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Statement by Aamer Anwar at Sheku Bayoh Campaign Launch

Shelu Bayoh campaign launch

Statement by Aamer Anwar- Solicitor- at the Press Conference/Campaign launch in Glasgow on 25 July 2015

My name is Aamer Anwar and I am the solicitor for Sheku’s family and I am instructed by them to say the following on their behalf - Over the next hour you will also hear statements from the family and Deborah Coles of Inquest.

This session is titled the campaign launch/press conference and at the end there will be an opportunity for members of the press to ask questions.

When they do, the Bayoh family would ask everyone to respect the media’s right to ask questions even if you don’t agree with them or the media outlet they are from.

We are aware that many people are frustrated at what they believe is slow progress, but there is so much information that we cannot disclose in order to preserve the integrity of the investigation.

I also want to thank SACC for helping organise today’s event and especially the families of Christopher Alder, Sean Rigg and Habib Ullah all deaths in custody, who have travelled up to support the Bayoh’s and share their experiences with us today.

Without their struggles a Tory Home Secretary would never have ordered an independent review into deaths in custody in England and Wales two days ago.

I never knew Sheku Bayoh, he wasn’t a rich or a powerful man but what I have learned in the 12 weeks since his death is that he had a stubborn family, who love him a great deal, three sisters, his mother, brother in law Adie, and his partner Colette who all refuse to be bullied, lied to or silenced.

6 month old son Isaac and 4 year old Tyler will never see their father Sheku again.

Sheku Bayoh was a well-liked, healthy young man, a trainee gas engineer who at the age of 31 had no previous history of violence. He moved to Kirkcaldy when he was 17 to live with his sister Kadi.

On Sunday the 3rd May, he 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.

Two police vans, 3 marked police cars and 1 unmarked car went to the scene and a minimum of 9 uniformed police officers attended along with 2 CID.

We understand that 3 male police officers and one female officer arrived in two separate vans and engaged with Sheku.

Within 45 seconds Sheku Bayoh was face down on the pavement never to get up again. Within minutes five other officers were also on the scene.

There has been a great deal of speculation, but Sheku Bayoh did not deserve to die. The family want to ask whether Sheku Bayoh would have died if he had not met the police. They now believe the answer to their question is no.

In the last 11 weeks there has been a deliberate attempt to paint disturbing images of violence - ascribing repeatedly to a large 6 foot plus man, with stereotypical characteristics of superhuman strength and dangerousness in a deliberate attempt to blame the Sheku for his own death.

All journalists have been briefed off the record about toxicology, some journalists present today were even briefed about Sheku having been involved in genocide in Sierra Leone having arrived a few years ago except he didn’t, he came to the UK when he was a 14 year old boy.

The character assassination and rumours are nothing new, but a standard tactic adopted by sections of the police in many deaths in custodies. Sheku’s family know his behaviour that morning was completely out of character but they also know that he had no previous history of violence.

It has repeatedly been claimed that a 6ft plus male was brandishing a knife at the police and the media was told early that morning a police officer had been stabbed.

The family also claim that they were told in the hours following Sheku’s death by a senior police officer that Sheku attacked a police woman with a knife hence why CS Spray and batons were used upon him.

The family now know as fact that when the Police arrived Sheku was carrying no knife, never threatened them with a knife, nor was one ever found on him.

Those acting for police on the 14th May publicly stated:-

"Whilst it is deeply regrettable that Mr Bayoh lost his life. I would ask the media and public to remember that a petite female police officer was chased and then subjected to a violent and unprovoked attack... The officer believed she was about to be murdered, and would have been had it not been for the intervention of other officers."

The family have heard much about Sheku's actions but little what the Police did when they arrived. The family believe 'negative imagery' has deliberately been used to enforce an image of 'mad' and 'dangerous' man. None of this has been helpful in searching for the truth.

The family have known for weeks that the first actions of the police officers on meeting Sheku was to use CS spray, Pava spray (a form of pepper spray) raise their batons.

The Bayoh family believe that Police officers have a right to defend themselves and if Sheku broke the law then they had a right to arrest him, but any use of force must at all times be lawful, necessary and proportionate in the circumstances.

The family of Sheku Bayoh want the Chief Constable Stephen House to explain to them why his police officers believed that Sheku was a terrorist threat and whether that had any role to play in his subsequent treatment.

So let us deal with the facts- Sheku Bayoh was not 6ft plus - Sheku was 5ft 10inches  2 inches smaller than me,  he weighed 12 stones 10 pounds.

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?

Security threats levels were raised nationally to 'severe' in August 2014 but what relevance was this to the actions of police officers attending this incident in Kirkcaldy on the 3rd May?

There was a great deal of talk about Sheku's height and weight, but the family repeatedly asked about the height and weight of all the officers who restrained Sheku and brought him to the ground within 45 seconds.

The Bayohs requested this information because weeks ago they received information through the community that one of the officers was over 6ft 4inches and huge, he wasn't 12stones 10 pounds like Sheku, he wasn't 15 stones, he wasn't 20 stones but was in fact 25 stones.

Add the combined weight of 5 other officers on top of or around Sheku, do the maths before anyone talks about Sheku being big.

Sheku Bayoh is accused of an unprovoked violent attack, but his family want to know what he did that was so violent that made officers use CS spray on him?

At least six officers were involved in trying to restrain Sheku, applying handcuffs and putting on leg restraints, he was in the prone position face down, there was a struggle but he wasn't going anywhere, he lost consciousness and stopped breathing never to get up again.

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.

A significant number of people die suddenly during restraint by police officers. Research suggests that restraining a person in a face down position is likely to cause greater restriction of breathing than restraining a person face up.

All Police officers are supposed to be taught to avoid restraining people face down or to do so only for a very short period of time. The way the subject is restrained can increase the risk of death, for example kneeling or otherwise placing weight on the subject.

After Sheku stopped breathing at the scene CPR was attempted.

An ambulance took him to the Victoria Hospital. The family requested CCTV at the entrance and other points within A&E but were told that it was not working.

Many staff at the Victoria desperately tried to save Sheku's life, his sister Kadijata works at that hospital as a nurse.

Sheku's family will forever be grateful to the staff who tried their best to save him, but he was officially pronounced dead at 9.04 am.

We know that when Sheku arrived at the hospital unconscious that he was still handcuffed with leg restraints still in place, which doctors demanded the removal of.

Following Sheku's death Collette returned to home at around 9am, she found the house in disarray and the back door lying open.

Sheku was not at home, so as she left she spoke to his best friend Zahid who told her of Sheku not being himself. She left to go to her mums and phoned the police.

When she returned just after 9- a police car with two uniformed officers and two CID were waiting for her. They took her in, CID sat her down whilst Uniformed went into the kitchen. We understand that CID and others had been briefed about the circumstances as early as 8.10am. They did not tell her that Sheku was dead and began to ask her questions about Sheku and his friends.

Meanwhile a few minutes away a full scale Fife police operation was taking place before the PIRC would arrive. The police officers told Collette that they needed to take her to Kirkcaldy Police Station.

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.

Collette claims they said that they were looking for his friend and others whom they believed to be involved.  Meanwhile what we have learned is that eight of the officers had returned to station and were placed in the same room together from 9am onwards only to leave the station that evening.

We know that the officers were in that same room with their Federation representative for some two hours before a senior officer arrived and requested to speak to them. They refused to speak to him.

We know that the police woman who went the hospital at the same time as Sheku, according to a PIRC spokeswoman was discharged shortly thereafter. She did not go home to recover but made her way to the station to join her eight other colleagues.

The family want to know why several people involved in the death of an individual would be allowed by the police to sit together in one room for several hours to speak to each other?

Why they were able to refuse providing a statement for some 32 days.

Whilst a distraught Colette was questioned by two officers, they delved deep into Sheku's background, never once telling her that he died in police custody, as the nine officers sat in a room next door. She was allowed to go home around 1pm and told to contact Sheku's family.

The same officers then attended Sheku's sister Kadi's home only to repeat the same story, until 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. (Gary McEwan moved to the new post of Police Scotland’s Custodies Division following the death in custody).

It is alleged that he told the family that the police were responding to Sheku carrying a knife and needing to use batons, CS spray and restraints, losing consciousness and dying.

He told the family not to speak to anyone or the media but just after he left their home- the police released a media release providing details of Sheku’s death.

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. 

Sensitive and thorough handling of the investigation in the ‘golden hours’ following the death is critical to evidence gathering and setting the direction and quality of the investigation to follow.

The family still does not understand why the officers involved in engaging with Sheku Bayoh were not immediately suspended without prejudice after Sheku’s death.

For the Chief Constable to suspend the officers without prejudice is not a question of pre-judging the outcome of the investigation but ensures neutrality, integrity of the investigation, transparency, stopping conferring as well as protecting officers involved in such incidents.

PIRC we understand were ordered to take control of the investigation by the Lord Advocate. They claim to have the powers of arrest, detention and ability to seize evidence when investigating the police over serious incidents, but what is the point if they fail to use these powers.

We understand that the Federation wished to know what their officer’s status was before giving statements but the PIRC claims they asked several times for statements which they refused to provide until some 32 days later.

The findings of the post mortem are not complete and could take several more weeks to complete as experts are instructed.

The family had put their total faith in the PIRC but are increasingly disappointed.

The family appreciate that this is the most serious incident that PIRC has ever had to deal with since it began in 2013, but there can be no room for mistakes or naivety about the task they face.

Many claim this is PIRC's first such case, but STV revealed last night that there have been eleven deaths in custody since Police Scotland was formed in 2013. That is four times as many as England per proportion of population.

I want to conclude by saying that I met Sheku's family for the very first time two days after he died and told them that the way ahead would be long one, full of struggle, heartache and resistance.

I hope that the people gathered here, the people of Scotland will support this family in their struggle for truth and justice.

People today look at our police service as a good example of what everyone else should be doing across the world.

But to be the best, to be the guardians of law and order they need to act as public servants as well as earn our respect.

They should never resent facing difficult questions because that is what expected in a democracy. In the months that have passed, many have lost confidence in Police Scotland and there is a belief that they are above the law.

The mantra from the Police is that they should be treated the same as members of public and have the same rights, but they are not the same.

You are given a responsibility to be the guardians of law and order, you are given the powers of arrest.

You are given the power to use CS, Guns, tasers, handcuffs in reasonable and proportionate circumstances and yes of course there will be times you will place your life on the line to protect us the public.

But all those powers carry a heavy responsibility which means that you are not above the law and are expected to adhere to standards which no member of the public would be.

And with standards, comes accountability not silence.

It took 32 days before nine police officers agreed to speak to the PIRC that is a disgrace, but even worse was that PIRC told us that they had no powers to do anything about it.

It is simply not good enough for the Scottish Government to say -

"We cannot comment on individual cases or ongoing investigations by the PIRC, which is under the direction of the Crown. We believe that the powers that the PIRC currently have are sufficient."

A powerful investigating body that can hold the most powerful public body in Scotland to account is now perceived as a toothless body left begging for cooperation.

The case of Sheku Bayoh is not an isolated case but part of a systemic problem that allows the police to remain above the law.

Until our laws are fundamentally reformed, the PIRC will remain incapable of exposing the truth when people die in police custody.

The Bayoh family will accept nothing less than for the PIRC investigation to be robust, transparent and properly effective, nor are they willing for our justice system to catch up with England and Wales.

No Family should ever have to rely upon their own efforts to make sure the full facts about such deaths are established and those responsible for deaths are held to account.

Police Scotland and Stephen House needs to realise that they are our public servants not our masters.

There are many questions for the PIRC:-

  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?

The family believe that PIRC’s investigation is fundamentally flawed because of:-

  1. A failure to secure the crime scene.
  2. A failure to prevent officers from conferring with each other
  3. A failure to ensure that they all gave statements within 48 hours.
  4. A failure to carry out robust analysis
  5. A failure to challenge police officers' accounts.
  6. PIRC appears too hesitant to put to the police officers fundamental questions about how they exercised their duty of care.
  7. A failure to separate the nine police officers immediately and instructing them not to speak or otherwise communicate with each other about the events until the PIRC was able to take detailed initial statements from each.
  8. A failure in being more robust, in particular as regards its pursuit of lines of inquiry and critical analysis of the evidence.

Nothing will bring Sheku Bayoh back but his family want to know that justice will be done. I want to conclude with the words of Sheku’s mother Aminata at his funeral who told me she wanted  people to think of her only son not as a man who died following a struggle with the police.

She wants people to remember him as a bright young man who any parent would have been proud of. He was a wonderful son, wonderful brother, uncle and loving partner to Collette.

Any parent will know how much pain you feel when your child falls and bleeds, or when they are sick through the night, and how as a parent you desperately want them to be ok and would always take their place if you could.

That love is unconditional and I cannot begin to imagine that pain for a mother who has lost her only boy, knowing she will never see him again.

Sadly He is not by any means the first man to die in police custody but if anything I hope that his name does not fade from memory and that one day the name of Sheku Bayoh leaves us a legacy that his children can be proud of.