Prisoner died after 'unlawful use of force'

Sisters of black inmate are told there is 'clear evidence' in their case for judicial review
Race issues in the UK: special report
Keith Perry Wednesday May 03 2000 The Guardian

Clear evidence existed showing that "unreasonable restraint" was used on a black remand prisoner who died in a privatised jail during a struggle with prison officers, the high court was told yesterday.
Alton Manning, 33, from Birmingham, died as he was being carried away from a cell at Blakenhurst prison, Hereford and Worcester, on December 8 1995.
The incident happened when Manning was asked to squat naked for a strip search in "disputed circumstances", said Nicholas Blake QC, appearing for Manning's family.
They launched the high court challenge after David Calvert-Smith QC, the director of public prosecutions, decided not to prosecute any of the officers involved due to insufficient evidence.
Yesterday's hearing was the first challenge to the DPP's new policy on when to mount a prosecution when there has been a death in custody.
Manning's sisters, Patricia Manning and Elizabeth Melbourne, also from Birmingham, yesterday applied to Lord Bingham, the lord chief justice, sitting with Mr Justice Morison, for a judicial review following the refusal in 1996 of the DPP and crown prosecution service to bring manslaughter charges.
At the start of yesterday's hearing Lord Bingham described the case as a "matter of considerable public importance".
Mr Blake said: "There was clear evidence of restraint that was unreasonable and therefore unlawful being applied.
He added: "In cases where the state has a responsibility for investigating its own officers, the crown prosecution service has an obligation to either prosecute or explain why it is not going to prosecute."
He told the court there was a violent struggle involving six or seven prison officers and there was evidence from prisoners that one of the officers was holding Manning in a neck lock at the time he met his death from asphyxia at the prison run by the US-owned UK Detention Services.
Despite the DPP's decision in September 1996 not to prosecute any prison officers, an inquest jury returned a verdict that Manning had been unlawfully killed, after a three-week hearing at Kidderminster coroner's court, Hereford and Worcester, in March 1998.
Mr Blake said this "rational and lawful" verdict and the finding that the death was caused by asphyxia as a result of the neck hold resulted in the decision not to prosecute being reviewed.
He added: "A review note now suggests the prosecution was satisfied there was a prima facie case of unlawful act manslaughter against unit manager David Nicholson, the officer who had the responsibility for the head of Mr Manning when he was being restrained in circumstances when he was ordered to be strip searched."
Two other officers had gone to ground floor cell 26 on C wing of house block three to do a routine search of Manning, and he was taken to cell 35 for a strip search.
An altercation started when he was asked to squat naked for an inspection of his genital and anal area.
It was alleged that an assault by Manning on senior prison custody officer Peter Reynolds led to the alarm being sounded by prison custody officer David Brumby, and other officers coming into the cell.
Manning was then taken out of the cell headfirst and carried semi naked along a corridor towards the dining area, with Mr Nicholson at the head.
It was Mr Nicholson's claim that he was using an approved lock, said Mr Blake. But the evidence was that Manning had been unable to breathe by the time he was carried to the dining area. All efforts to revive him failed.
He was found to be bleeding from his ear and throat, but according to pathologists, this was consistent with pressure being applied to the neck, said Mr Blake.
He added that although it was now accepted there was a prima facie case of unlawful act manslaughter against Mr Nicholson, it was being suggested the death was the result of an accident, or an act of self-defence, justifying the use of force and the arm on the neck and there was "no realistic prospect of securing a conviction".
Mr Blake said in the light of all the evidence and the inquest jury's unlawful killing verdict, the latest DPP decision not to prosecute in February 1999 and reaffirmed that April, was manifestly perverse and irrational.
Failure to prosecute over three deaths in police custody prompted damning criticism of the last DPP, Dame Barbara Mills QC, who resigned before the end of her term of office.
The three deaths in custody prompted an inquiry under the retired judge, Gerald Butler QC, which led to an overhaul of procedures that required prosecution decisions in such cases to be referred to the attorney general.
The hearing continues.
Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.

Police Officers Who Shot Dead Unarmed Man Will Not Face Criminal Charges

The Crown Prosecution Service announced today that no police officer is to face criminal charges over the death of unarmed Harry Stanley, shot dead by armed Metropolitan police officers on 22 September 1999.
Responding to the decision Jason Stanley, Mr Stanley's son said:
"I am extremely angry and upset. It just proves that nobody is safe on the streets. If this can happen to my Dad, it can happen to anyone. When will somebody be held accountable for their actions?"
Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST who has been working with the family and their lawyers said:
"This unbelievable decision follows a pattern of cases where police officers whose conduct has led to death have not been subjected to proper scrutiny and shows that the rule of law does not apply to police officers. How can we accept that the shooting dead of an unarmed man does not result in a criminal trial where a jury decides whether or not the actions were unlawful? The Human Rights Act should lead to a greater protection of people's rights, particularly the right to life. These unaccounted for police killings show that the current system for investigating deaths in custody is merely a paper exercise and unworthy of any public confidence."
Daniel Machover, family solicitor, from Hickman and Rose, said:
"The family is considering a judicial review of this remarkable decision by the CPS, who appear to be protecting police officers from the criminal justice system by applying the most conservative approach possible to the law and the evidence. The family asks that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner confirm that he will be publishing in the public interest the full report prepared by Surrey Police into the shooting of Harry Stanley. And that the family is provided with full pre-inquest disclosure of the criminal investigation papers forthwith."
A full background briefing on the case is available from INQUEST and on our website
INQUEST - United Campaigns for Justice
Policeman destroyed notes relating to restraint death

Family of man who died in custody barred from disciplinary hearing

Special report: deaths in custody, Vikram Dodd,Monday July 23 2001,The Electronic Guardian

A police officer involved in the restraint of a black man who later died will today admit at a disciplinary hearing that he destroyed pages from his notebook.
The officer was one of eight involved in detaining Roger Sylvester in Tottenham, north London, in January 1999. 
The family of Mr Sylvester, a born again Christian, wanted the officers to face criminal charges over the death, but earlier this year the crown prosecution service decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. 
The police complaints authority ordered that the disciplinary charge be brought after the Metropolitan police failed to do so. 
The Met has written to the family saying that the officer "has indicated his intention to admit the charge", meaning that the Sylvester family will not be able to attend. 
The officer, whom the Met is refusing to name, is alleged to have deliberately or through negligence destroyed two pages of his police pocket notebook. 
It is believed that the two pages, which have never been found, covered events and the time period surrounding the death. 
Glen Smyth, chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation which is representing the officer, said the pages had been torn out because there was a "juvenile drawing" defacing one side of a double page. 
Mr Smyth said the decision to bring a charge was "political" and that tests had supported the officer's claim that there was no sinister reason for the pages being ripped out by him. 
Police rules state that officers cannot tear pages out of their notebook, in which they are supposed to record their actions and significant events while on duty. 
Mr Sylvester died in hospital after restrained by police out side his house. Officers were called after Mr Sylvester was seen apparently naked outside his house, rolling on the floor and banging on his own front door. He had been treated for depression and officers decided to detain him under the Mental Health Act. 
Mr Sylvester was taken to hospital, where he collapsed in a room after being continuously restrained for 20 minutes. There were six officers in the room, but it is not clear how many were restraining him when he stopped breathing. 
The charge follows inquiries into Mr Sylvester's death by Essex police, who seized the notebooks belonging to the eight officers relating to the Sylvester case. 
A PCA spokesman said: "The Met did not recommend a charge against the officer, we did. The whole point of having review by the PCA is that so we have the power to make a final decision about disciplinary matters and that is one of our key roles."  
The Sylvester family have been told they will not be allowed to attend the disciplinary hearing if the officer pleads guilty. 
Bernard Renwick, Mr Sylvester's brother, said: "We think it's outrageous that we have been excluded from this hearing. We believe it is likely these pages contain vital evidence relating to Roger's case." 
Scotland Yard played down the significance of the disciplinary hearing and said: "The PCA has directed that a police officer face a disciplinary hearing in connection with an ancillary, administrative matter totally unconnected with the original detention of Roger Sylvester." 
A full inquest is yet to be heard or a date set. 
In May the high court blocked the Sylvester family's attempt to gain a judicial review of the CPS's decision not to prosecute the officers. Lord Justice Woolf said the judicial review could only take place after the inquest.
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

Death police 'should be grounded'

By John Steele, Crime Correspondent, The Telegraph, (Filed: 07/09/2001)

Police officers involved in serious incidents, such as deaths in custody or fatal shootings, should be suspended from duty, rather than transferred to desk work, the deputy chairman of the Police Complaints Authority said yesterday.
Molly Meacher said the failure to suspend officers implied their force had concluded they did act improperly before an independent inquiry was completed.
She urged the Association of Chief Police Officers to introduce a policy of suspension during an inquiry which, if implemented, would mark a significant extension of the action taken against officers during investigations.
Mrs Meacher was speaking during an appeal by officers from Northumbria Police for witnesses to fatal shooting in Brixton, south London, of Derek Bennett, who was alleged to have held a cigarette lighter in the shape of a handgun to a man's head in what officers believed was an act of hostage-taking.
The officer who fired the shots, and a colleague, have been removed from operation duties but have not been suspended.
Mrs Meacher added: "It's very difficult for the public to have confidence in an investigation when they may believe that a judgment may have been made on the other side - that by officers remaining on duty there's an implied indication that the home force does not believe that any wrong-doing has been committed."
Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Branch of the Police Federation, said suspension would reflect adversely on officers.
He said: "Someone can only be suspended if their continuance at work is not in the interest of the force or the public. That is not the case here (in the Bennett case.)
"Cases should be looked at on a case by case basis and in many cases there are no grounds for suspension."

Police warned about agitated suspects
There have been a number of deaths in police custody New police guidance aimed at reducing deaths in custody urges officers not to restrain extremely agitated suspects.
The Police Complaints Authority (PCA) booklet follows a series of deaths in police custody after suspects had been restrained.
Officers are being advised to try to "contain rather than restrain" suspects who show signs of "acute behavioural disturbance."
The PCA says it is only recently that the real causes of death after restraint have been understood.
Signs of agitation
The main features of acute behavioural disturbance are described as agitation, excitability and sometimes paranoia coupled with great strength, aggression and an ability to ignore pain.
Police are advised this can be caused by a head injury, delirium or drugs.
It warns that lying someone on their front and tying their hands and feet together behind their back may cause death.
Excessive restraint, says the guidance, can lead to "positional asphyxia" which can happen when people are held prone to the ground and breathing is severely restricted.
Officers are urged to try not to physically hold extremely agitated suspects down - or use CS spray - as it will not subdue them.
The booklet warns this will only create "needless liability" for the police.
Pilot scheme
Last week it was announced that nurses are to be based at a London police station in a bid to reduce the number of deaths in custody.
A team of six nurses will work at Charing Cross police station, providing support to custody officers 24 hours a day, as part of a pilot scheme by the Metropolitan Police.
They will carry out risk assessments, devise care plans for people in custody, perform minor treatments and refer detainees to hospital when necessary.