DEMANDING ANSWERS: Friends and family of Sheku Bayoh at his funeral procession in Kirkcaldy, Fife in June
THE FAMILY of Sheku Bayoh formally met with Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) members of parliament in a public meeting on October 29 in London.
In what was described as the ‘first of many meetings to come’ the gathering hosted by MP Rodger Mullin brought together Bayoh’s family, legal representatives and campaigners six months after the father of two died in police custody.
Speaking at the meeting, the family’s lawyer Aamer Anwar recalled the events that followed the death of Bayoh and was critical of the scrutiny his clients had been subjected to.
“No opportunity has been missed to demonise Sheku, and the dead can’t answer back but his family will for him,” said Anwar.
Speaking in reference to the recently announced review into deaths in custody by Home Secretary Theresa May which will be looking exclusively at England and Wales, Anwar added: “We are told in Scotland that there isn’t a problem but I beg to differ, and we were told a number of years ago that there isn’t a problem with racism in Scotland until a number of notorious cases happened so the family don’t accept that there isn’t a problem. It’s pretty clear from day one that there is a problem in the way and the manner that these cases are investigated.”
Ten MPs were present at the well-attended meeting, including Joanna Cherry QC, who urged the Bayoh family to trust the process and allow for the Police Investigations and Review Commission (PIRC) to conduct its investigation.
The meeting comes days after former Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill wrote in the Police Professional that he believed any probe into Bayoh’s death would show no criminality by the officers involved and that it was a ‘tragic accident’.
His comments were described as inappropriate by both Cherry and Mullin.
Speaking on the role of race, Deborah Coles of human rights organisation INQUEST, identified the disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic deaths in restraint related incidents.
JUSTICE FOR SHEKU: Public meeting brought together campaigners and MPs
“Racism is like the elephant in the room, it’s the thing that people don’t talk about. Look at the figures; you will see a disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic communities die from the use of restraint by police officers” said Coles.
The campaigner said: “There is an institutional unwillingness to accept that the police may be guilty of wrong doing or criminality.”
Bayoh’s eldest sister, Kosna Bayoh, addressed the audience on behalf of the family and thanked supporters, including the sister of Sean Rigg, Marcia who was present.
Anwar informed the audience that the family has seen CCTV footage of the incident that occurred on May 3 and are demanding its release to the public.
Bayoh who had no previous record of misbehaviour or violence, died after an alleged altercation with as many as nine police officers.
According to Anwar, the British Gas worker was hit with CS spray, pepper spray and batons, and was held in wrist and ankle restraints.
A post-mortem determined that the 31-year-old had nearly 30 separate injuries on his body, including a fractured rib and spots of blood in his eyes known as petechial haemorrhages, evidence which suggests Bayoh died from positional asphyxia.
Concerns over PIRC’s investigation into the matter have been raised following a 32–day delay before the officers involved were interviewed by the inspectorate.
Further concerns have been raised about the right of police officers to resign while under serious criminal or misconduct investigation.
Unlike in England and Wales, no such legislation exists in Scotland that permits police boards or chief constables to refuse such resignations.
As raised by Coles and a report published in March of this year by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) called Dying for Justice, there is yet to be a single successful conviction of officials responsible in custodial death cases.
The Bayoh family will continue to campaign for a fully independent investigation into the death of their relative. Bayoh is survived by two young sons.