Feeling passionately about custody deaths

Art & Soul - 4WardEverUK eventprovided by: Tippa Naphtali  
first published: 1st November 2008

Hundreds of people have died in custody in Britain over the last 30+ years. A disproportionate number of these were African-Caribbean men. Between 1969 and 1999 over one thousand people died in police custody alone, not counting deaths in prison and psychiatric institutions. No one has ever been convicted for any of these deaths.

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United Families and Friends Campaign, London – pictures >

In October 2004 the then Home Office Minister, Hazel Blears commenting on a Police Complaints Authority (PCA) report noting a reduction in such deaths said, “There was an encouraging reduction in the number of deaths of people from minority ethnic communities from 22 in 2002/03 to 10 in 2003/04.

She went on to say; “The PCA report found that while there are grounds for concern about some aspects surrounding the general treatment of detainees, there is little evidence that this concern can be attributed to racist attitudes or behaviour.”

These words however, were of little comfort to the dozens of families who have lost relatives in these circumstances.

2008, 10th Annual Rally witnesses further deaths >

In representation of grieving families campaigning for Justice, I gave the following response to Hazel Blears’ 2005 statement.

“We have concerns regarding the current Home Office definition of custody deaths, which presently includes any death where the deceased came into contact with the police, (heart attacks in cells, collisions with police vehicles responding to emergencies etc) even if only for a short period.

“Families have also had to contend with an unwillingness to get their legal costs covered, graphically demonstrated recently in the Roger Sylvester case.”

Justice for Families – A day of remembrance >

“The PCA was disbanded because of concerns about its ability to be independent, and many campaigners therefore will give little weight to their findings on racism within the police, and how race influences the course of investigations into custody deaths. For example, Black people are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people.

Black men are also disproportionately over-represented in the prison population compared to white men; and a previous commander of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-racist unit said the force remained institutionally racist, despite a “sea-change” in its attitudes and behaviour.”

10th United Friends and Family Demo. In pictures >

“Exposures in the Christopher Alder case, the TV documentary’s ‘Death on Camera’ and ‘The Secret Policeman’ and of course the well documented findings of the MacPherson Report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence; all beg to differ with the view adopted by the PCA and other official Government bodies. One only has to type ‘deaths in custody’ in any Internet search engine to see the breadth of concern about this issue in Britain today.”

Other reports:

Custody death families in protest
25th October 2008 (BBC)

March protests over custody deaths
26th October 2008 (Watford Observer)

Annual United Families & Friends Remembrance March
26th October 2008 (Indymedia London)