Tue, 28 Oct 2008

Deaths in custody & Jean Charles de Menezes inquest

Last Saturday was the tenth annual gathering of the families and friends of those who have died in custody in the UK. There was a silent march from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. It stopped by Downing Street for families to put pictures and flowers by the gate to Downing Street, they weren't allowed inside and the flowers were checked by Police officers. The march was followed by some talks. I learnt that the last time a Police officer was convicted following a death in custody was for assault charges in 1971 for a death that occurred in 1969. Nearly fourty years ago. This was for the death of David Oluwale. A few years ago, the film Injustice, documented deaths in custody - mainly black deaths - over a six-year period (it doesn't seem to be available anymore unfortunately).

According to the United Families and Friends Campaign, 182 individuals have died in custody in the last twelve months. The image on the left (click it for a more readable pdf) lists 2,533 individuals who have died since 1969 in the care of the Police, prisons, secure psychiatric units and immigration detention centres. The list is not complete as more died in such circumstances whose name is not known. Inquest also maintains a table of unlawful killing verdicts and manslaughter prosecutions in prison and police custody or pursuits since 1990.

2553 deaths in custodyDeaths in custody demonstration

Several persons asked me what's happening to the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. It started on 2008-09-22 and is expected to last three months. The family maintains a website on the inquest, it includes a blog and directions if you want/can attend part of the inquest at the Oval. The Coroner also maintains its own website, remarkably it includes transcripts of all the open court proceedings. The transcripts tend to be around 200 pages per day, so it can be a bit daunting to go through though them. If you don't have the time to read any transcript in full, I'd recommend reading a few of the cross examinations by Michael Mansfield QC, representing the de Menezes family (search for 'Mansfield' in the transcripts). In addition to the press reports, UKLiberty runs a series of posts with very good summaries. I have been surprised by what seems to be a lack of common sense, which appear very unprofessional, such as not getting a detailed map of the location or for only a few officers to carry the picture of the suspect they were looking for. What I find worrying is for some officers, even now with three years of hindsight, to consider that nothing went wrong, that they didn't make any mistake, and it could happen again. For instance:

2008-10-01 transcripts:

MR Mansfield: On that basis, there is a real risk, then, it could happen again.
D/Su Boutcher: There is, sir, yes.

2008-10-06 transcripts:

MR Hilliard: [...] What went wrong?
DAC Dick: [...] If you ask me whether I think anybody did anything wrong or unreasonable on the operation, I don't think they did.

2008-10-07 transcripts:

Mr Mansfield: [...] In consequence of one officers' reply to this jury, I asked him bluntly whether he thought it could happen again and he said yes. Do you say the same?
DAC Dick: I am afraid, sir, I do believe that this or something like this could happen again. [...]

To end on a more positive note, it is fascinating to have the possibility (time being the main limiting factor here) to follow this inquest in such details. This level of openness and transparency is welcomed and appreciated.

websiteblogblog archivenews feedfeedback