening behaviour by dangerous criminals; on the other side police play a central role in the law enforcement system and citizens therefore demand them to protect both victims and potential victims and promote offender accountability by investigating crimes. Lawbreakers are expected to be handcuffed and imprisoned, but not physically attacked and certainly not to death.
The family’s struggle for truth after a loved ones’ decease in police custody is a painful experience known by many families in the UK.
However, the last time a police officer was prosecuted following the death of somebody in custody, was in 1969, when the first black man in the UK passed away under police custody. The officers were found guilty of assault and sentenced to only a few months in prison.
This story inevitably draws attention to the black and minority ethnic communities (BAME) and the number of their victims. INQUEST’s casework has revealed that the total of BAME deaths in police custody or otherwise following contact with the police in England & Wales from 1990 to present amounts to 157 fatalities.
The number represents only a small percentage of the over 4,500 deaths overall occurred in prison and in police custody during the same period of time and within the same regions. However, there is a further, worrying detail: despite the amount of deaths involving the use of force by police is a small proportion of the total number of fatalities in custody, most of these victims are from BAME and such deaths have often been the most controversial and obscure.
Since 1990, there have been 9 unlawful killing verdicts returned by juries at inquests into deaths involving the police and 1 unlawful killing verdict recorded by a public inquiry, none of which has yet resulted in a successful prosecution.
INQUEST is concerned that institutional racism, which consists in giving negative treatment to a group of people based on their race, has been a contributory factor.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has dutifully produced a detailed Legal Guidance explaining Death under police custody in eight main points. The informative nature of the document does not however compensate the institutions’ lack of fight for justice.
Meanwhile, many families continue experiencing isolation, stigma, fears and uncertainty after a death and/or in the run up to an inquest, trying to discover the truth. This is the reason behind Family Forum, a space created by INQUEST to bring together a diverse group of relatives enduring such a traumatic event.