Every year, the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC), a coalition of families and friends of those who have died in the custody of police, prison and psychiatric hospital officials, organises a march to Downing Street. The coalition published for the march an incomplete list of 3,180 individuals who have died in custody in the UK since 1969 including 225 in the past year (pdf).The march consists of a peaceful silent procession to Downing Street followed by speeches from members of families having lost a loved one in the hands of the state. This year, the thirteenth year it happens, was no different except for the increasing policing provocations.
The march went from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street via the South side of Whitehall, blocking the traffic on that side. There was still traffic driving through the North side. For the speeches we stopped on the South side in front of Downing Street. The police had formed a cordon to protect demonstrators from the traffic that kept flowing on the North side. Even though demonstrators were peaceful and trying to listen to the speeches, a police helicopter remained above for some time. Also during the speeches, the inspector in charge of this cordon ordered his constables to make an unnecessary step forward. Close to the end of the speeches, during the reading of the letter from the families to the Prime Minister, the inspector in charge showed his lack of respect by ordering his constables to make another unnecessary step forward slightly pushing people just when demands about how to improve policing to reduce deaths in custody were read out.
When representatives of the families went to the gate of Downing Street to symbolically attach a letter to the gate (as no one inside Downing Street is willing to accept their letter - as had already happened the previous year) police reinforcements arrived. Many of the other demonstrators than family members of those who died in custody had remained on the South side of Whitehall. Eventually most people went back to the opposite side of the road, and moved the pavement so that Whitehall could be completely re-opened to the traffic. When many more police reinforcements arrived outside the gates for no apparent reason, the many demonstrators who were by now on the pavement on the South side became obviously concerned and crossed Whitehall to support the families. More officers arrived and started to push people back towards the South side. Demonstrators sat on the road to peacefully prevent this further police provocation. Officers then started a kettle. Eventually everyone regrouped on the pavement; everyone except one man who had been arrested (and eventually released alive without charge from Marylebone police station -which custody suite had been opened just for the occasion- later in the evening).
The coalition is building a network for collective action to end deaths in custody and believes:
- That failure of State officials to ensure the basic right to life is made worse by the failure of the State to prosecute those responsible for custody deaths.
- That failure to prosecute those responsible for deaths in custody sends the message that the State can act with impunity.
It has a list of eight practical demands:
- Replacement of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to ensure open robust transparent and thorough investigations into police deaths in custody by a ‘truly’ independent body from the very outset of the death.
- Officers and officials directly involved in custody deaths be suspended until investigations are completed.
- Immediate interviewing of officers and all officials concerned with the death.
- Officers and officials should never be allowed to ‘collude’ over their evidence and statements of fact.
- Full disclosure of information to the families.
- Prosecutions should automatically follow ‘unlawful killing’ verdicts at Inquests and officers responsible for those deaths should face criminal charges, even if retired.
- Implementation of police body cameras and cameras in all police vehicles in the interests of both the officers and the public.
- The end of means testing of families for legal aid. There is a lack of funds for family legal representation at Inquests whilst officers and NHS staff get full legal representation from the public purse – this is unbalanced.
Bootnote See my earlier post, Deaths in custody, for links to reports and statistics on deaths in custody.
Update 2011-10-30 (and 2011-12-16)