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Chair of independent review into police custody deaths named

'REBUILDING CONFIDENCE': Theresa May with Simon Woolley, director of OBV, in Brixton earlier this year

A WOMAN who rose to become one of Scotland’s leading legal minds will chair a major review into deaths in police custody.

Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, who served as the chief legal officer of the Scottish Government between 2006 and 2011, has been appointed by the home secretary to oversee the independent inquiry.

Theresa May praised Dame Elish for having “the ability to work closely with victims, families and the police alike, and with a proven track record of being willing to ask difficult questions.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of respected legal charity INQUEST which supports families of those who have lost loved ones in suspicious circumstances, will act as special advisor offering expert advice throughout the course of the investigation.


'TRACK RECORD': Dame Elish Angiolini is currently a principal of St Hugh's College, Oxford

PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

May announced plans to look further at the issue on July 23. In a speech, she said it was vital that the public had confidence in its police service.

The investigation was welcomed by the families of custody death victims including Marcia Rigg-Samuel, the sister of musician Sean Rigg who died at Brixton police station in 2008.

The home secretary chose to make the remarks in a building that overlooked the custody cells where Rigg, a mental health patient, spent the last few hours of his life having been improperly restrained by police officers.

Rigg-Samuel, a committed campaigner on the issue, warned that families must be placed “at the heart of this review”.

May said: “Thankfully, deaths and serious incidents in custody are rare. And no one – least of all police officers – wants such incidents to happen, and I know everyone involved takes steps to avoid them. But when such incidents do occur, they are a tragedy that has the potential to undermine the relationship between the public and the police. As Home Secretary, I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers.

“That is why I set up this independent review and I’m grateful to Dame Elish and Deborah Coles, as special advisor to the chair, for agreeing to take on this important work.”

Dame Elish said: "This is a matter of critical importance to many families and I hope that this review can identify pragmatic and effective responses to this longstanding issue."

WHAT THE INQUIRY WILL LOOK AT

The Home Office today also revealed the terms of referenceof the review.

The three core areas are:

1. To examine the procedures and processes surrounding deaths and serious incidents in police custody, including the lead up to such incidents, the immediate aftermath, through to the conclusion of official investigations. It should consider the extent to which ethnicity is a factor in such incidents. The review should include a particular focus on family involvement and their support experience at all stages.

2. To examine and identify the reasons and obstacles as to why the current investigation system has fallen short of many families’ needs and expectations, with particular reference to the importance of accountability of those involved and sustained learning following such incidents.

3. To identify areas for improvement and develop recommendations seeking to ensure appropriate, humane institutional treatment when such incidents, particularly deaths in or following detention in police custody, occur. Recommendations should consider the safety and welfare of all those in the police custody environment, including detainees and police officers and staff. The aim should be to enhance the safety of the police custody setting for all.

FAMILY INPUT

Part of INQUEST’s role will include hosting “family listening days” so Dame Angiolini can hear evidence from those directly affected and ensure their views are taken into account.

Coles said: “It is fundamental that the review examines why so many recommendations from previous reviews, investigations and inquests have not been acted upon.

“To restore public confidence, it will need to fully take on board the experience of bereaved families, address the reasons why the current investigation system falls short of their needs and expectations, and lead to reforms that bring about genuine accountability.”

In a statement, the family of Olaseni Lewis said they welcomed the review.

“Olaseni was a voluntary patient at the Royal Bethlem Hospital and died in September 2010 as a result of prolonged restraint involving 11 police officers.

“Five years on we are still waiting for an Inquest and as a family we continue to feel victimised and traumatised. We hope that all families of those that died in custody will benefit from a full and robust review.”

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