Powell Family: Complaints against police & Telegraph

from a Press Release by: INQUEST
published: 15th December 2010

Claris Powell, mother of Mikey Powell, has made a police complaint that the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police has misled the Police Authority in his report on the inquest into the death of Mikey Powell and failed to take any action as a result of the verdict. Mikey Powell was handcuffed by police and put on the floor of a police van which drove to Thornhill Road Police Station in Birmingham in September 2003.

The jury found in December 2009 that Mikey Powell died of positional asphyxia in the back of a police van and that he was lying on his front on arrival at the police station, contrary to the van officers’ evidence at the inquest.

The jury also found that he was made more vulnerable to death by positional asphyxia from one or more of these events: contact with a moving vehicle ( a police car); being sprayed with CS; being struck by a Casco baton; and/or being restrained on the ground in Wilton St whilst suffering a psychosis and extreme exertion

The Chief Constable reported to the West Midlands Police Authority on 25 March 2010. Mrs Powell complains that the report claims to set out the jury’s verdict but omits the significant jury finding that Mikey died in the police van. The report claims he was unconscious after being taken out of the police van and put in a cell, and was pronounced dead later.

Mrs Powell also complains that the Chief Constable failed to advise the Police Authority of the significance of the jury’s findings – both in that they disbelieved the officers and in what the findings said about what the officers had done to Mikey Powell. The information is not in the report and – as far as Mrs Powell knows – nothing has been done about the officers’ conduct.

Mrs Powell, Mikey’s mother, said:

Why do they continue to lie & make up things? I just want them to tell the truth?

Mikey’s cousin Tippa Naphtali added:

We have never had a formal apology from West Midlands Police following the inquest, and during the inquest itself one of their officers admitted he would follow the same course of action in a similar incident (ie; driving a car at a ‘suspect’); and now this knowledge that police provided the information that fuelled a gross article in The Telegraph has caused further anger and upset to the family.

Jane Deighton, Mrs Powell’s solicitor, said:

West Midlands Police will be required to record Mrs Powell’s complaint and cause it to be investigated. It is of real concern both to the Powell family but also to all those with an interest in justice that the police should treat the findings of a court so dismissively.

Mrs Powell’s complaint follows the finding of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) today that The Telegraph had “significantly misled” its readers about the outcome of the inquest. The Telegraph admitted it was representing the police version of events.

The PCC’s adjudication upheld two complaints by Mrs Powell about how The Telegraph columnist Alisdair Palmer characterised the findings of the inquest jury about Mikey Powell’s death. Firstly, the Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Telegraph website claimed the jury had rejected the allegations that the way officers restrained him had caused his death (19 and 20 December 2009). The PCC’s adjudication states that “readers would have been significantly misled as to the full position.”

Secondly, the jury made no findings at all about the role of race in police conduct. The coroner did not ask them to. Unsurprisingly therefore the PCC also found that the article’s assertion that the jury had decided that he did not die because the police treated him in a way they would not have treated a white man breached Clause 1 of its Code, i.e. not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

The PCC have accepted that The Telegraph’s publication of a clarification was sufficient remedy, and that publication by The Telegraph of a version of a letter from Claris Powell was sufficient to answer her other points of complaint.

Sieta Lambrias, Mikey’s sister, said:

Mum and the family are pleased with the outcome and to have won. Shame on The Telegraph for reporting the police’s views as if they were the jury’s findings. I am amazed and saddened that despite the inquest verdict and the evidence that the jury took into account on reaching that verdict, the West Midlands Police and Telegraph both chose to report the Mikey’s death in a misleading manner. This confirms my opinion that the police seem to continue to feel the need to disguise the true events so they are seen to have acted appropriately and in a good light.

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

Misinformation has been a feature of many contentious deaths in custody and we see once again attempts by the media and police to deflect attention away from police wrongdoing. The lack of accountability of individual police officers and senior management is exposed by the failure to respond effectively to the findings of this inquest.