Deaths in custody: Huge rise in London

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The number of people who have died in London after being either detained in police custody or who have had recent contact with the police has increased massively since 2008.

The figures published on the Metropolitan Police Authority web site are staggering. In 2007 the total number of such deaths was 15. But since Boris Johnson became Mayor and Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority Black and Asian deaths in custody has almost doubled to 28.  The figures have remained high each year, and since 1st April this year we have seen five more deaths, indicating that the figures are dramatically increasing.

This huge increase is deeply worrying, given the recent backdrop of police and community tensions in the wake of the suspicious deaths of Smiley Culture aka David Emmanuel and the tragic case of Ian Tomlinson; it is vital that the problem is tackled as a matter of urgency.

It is surprising that the media has remained entirely silent on this issue despite unprecedented rises. Other than coverage of Ian Tomlinson and David Emmanuel’s cases there has been very little coverage of these issues; this is why we need a public inquiry into all suspicious deaths in custody.

The Metropolitan Police authority and the Mayor should support the call to Government by having a formal debate and voting to support the community demand for an inquiry. 

The Smiley Culture campaign have recently launched a public e-petition  in support of the call for an inquiry that has so far attracted over 1400 signatures including some high profile celebrities.

The huge increase in the number of deaths and the fact that Government is seeking to introduce new changes that will result in further pain and injustice for victim’s families mean the need for reform is now urgent.

The Government has announced that it is to abolish the recently created position of Chief Coroner. This is a disaster for the families of those who find themselves seeking justice after the tragedy of a death in custody.

The Chief Coroner’s office was created as part of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.  This legislation was introduced after significant lobbying by campaign organisations such as Inquest and supported by the families of the bereaved.

The Act established a legal framework for the wholesale reform of the process of judicial inquest.

The post of Chief Coroner was supposed to provide a single senior judicial authority with the power to introduce legal and policy reforms in an area that remains deeply controversial.

As part of the current Public Bodies Bill, a whole range of offices of state are being deleted. During a recent debate in the House of Lords serious concerns were expressed and as a consequence of lobbying 18 posts were saved and were taken out of the bill. Unfortunately the Chief Coroners office was not one of them.

The current Inquest process is not fit for purpose in relation to seeking the truth or delivering justice. The current lengthy legal process is stacked against the victim’s families, it’s both expensive and byzantine in terms of its complex procedural bureaucracy overseen by Coroners - an assortment of individuals with very little training or professional qualifications.

In 2001 an in-depth and fundamental review of the Coroners and deaths certification systems chaired by retired senior civil servant Tom Luce was undertaken as a result of serious issues that emerged in the wake of the Dr Harold Shipman mass murders.

The inquiry concluded that urgent reform was needed to ensure the rights of victims were placed at the centre of the judicial investigative process. The conclusions were damming and the subsequent recommendations led to the introduction of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

The Office of Chief Coroner is central to this legislation providing clear judicial responsibility and accountability for the performance and reform of the Coroners inquest systems.

They inquiry concluded that: “There is a lack of supervisory structures within the coronial service and therefore no leadership, accountability or quality assurance.” Adding:

“There is a lack of clear participation rights for bereaved families, and of standards for their treatment and support. They are largely excluded from the death certification process – they do not have a right, for example, to see the medical certificate of the cause of death. They are not systematically or reliably given information and help concerning autopsy decisions, other processes and inquests. The evidence disclosure arrangements at inquests fall below modern judicial standards of openness, fairness and predictability”.

The need to support efforts to retain this important post is critical and Inquest will be leading efforts to lobby the House of Commons to listen to the concerns expressed by the Lords.

Failing that, Government looks set to abolish the post on the basis of saving money, despite the misery, tragedy and pain caused by the intrinsic injustice that has become institutional.

Against the backdrop of a the huge increases in the number of families who find themselves suffering a death in custody and the growing disproportionate numbers of Black and Asian victims the Mayors Office and the MPA need to take urgent action to support these families and restore public confidence.

Lee  Jasper

Archived Comments

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deaths in custody

well put . keep in touch

British Newlabour Party (BNP).

The worse thing that could ever happen to this country was victory by New Labour in 1997. A very dark and spooky cloud, treachery, dishonesty, deception and racism descended on us all. One of the outcomes of that disgraceful government headed by Tony Blair has led us to the problem clearly written by Lee.

My appeal here today is to Non-Whites and fair and decent White Citizens. Boris Johnson, in the new millenium, used the offensive word 'Piccaninny' as clearly used by Enoch Powell back in the 1960's to describe Black People. This man has shown you all that he is clearly trapped in that racist era, yet you voted him in. New Labour did nothing to have this man banned from politics for life because they had a shared interest and belief.

For a well educated person to have used that word - knowing non-Whites position on it - clearly sums him up as the wrong person for London; an international and multi-racial city. Why did you waste your vote on him? How did he become the Mayor of London? Did New Labour have a hand in the election results? Did New Labour sacrifice Ken Livingstone because of his appointment of Lee Jasper as Senior Policy Advisor on Equalities - a position that New Labour loathes and is fully supported by the Conservative Boris? After reading these statistics in Lee Jasper's thread, are you ready for another term of Boris in office which - based on the evidence - shows an increase in Racial Discrimination?

Londoners, wake up.

Urgent action

Deaths at the hands of the State are one of the most under-reported outrages of modern times. The duplicity of countries like the UK and the US are that whilst they express distress, distaste and disdain at "extra-judicial killings" by the likes of Libya, Syria, and (in previous instances) Zimbabwe; they strenuously deny and wring their hands when it happens in their own back yard. The message is that whilst in those "undemocrtaic havens of despotism" our extra-judicial killings aren't even killings, they are just accidents.

Since the murder (my words, not the official version) of David Oluwale by Leeds police officers, BAME communities have not known the justice that may be provided to the family of Ian Tomlinson. The Alder and Sylvester families must have met the Tomlinson case decision with a mixture of satisfaction (at a police officer face trial) and frustration (given the unjust outcomes of their families cases).

On a separate point, I think Lee's presentation of the MPA stats is incorrect (or at least unclear). He is right to state that under Boris Johnson tenure BOTH the BAME and white figures have almost doubled. However, he is wrong to say that "since Boris Johnson became Mayor and Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority Black and Asian deaths in custody has almost doubled to 28". The figure of 28 is the TOTAL with the BAME figure being 13 and the other (i.e. white) being 15. The overarching point though, that the figures are dramatically increasing, is without dispute.

From 2008-2011 (the first three years of BoJo's tenure) there were 78 deaths (36 BAME / 42 white), compared with the preceding three years (2005-8) where there were 48 deaths (23 BAME / 25 white). That is an increase that demands explanation and action to address it.

New Labour, old line of argument

Yinka, with the exception of the partisan BAME Tories I am unsure which BAME people would see the removal of the Tories by Labour in 1997 as the "worse thing that could ever happen to this country".

Quite apart from granting the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry after years of refusal by their predecessors, there were things like the mimimum wage which disallowed pittance wages (something BAME workers were disproportionately affected by) which the Tories had steadfastly denied.

Therefore, I can't see how you can argue that a "very dark and spooky cloud, treachery, dishonesty, deception and racism descended on us all", unless you are argue that it did not exist prior, or that if New Labour hadn't come in it would have been better (really, under the Tories? Seriously?)

We do agree that Tony Blair is/was a utter disgrace, we do agree that Labour people have used dog-whistle politics and encourages a 'crabs in the barrel' approach pitting blacks and whites against each other. We do also share regret that Boris Johnson was elected, and that I agree that his language was from another era.

My concern here is that in your beyond rational vitriol towards New Labour you even go as far as to suggest that "New Labour did nothing to have [BoJo] banned from politics for life because they had a shared interest and belief", even though they had no power to do so and even supposing they did have the power that they would choose to defeat their own candidate.

You also ask "Did New Labour have a hand in the election results? Did New Labour sacrifice Ken Livingstone because of his appointment of Lee Jasper as Senior Policy Advisor on Equalities - a position that New Labour loathes".

Well, despite this loathing New Labour actually chose Ken (after Lee had worked for him for 4 years) to be their candidate in 2004. How weird eh? They didn't get Ken to drop Lee, nor did they do so in 2008. It was the Tory press, and in particular Andrew Gilligan that was opposed to Lee and wrongly accused him of matters for which he has since been exonerated.

We'll agree 100% that Boris should be turfed out in 2012, and that if you are concerned about racism, Boris is one of the worst candidates to choose. However, I fear that unless you actually hear the above facts (e.g. New Labour chose Ken as its 2004 candidate with Lee in his team from 200) from Lee himself, you won't believe them, and that's a shame.

I think Ken lost to Boris because the Tories were better at getting their vote out than Ken. Ken even admits this. I think you put it best in your final point, after 3 years of Boris I'm hoping that Londoners will at some point wake up. Broken promises on housing and policing, large increases in travel fares, and the misleading defence of the legalised thieves of the City mile. His quaint yet meaningless utterings about the trials of Perseus and the incorruptibility of Pericles don't actually pay the rent or mend the roads.

British Newlabour Charlatans.

David,

"Therefore, I can't see how you can argue that a "very dark and spooky cloud, treachery, dishonesty, deception and racism descended on us all", unless you are argue that it did not exist prior, or that if New Labour hadn't come in it would have been better (really, under the Tories? Seriously?)"

The point I am trying to address is how far we've progressed since the last Conservative Government in 1997. The reality is, we have gone backwards. For all the racism that existed prior to New Labour's re-entry into Downing Street, we had various platforms where we could fight racist injustices. New Labour closed all that down. I still remember Tony Blair using the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality to gag the Conservatives from playing the Race Card prior to the 2001 General Elections, and how they terminated that operation around 2003/2004, before making changes to Employment Law in October of 2004; and introducing the 'Revised Burden of Proof' for Race Discrimination Claims making it impossible to fight in courts and tribunals accross the country. That is not the making of a honest government at all. I have wondered how many Minority Ethnic Citizens sat through those meetings, and arrived at the same conclusion with New Labour leading to the implementing of these policies. The truth is none. If Minority Ethnic Citizens were seen as a part of the United Kingdom by that wretched and treacherous New Labour Government, we should have been privy to the meetings that led to the introduction of all those bad racist policies, and should have been in a position to have a say; at least that is my idea of how the democratic process should operate. New Labour only introduced them (racist policies) to stay in power at the expense of Minority Ethnic Citizens. That is not a democratic act.

"Well, despite this loathing New Labour actually chose Ken (after Lee had worked for him for 4 years) to be their candidate in 2004."

New Labour were actually powerless at that point because Ken Livingston had earlier defeated New Labour's first choice emphatically. Ken was also very popular with Londoners and did his very best to handle London issues from the right perspective. If New Labour had followed the standards set by Ken Livingston, we would have made much more progress on matters concerning race. After New Labour's removal from office, Nick Griffin hasn't featured as prominently in the public eyes as he did under New Labour.

"However, I fear that unless you actually hear the above facts (e.g. New Labour chose Ken as its 2004 candidate with Lee in his team from 200) from Lee himself, you won't believe them, and that's a shame."

Ken's popularity and very positive approach to London's issues won him the position as New Labour's representative. The hapless Tony Blair had no choice but to return him to the New Labour fold. When you think about it, Tony Blair did not really like Ken Livingston. The reason from my view point is that one man is honest (Ken) and the other (Tony Blair) is clearly the opposite. Lee Jasper came with that package.

Race Card.

David,

I am sorry to be labouring on the point of New Labour's racism. Playing the race card seems to be an election winner in British Politics today. The sad precedent for this was set by Lady Thatcher's Conservative Party back in 1979; with immigration being the topic. Tony Blair's New Labour decided to carry on with it until he left in 2007. Gordon "British Jobs for British Workers" Brown took the baton and he has now handed it over to David Cameron's leadership.

We are supposed to be a democracy, why those it feel like a dictatorship with racism as its foundation?

Race Card.

"We are supposed to be a democracy, why those it feel like a dictatorship with racism as its foundation?"

I meant to write: We are supposed to be a democracy, why does it feel like a dictatorship with racism as its foundation? Sorry for the typo.

Re previous comments...

Anyone fancy proposing some solutions? And anyone who thinks 13 years of New Labour was founded on racism had their eyes closed. The original article about deaths in custody was shocking and disturbing. Can we get back to practical responses to that...?

Yinka, I think your point is

Yinka,

I think your point is very valid, and whilst I couldn't agree more about Blair and the other New Labour populist racism (Phil Woollas at the last election, I think we need to spread the blame to the other parties who almost bear responsibility too (where were the Conservatives - save a few like David Davis - on things like detention without trial).

A lot of what have been seen as progress under New Labour was often empty and I am not dismissing your critique of Employment Law, the harmonisation of the Equalities, and the 'Revised Burden of Proof' for Race Discrimination Claims.

By arguing that the Tories would have been worse sounds like I'm saying New Labour were great which is not what I am saying. I think we are currently seeing - with populist U-turns on the NHS and Criminal Justice - what the Tories could do with race. Do you think they will see a U-turn as a "sign of strength" (Cameron this week) when white voters (or more likely on their behalf the right-wing tabloids) cry foul?

I don't think New Labour "were actually powerless at that point", especially if you question whether they sacrificed Ken because of his appointment of Lee. My interpretation is Lee was highly critical of New Labour ideas before they endorsed Ken and therefore if they wanted to sacrifice Ken / Lee they could took a different approach and split Ken's vote enough to hand the Conservatives a victory. That's if they despised him ENOUGH to sacrifice him, why wait until he actually took power?

As to "why does it feel like a dictatorship with racism as its foundation?". I cannot say why you feel that way but I would say generally because we have not resolved and are not doing enough to resolve grievances from the past or the present. In a world of style over substance in many areas of public and private life, it is even more imperative that we the people, not the government, provide the solutions. Especially now the government has changed and the funding for relevant organisations has been cut.

As for Nick Griffin, the BNP is in disarray because they have taken a hit financially. Their MEP monies were decimated by the EHRC lawsuit fees and Unilever taking them for over £150,000 off them for copyright infringement (of Marmite).

Because of this, and because he has had no elections to get exposure, I'm not surprised he has hasn't featured, but we'll see when the London Mayoral campaigning begins. His former guy at the GLA, Richard Barnbrook has left the BNP, so Griffin might stand against him.

He has to rely on BRITISH Nationalists who don't know the basics of the BRITISH legal system, and don't check who owns Marmite (a BRITISH-Dutch company, based in the BRITISH capital) and ask for permission. That mustn't fill him, or potential funders (and anyone the BNP may owe money to) with much hope.

Let's discuss the topic at hand

Respectfully I think it's time we leave the debate about new Labour for another time, this article relates to the present, what can we do to stop these deaths? Let's discuss the topic at hand without getting bogged down in the same old conversations...

Representing You Better.

"The number of people who have died in London after being either detained in police custody or who have had recent contact with the police has increased massively since 2008."

This is clearly society's problem. Why resist arrest when caught by the police? Resisting arrest only heightens the tension and forces the police to use more force; which, sadly in some cases, leads to a fatality.

"The figures published on the Metropolitan Police Authority web site are staggering. In 2007 the total number of such deaths was 15. But since Boris Johnson became Mayor and Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority Black and Asian deaths in custody has almost doubled to 28. The figures have remained high each year, and since 1st April this year we have seen five more deaths, indicating that the figures are dramatically increasing."

Why is this happening? The Commission for Racial Equality was abolished around 2003 to 2004. Which government was in power at the time? Can someone from that government please step forward and account for this policy?

"The Chief Coroner’s office was created as part of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009."

What was the purpose for the creation of this office in the first place and how effective was it? What research and investigations has this present Government done, to arrive at the conclusion that changes is required? Can this Government make all this as transparent as possible, especially where the changes are to be made and why?

"The current Inquest process is not fit for purpose in relation to seeking the truth or delivering justice. The current lengthy legal process is stacked against the victim’s families, it’s both expensive and byzantine in terms of its complex procedural bureaucracy overseen by Coroners - an assortment of individuals with very little training or professional qualifications."

Which government introduced this system in the first place and why?

"They inquiry concluded that: “There is a lack of supervisory structures within the coronial service and therefore no leadership, accountability or quality assurance.” "

Which government was incharge when all this was going on? Can that government please explain why such was happening, and why it did nothing to address it in the first place?

"They are not systematically or reliably given information and help concerning autopsy decisions, other processes and inquests. The evidence disclosure arrangements at inquests fall below modern judicial standards of openness, fairness and predictability”."

Which govenment allowed the standards to drop alarmingly to this level? What was that government's motive?

I believe, before we can move forward, some past issues has to be addressed; otherwise another government will come along and commit the same atrocitiy.

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