Justice for Sheku Bayoh

The Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign was launched at a meeting in Glasgow on 25 July 2015. Around 200 people attended the meeting, dissolving the toxic fog of silence and disinformation that until then had surrounded Sheku's death in police custody.

Sheku had been overpowered and restrained by police in Kirkcaldy on the morning of 3 May 2015, following reports that a man had been seen brandishing a knife in the street. He died very shortly afterwards. Disturbing new facts emerged at the campaign launch about the events surrounding his death. The family's lawyer, Aamer Anwar, revealed that Sheku was not carrying a knife when stopped by police, nor was one ever found on him. Anwar also revealed that, although the cause of death had still to be extablished, Sheku showed signs of positional asphyxiation.

The campaign launch was combined with a one-day conference on deaths in police custody with representatives of families around the UK whose loved ones have died at police hands. It was organised jointly by SACC and the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign and was supported by the Ethnic Minority Civic Congress (EMCC), Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, and the STUC Black Workers’ Committee. Speakers included Adeyemi (Ade) Johnson (Sheku's brother-in-law), Kadijata (Kadi) Johnson (Sheku's sister), Janet Alder, the sister of Christopher Alder (died in Kingston upon Hull in 1998), Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg (died in Brixton in 2008), Saqib Deshmukh, campaigner for justice for Habib Ullah (died in High Wycombe in 2008), Harmit Athwal (Institute for Race Relations)  and Deborah Coles, co-Director of the charity Inquest.

Aamar Anwar told the meeting: "On Sunday the 3rd May, he [Sheku Baoh] left home sometime between 7 and 7.15am and walked an approximate distance of half a mile down to Hayfield Road. The family were told that Police officers who were in the midst of a shift change at Kirkcaldy Police Office responded to an alert following calls from members of the public that a black man was walking down the street brandishing a large knife."

The first actions of the police officers on meeting Sheku, Aamer Anwar said, were to use CS spray, Pava spray (a form of pepper spray) and raise their batons.

Sheku was face down on the pavement within 45 seconds of encountering the police, never to get up again. Handcuffs and leg restraints were applied while he was in a prone position, face down. After Sheku stopped breathing, CPR was attempted. He was taken by ambulance to Victoria Hospital and arrived there unconscious, still handcuffed and with leg restraints in place. The handcuffs and retraints were removed at the insistence of doctors. Staff at the Victoria desperately tried to save Sheku's life but he was pronounced dead at 9.04am.

Aamer Anwar went on to say: "Many have asked what is the cause of death and the answer is we do not know that is yet to be determined. The family have instructed the UK's foremost pathologist Dr Nat Cary - who dealt with the Hillsborough case.

Positional asphyxiation is suspected and being investigated as petechial haemorrhages were present in the eyes which are a important sign of asphyxiation. Positional asphyxia, is a form of asphyxia  which occurs when someone's position prevents the person from breathing adequately."

Five different versions of events over 7 hours

After Sheku died, police went to the house of his partner Collette and took her to Kirkcaldy police station. Anwar said: "Before leaving they took her house keys of her, their explanation was that it was a crime scene. After arriving there with her mother, two CID eventually took her into a room and told her there was no easy way of saying this but that her partner Sheku was dead.

They said he was found on a public street by a member of the public who called an ambulance but died on the street."

Officers repeated the same story to Sheku's sister Kadi at her home. Aamer Anwar said "they returned at 4.30pm and told Kadi and her family that their gaffer had told them to tell them Sheku actually died in police custody. Following anger from the family and demands from Adie who knew the 'gaffer' Fife Area Commander Chief Supt Garry McEwan- he then attended their home and told the gathered family the first actual version of what happened."

Anwar added: "The family allege that Police Scotland gave them five different versions of events over the course of 7 hours which is a matter of grave concern."

He said that in the eleven weeks since Sheku's death there had been a "deliberate attempt to paint disturbing images of violence", that journalists had been briefed off the record, and that there had been "character assassination and rumours."

Police officers apparently believed that Sheku was a terrorist. Aamer Anwar said: "The family want to know why when police officers received reports of a man carrying a knife did they believe they were dealing with a terrorist threat?"

He highlighted six questions for the investigation:

  1. Sheku was a fit and healthy man who stopped breathing less than 3 and half minutes after being engaged by the police?
  2. Was the level of force used on Sheku Bayoh reasonable and proportionate?
  3. Did the methods of restraint lead to positional asphyxiation?
  4. Were police guidelines or training regarding restraint, use of CS and pepper spray and positional asphyxia sufficient and followed correctly?
  5. Who ordered police officers to systematically lie to Sheku’s family over the course of the next 7 hours?
  6. Why did the police take control of Collette and Sheku’s house under false pretences?

Full text of the speech by Aamer Anwar.

Aamer Anwar, lawyer for Sheku's family, launching the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign (part 1). Left to right: Richard Haley (SACC), Adeyemi (Ade) Johnson (Sheku's brother-in-law), Aamer Anwar (lawyer representing the family), Kadijata (Kadi) Johnson (Sheku's sister), Deborah Coles (Inquest)
Aamer Anwar, lawyer for Sheku's family and Richard Haley (SACC) speaking at the launch of the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said: "There's a disturbing pattern of black deaths in custody across the UK. Awareness of the part that racism can play has to be a part of any investigation. Police racism can be individual and blatant, or it can be institutional. Either way, it might mean the difference between whether you live or die if you find yourself in a potentially confrontational situation with the police.

It isn't enough for Police Scotland to support Show Racism the Red Card. Racism won't get its red card until police recognise the risks of institutional racism, and move on from the view that people who suspect them of racism are just showing a bad attitude towards the police."

Full text of the speech by Richard Haley.

Forgiving and forgetting are not two sides of the same coin

The meeting fell a few days after the 10th anniversary of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian man, by police in London. Ade Johnson, Sheku's brother-in-law, compared the lies and smears spread by the police afterwards with the lies and smears suffered by his own family.

He said: "We are calling on Sir Stephen House [then Chief Constable of Police Scotland] for answers. There are too many questions, not enough answers.

How can a nation breathe when this injustice continues to occur? How hard is it to tell the truth? We tell the truth every day, but I think Police Scotland finds it very hard to tell its officers to tell the truth."

He added: "Forgiving and forgetting are not two sides of the same coin."

Richard Haley (SACC) and Ade Johnson, Sheku's brother-in-law, speaking at the launch of the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign
Ade Johnson speaking (part 2) at the launch of the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign.

Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest drew attention to the similarities between the police response to Sheku's death and thier response to other deaths in police custody. She said: "I felt I could have written the police script, it was so familar, and I know that the families [of others who have died in police custody] will recognise the early stages and the attempts to demonise and character assassinate the person who has died in an attempt to deflect attention away from the actions of the police officers, the familiar but still shocking racial stereotyping and the sense that the investigation is more interested in investigating the deceased and the family than the actions of the police officers in whose care and custody he died."

We will not rest until we get justice

She added: "In domestic law, in UK law, there is something called Article 2 [of the European Convention on Human Rights], the right to life. In a situation where someone dies on account of the state, the law recognises that there needs to be an independent and effective investigation in which the family can play an effective and meaningful part, and that investigation must found out what happened and also whether or not there has been any criminality on the part of those responsible. It's not something that should be treated lightly, it's enshrined in domestic and international law and I think it's extremely important that we remember that."

Kadi Johnson, Sheku's sister, said: "How can we heal when still we don't know? So for us, his family, we will not rest until we get justice."

Deborah Coles (Inquest) speaking at the launch of the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign
Deborah Coles (part 2) and Kadi Johnson (Sheku's sister) speaking at the launch of the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign

More Information

The videos included above were livestreamed and recorded by Independence Live. They can be viewed here, along with videos of the Deaths in Custody conference that followed the launch of the Justice for Sheku Bayoh Campaign.

Good reports on the event appear in The Sunday Herald and The Guardian.