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SACC Statement on the death of Sheku Bayoh

The death of Sheku Ahmed Tejan Bayoh while in police custody in Kirkcaldy on 3 May appears to have disturbing similarities to the deaths of black people at the hands of police in England and the USA. What happens next will be a litmus test for Scotland's legal and political institutions and for Scottish civil society.

SACC welcomes the prompt decision of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to direct the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) to investigate Sheku Bayoh's death. We understand from media statements by Aamer Anwar, lawyer for Sheku Bayoh's family, that PIRC has completely taken over the investigation from Police Scotland and that resources appropriate to a major investigation have been provided.

The takeover of the investigation by PIRC is particularly necessary in view of reports that Sheku Bayoh's family had been given a variety of different versions of events by the police.

PIRC was set up in 2013 and is headed by Kate Frame, a solicitor who has previously held senior roles in the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Organisations charged with the "independent" investigation of complaints against police in the UK have a lacklustre track record. We hope that PIRC will prove to have broken the mould.

The circumstances surrounding Sheku Bayoh's death are extremely unclear. Justice will not even begin to be done until the evidence is tested in public, in a criminal court or otherwise.

There is no system of coroner's inquests in Scotland. In some circumstances deaths are instead investigated at Fatal Accident Inquiries. A Fatal Accident Inquiry is mandatory for deaths in custody, but the requirement may be waived if the circumstances of death have been sufficiently dealt with in criminal proceedings.

Fatal Accident Inquiries are held in a sheriff court without a jury. It remains to be seen whether this system, if triggered in relation to Sheku Bayoh's death, will prove fit for purpose.

In the meantime, the interests of justice will be served best by the avoidance of speculation about the events leading to Sheku Bayoh's death. But there is no room for complacent assumptions that the matter is satisfactorily in hand.

Whatever turns out to have happened to Sheku Bayoh, SACC continues to believe that tragedies like this are made more likely by the cowboy policing style promoted by Chief Constable Stephen House and the irresponsible tolerance so far shown towards it by the Scottish Government.