Black Lives Matter.
On 4 August 2011, Mark Duggan was followed by firearms police from a meeting where he reportedly had collected a gun, according to the controversial “Operation Trident” focused on gun crime in London’s black communities. Three cars executed a “hard stop”, forcing his minicab to a halt. Duggan came out of the car. A police officer was shot during the incident, and officers told journalists that there had been “an exchange of fire”. The Daily Mail called Duggan a “gangsta”. However a week later the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) admitted one police officer’s bullet had passed through Mr Duggan and injured another. Two days after the killing, the police had not met the Duggan family, and they led a protest march to Tottenham police station. Police continued to refuse to meet with the family, and the protest became confrontational, eventually with rioting. In 2013 a coroner’s inquest interviewed dozens of witnesses, and in 2014 the jury concluded it had been a lawful killing, but also that the first bullet fired by an officer at Mr Duggan had injured the other officer. A year later, the IPCC published its report, saying Mark Duggan had thrown a gun onto grass seven metres away from the mini-cab.
The detailed Forensic Architecture report concludes that Duggan could not have thrown the gun. No officer gave evidence that he had seen Duggan throw the gun. Their video shocked me. My vague recollection of the case was that Duggan had had a gun, but there was no DNA link from the gun, wrapped in a sock, with Mr Duggan. I noticed in myself an initial desire to exonerate the police, and challenge the evidence which eventually led to a large settlement in the family’s unlawful killing action against the Metropolitan police. This is the desire to see society as basically well-functioning, documented by Sara Ahmed, which causes difficulty for complaints against the police, or about authority in any institution.
Sean Rigg wrote, performed and produced his rap album Be Brother B Good and volunteered at the Franz Fanon community centre in Brixton. He suffered bouts of mental illness. On 21 August 2008 he was arrested and restrained by Brixton police, and died shortly after. The inquest reported four years afterwards, and the family’s Justice and Change campaign site does not seem to have been updated since 2014. Rigg was fit, healthy and forty years old when he died. The inquest in 2012 concluded the way he had been restrained, “more than minimally”, had contributed to his death: his heart stopped after “unnecessary” and “unsuitable” restraint while lying face down. However in February 2019 the Metropolitan Police exonerated five officers of charges of failing to identify Rigg’s mental illness, excessive restraint, and giving false evidence to the IPCC and the inquest. In The Guardian, his sister Samantha Rigg-David described her “anguish”, says the subhead, and her courage in campaigning.
A man claiming to have Covid 19 spat and coughed on Belly Mujinga, a railway worker, and her colleague at Victoria Station in London. The British Transport police took no further action having decided there was insufficient evidence. She died on 5 April from Covid 19.
Naomi Hersi, a trans woman, was stabbed to death in March 2018 by Jesse McDonald. The Daily Mail described her as “a transgender man” and identified her by her birth name, “also known as Naomi”. It reported prurient details of sex between the killer and his victim, and reported how the killer “did well in school and played tennis at county level”. As Stonewall says, only Pink News reported the murder in a dignified way, quoting a friend who called her “one of the most caring people I have ever met”. McDonald was jailed for twenty years.
In January 2016, Sarah Reed was found dead in her cell in Holloway Prison. In 2012 a police officer yanked her by the hair, dragged her across the floor, punched her in the head and pressed on her neck. Fortunately there was CCTV and he was convicted of assault. She struggled to rebuild her life, but was sectioned several times. After the assault she was frightened of tall white men.
Just before she died, a prison officer asked her mother “Have you got any idea what’s wrong with her?” The staff, some male, should have known of her illness, but were treating her as a normal prisoner. While sectioned in 2014, she was arrested and charged with grievous bodily harm, though she said she was defending herself against a sexual assault.
She was on remand for the purposes of obtaining two psychiatric reports on whether she was fit to plead. The inquest jury found failures to complete the assessment timeously and failure to manage her medication contributed to her death. After she was taken off anti-psychotic medication, her chanting, screaming, banging, spitting and being in a trance-like state was treated as a disciplinary issue rather than a health issue. The jury concluded that the death was self-inflicted, but they were not convinced she intended to take her own life.
Sheku Bayoh came to Scotland from Sierra Leone as a young teenager. He had no previous history of violence. On 3 May 2015, aged 31, he died after being restrained by police officers. The Lord Advocate decided no charges would be brought against any of them. Eyewitnesses said he had a knife. The family say by the time the police arrived he had discarded it. They tackled him with CS spray, batons and leg and arm restraints. The public inquiry has not started yet.
Christopher Alder, born 1960, was decorated for Parachute Regiment service in the Falkland Islands and Northern Ireland. On 1 April 1998 he was dragged into a custody suite in Hull police station and left on the floor, face down, unconscious, with his trousers and boxer shorts round his knees. As he gasped for breath, police officers stood around him discussing what they could charge him with. One of the officers said he was worried about asphyxia. He lay there for eleven minutes before he died. He could be heard making gurgling noises through a pool of blood around his head. And then he stopped breathing, as the police watched. When arrested, he had been compliant, and was walking steadily into a police van.
In the first autopsy the Home Office pathologist suggested Alder had died of a pre-existing heart condition, which the family had no knowledge of. But when the heart was sent to a cardiologist that theory was challenged. After the family obtained medical evidence the CPS agreed to prosecute the officers for manslaughter, but the trial collapsed in June 2002. Laconically, the Independent reported “Mr Alder was the seventh person to have been killed unlawfully in police custody in 10 years. Six have been black and one Irish.” Since 1990, 1740 people have died in police custody.
His family thought they had buried Christopher Alder, but his body was swapped with that of a 77 year old woman, and found in a mortuary eleven years later.
Floyd Jarrett was arrested while driving his car. Police wrongly thought he had stolen it. An officer suggested, wrongly, he was known for handling stolen goods, so police searched his house. During the search, his mother Cynthia Jarrett suffered a heart attack and died. There was a protest march to Tottenham police station, and later in rioting on the Broadwater Farm estate PC Keith Blakelock was murdered.
The media urged the police to find the culprits, and hundreds of people were arrested. Residents complained that youths were held without access to lawyers, and their relatives were misinformed. Police charged three boys aged 14, 15 and 13 having obtained confessions from two of them, which the boys later denied. Winston Silcott, aged 26, and two other men aged 19 and 20, were also charged. The crown did not seek to prove who struck the fatal blow but treated the case as a joint enterprise murder. The only eye-witness, who had identified the 14 year old, was shown in court to have lied in order to avoid a prison sentence. The 13 year old was initially arrested for looting a supermarket.
Questions about stolen food soon turned to an interrogation about the murder of PC Blakelock. His family were released and police delayed charging him for the offence of burglary so they could hold him for three days. He was interviewed five times. The total length of his interrogation was 15 hours and during it, this child of 13 was wearing only his underpants and a blanket. He broke down and cried. He’d been held incommunicado for at least 48 hours. The judge found that his treatment by police had been oppressive. It rendered his confession unreliable. The judge made it clear that he found the account given by Z ‘fantastical’, ‘strange’ and ‘make believe’. He criticised the police for refusing him access to a solicitor, delaying the access by an appropriate adult and failing to contact his parents who could have acted as the appropriate adult.
The three adults were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment, though Silcott appeared in none of the thousand police photographs taken of the riots. In 1990 the Home Secretary referred the case back to the Court of Appeal, which found all the convictions unsafe. The DPP began a prosecution of the officers involved for perverting the course of justice, but they were acquitted. The murderers were never found.
In early morning in 1993, police officers from the Alien Deportation Group burst into the home of Joy Gardner. In front of her son, Graeme, aged 5, they forced her face down onto the floor, bound her hands with a leather belt and manacles, strapped her legs together and wound yards of surgical tape around her head. In 1996 three police officers were tried for manslaughter but acquitted after complaining of her violence and saying the treatment she received was standard practice. For months after the arrest, Graeme reenacted the events. He suffered nightmares and flashbacks, he became fearful, agitated and angry, and developed severe anxiety. The police officers were reinstated.
Joy Gardner’s mother sued the police, but I can find no details of the outcome. There has been no coroner’s inquest or public inquiry into the death.
On 31 August 2010 Olaseni Lewis, known as Seni, was admitted to the Bedlam mental hospital. On 4 September he died there after being restrained by up to eleven police officers. In November 2018 the Mental Health (Use of Force) Act (Seni’s Law) received royal assent, mandating protections and oversight on the use of force in mental health settings. In 2017 an inquest jury found the force used was excessive, disproportionate and contributed to Mr Lewis’ death.
On 4 November 2013 Leon Briggs was detained under the Mental Health Act and restrained at Luton police station. He died later in hospital. No officers were charged over the death. A misconduct hearing began in February 2020, but collapsed due to “numerous failings” by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). So much for the BBC. Who was he? “Leon was a loving father, son and brother. He was a kind, loyal, intelligent, caring person who put his family and others first.”
The IOPC replaced the IPCC, in a reorganisation said to increase independence.
Rashan Charles died in Summer 2017. His great uncle Rod Charles, a retired chief inspector with the Metropolitan Police, doubts the official account of his death. The police claimed he had been taken ill after trying to swallow an object, and an officer was seeking to prevent him from harming himself. The IPCC agreed. Rod examined the CCTV, though the officer had not switched on his bodycam at the start of the incident as he was obliged to do. Rashan was standing and showing no signs of physical distress. The officer threw him to the ground and attempted in a dangerous manner to search Rashan’s mouth, putting him at risk of choking. When suspected of having swallowed something, a person should be treated as vulnerable and a medical emergency, but the officer persisted in neck and throat holds likely to restrict air and blood flow. He asked a member of the public to assist by sitting on Rashan as he handcuffed him. At this point Rashan was limp, perhaps unconscious. The officer continued to restrain the unresponsive man, only ceasing when a police medic arrived.
Three months later, the police claimed they thought Rashan had a weapon, but the officer had stated no reasonable grounds for believing that. If the officer suspected Rashan had concealed drugs in his mouth, the neck hold and throw to the floor would put Rashan at risk of choking. Rod states restraint while standing could have been attempted. The CPS decided not to charge the officer with assault. The jury at the inquest in 2018 returned a verdict of accidental death.
I can’t breathe
and an onlooker asks “Do you really need that many officers on him?” The IOPC investigation into the death continues.
While being arrested for alleged shoplifting and use of a stolen credit card on 20th February 1987, Clinton McCurbin died of asphyxia only minutes after police officers were called to the shop. At the inquest, the jury returned a verdict of misadventure. Clinton died after being held in a neck hold for several minutes. Police were not trained to use neck holds.
Names suggested by Turning the Tide.
Say their names:
Mark Duggan. Sean Rigg. Belly Mujinga. Naomi Hersi. Sarah Reed. Sheku Bayoh. Christopher Alder. Cynthia Jarrett. Joy Gardner. Olaseni Lewis. Leon Briggs. Rashan Charles. Simeon Francis. Clinton McCurbin.
BAME, refugee and migrant deaths in custody in the UK, 2014-2020: sixteen involving the police, nine in prisons and fifteen in immigration detention. There were two deaths by police shooting in the period, Jermaine Baker in 2015 and Trevor Smith in 2019.
22 August: Mercy Baguma, an asylum seeker from Uganda, forbidden to work and denied public funds, was found starved to death in Glasgow beside her one year old, malnourished baby. African Challenge Scotland said, “Mercy was always positive and always put her family first, especially her son. Her smile made everyone so welcome and comfortable. Mercy had health problems [but] her death was sudden and unexpected.”