§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Burns.]12.50 am
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
There have been nearly 70 deaths of black people in custody since 1987, which the Institute of Race Relations and the organisation Inquest describe as giving some cause for concern. I will read the names into the record: Akhtar Moghul, Clinton McCurbin, Ahmed Katangole, Rai Jasbir Singh, Nenneh Jalloh, Mohammed Parkit, Anachu Anozie Osita, Tunay Hassan, Terence Brown, Anthony Mahony, Mark Ventour, Joseph Palombella, Samuel Carew, Femi Adelaja, Armando Belonia, Bahader Singh, Oakley Ramsey, Kelroy Briscoe, Joseph Watts, Sajjan Singh Atwal, Derek Stephen Buchanan, Martin Richmond, Wayne Tobison, David 'Duke' Daley, Nicholas Bramble, Vincent Graham, Jamie Stewart, Edwin Carr, Mr. Romany, Siho Iyugiven, Germain Alexander, Kimpua Nsimba, Oliver Pryce, Aslam Khan, Edwin Robinson, Delroy McKnight, Vandana Patel, Ian Gordon, Arthur Allison, Leon Patterson, Sohan Sanghera, Joy Gardner, Kwanele Eldah Siziba, Mark Harris, Joseph Nnalue, Oluwashiji Shiji Lapite, Tyrone Wilson, David Ewin, John Ryan, Kwaku Andrew Ohene, Omasase Lumumba, Melita Crawford, Errol Commock, James Segawa, Ian Francis, Donna Awadat, Nadeem Younus, Warren Jones, Adejare Paul Akinbiyi, Turan Pekoz, Carl Owens, Oluwafeyisola Akinbobola, Norman Washington Manning, Anthony Lloyd Powell, Orville Blackwood, Mark Fletcher, Munir Usef Mojothi, Jerome Scott and Rupert Marshall.
Those names are given in the Institute of Race Relations publication "Deadly silence—black deaths in custody" and in a letter from the institute dated 19 April. That is a roll call of shame for the British state and for Home Office Ministers, who have shown no concern about those deaths. The Minister should do the decent thing after this debate and write to me, put a paper in the Library or write to the families of every one of those individuals with an explanation for their deaths.
Fifteen years ago, the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report on the deaths of people in police custody because, in the 10 years up to 1987, 274 people died while in the custody of the police. There were allegations that 26 of those deaths were the result of police action, but no one was prosecuted. Compare that figure with the deaths of all the individuals that I have named.
The Police Complaints Authority has said that police custody deaths are running at about one a week. A disturbingly high number of them involve people from the black and ethnic minority communities. Although there have been several verdicts of unlawful killing, only one has resulted in an official admission of responsibility and payment of compensation. There have been deaths in police cells, prisons and psychiatric hospitals of immigrants and asylum seekers. The brutality that has brought about those deaths includes tape over the mouth, neck-holds, the new police baton, forced medication and beatings up.
There has been a wall of silence and secrecy in response to those deaths. Peter Moorhouse, the deputy chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, is quoted in The Guardian as saying: 288Officers facing disciplinary hearings are ambushing cases by holding back information and intimidating witnesses with considerable success.Inquest, in its newsletter this summer, states:We have absolutely no confidence in current mechanisms for investigating deaths in police custody where the police are called in to investigate themselves. These investigations remain biased, inherently secret and are never made public and yet they form the basis on which the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police Complaints Authority decide where charges are to be brought and strongly influence the shape of the inquest. Prosecutions rarely happen. This means the police remain unaccountable to the public for their actions and are seen by many as being above the law.In its annual report last year, Inquest referred to deaths in prison. It stated:The issue of accountability of the Prison Service remains an area of great concern. Despite numerous recommendations from Coroners, Prison Service internal inquiries and vast amounts of evidence presented at inquests it appears nothing is learnt from the lessons of the past. Without scrutiny of these institutions in the public domain the Prison Service can choose to ignore or implement recommended changes at will.The report deals with psychiatric deaths as follows:Specific cases during the year have highlighted, yet again, the dangers of anti-psychotic medication, the most famous (or notorious) of which is largactil, sometimes known as the liquid cosh … An increasing number of cases referred to INQUEST involve death after administration of these drugs and strongly point to a causative link.The report refers to deaths in police custody, which it describes as "The Invisible Deaths". It continues:Many of these deaths could have been prevented by proper medical attention instead of incarceration in a police cell.As for unlawful killing, the report states:Unlawful killing verdicts reached at inquests are ignored despite the fact that the jury is sure that a criminal act has been committed. They are not dealt with at a criminal trial or public enquiry. This is particularly important where it is agents of the state who are suspected either of carrying out the killing or of seeking to conceal the truth.The killing of Shiji Lapite, the 32-year-old Nigerian is a case in point. I went to his funeral on 24 June. He was killed on 16 December 1994. His voice box was crushed and he was asphyxiated due to pressure on his neck. The priest, a white man, called the killers thugs. Everyone in the church knew that he was referring to the police officers responsible. The priest said that the blood of Shiji Lapite cried out for justice.
Six months after Shiji's death his family know as little about it officially as they did last Christmas. The family's lawyer talks of exceptional delays and lack of co-operation. The family's pathologist has been denied access to information, including photographs of the body which showed much bruising to the head and face, and the toxicology, histology and fixed brain reports. Shiji's family, like all the others, have no right to information about the Police Complaints Authority process, the Crown Prosecution Service process or the coroner's process. There is no legal aid for the families at inquests and no disclosure of information in advance. Legal aid should be available for the families in proceedings before a coroner. That was recommended in the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs in 1980. It is disgraceful that successive Lord Chancellors have ignored the recommendation.
The cost of that legal aid provision would not be that much. It would be between £2 million and £3 million, just 0.3 per cent. of the legal aid budget. The taxpayer pays 289 the state's bill—in this instance the killers' bill. Surely the taxpayer should pay the legal aid bill to enable the victim's family to be properly represented.
Omasese Lumumba was killed in Pentonville prison on 8 October 1991. His inquest said that he had been unlawfully killed by prison officers using excessive force and improper methods during the course of control and restraint. Ever since then, there has been a huge cover-up. No information has been supplied to the House or to Members of Parliament.
I have had protracted correspondence with Home Office Ministers, the Lord Chancellor and the Prison Service. To get Ministers off the hook, I have been told to contact the coroner, because he can release information to a properly interested party. I now have a letter from the coroner saying that I am not a properly interested party, even though I am trying to get to the truth of the matter. The letter concludes:I have no power to disclose documents which were provided by other agencies purely to assist the coroner in inquiry and for his eyes only, as these documents would be subject to public interest immunity.We have come across that before in the Matrix Churchill cover-up. It seems to be used to allow injustices to occur.
The coroner did not mention that, apparently, there was a private Prison Service inquiry, or whether he was aware of it. It is a disgrace that suspected killers can talk to a private inquiry in order to avoid justice. The findings of a private inquiry do not go to a coroner, an inquest or the family. Any killer would talk to such an inquiry as he would have carte blanche to lie while resting assured that he would never appear before any system of public justice. That is unacceptable and I call on the Minister to publish a report of the Prison Service inquiry into the unlawful killing by excessive force of Omasese Lumumba.
Other cases deserve full and open information. Norman Washington Manning was killed in a racial murder by other prisoners without the Prison Service fulfilling its duty of care to protect him. Derek Lewis of the Prison Service wrote to me saying:I am unable to say whether or not further inquiries may be necessary, nor in these circumstances can I comment on the motive for the killing.What answer is that to such a murder?
Brian Douglas died of a fractured skull in May after being beaten by police with a new police baton. That warrants a full public inquiry before more people die in the same way. Leon Patterson was detained on remand at Stockport police station in November 1992. After six days he was transferred to Denton police station, where he died a few hours later. Covered in bruises, he received no proper medical treatment despite suffering diarrhoea and vomiting for several days. He was heavily dosed with Mogadon. The inquest said that he was unlawfully killed and that a failure of duty contributed to or caused his death; yet no one was prosecuted.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and for obtaining the debate. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the case of Leon Patterson is disgraceful. Despite all the inquiries pressed for by the family, myself and others, nobody from the appropriate police authority admitted responsibility. Eventually, a successful application was made to the High Court to set that inquest verdict aside 290 and we are now back in limbo without even an inquest date so that we can discover who the true killers of Leon Patterson are.
§ Mr. Cohen
That is a good point. It is one of the cases that the Minister should answer, as is that of Orville Blackwood, who was killed in Broadmoor in August 1991 after being injected with more than three times the recommended dose of tranquilisers.
Oliver Pryce was killed by a police special operations team. Again, the inquest recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. In 1992, the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that there was insufficient evidence to bring further prosecutions and the Police Complaints Authority announced that no officer was to face disciplinary charges. In April 1995, Cleveland constabulary admitted liability for that death and the family were awarded considerable damages; yet no apology was ever given to the family and no officer ever faced charges or disciplinary action.
Those deaths are a disgrace, and many of them were caused by neck-holds and strangleholds which are still prevalent now.
The Independent newspaper on Monday mentioned several deaths, including those of Oliver Pryce, Clinton McCurbin and James Davey. Winston Rose and Nicholas Ofusu—both mentally ill black men—John Lamaletie and others, probably including Shiji Lapite, died of neck-holds and strangleholds which should be banned.
Justice is needed for the families of the deceased. There must be an end to the prevailing secrecy and cover-up procedures that I have described. There should be a ban on neck-holds and strangleholds, and an inquiry into medical care arrangements in prisons, police stations and psychiatric institutions. As was recognised by the 1980 Select Committee report, legal aid should be available to the families of the dead so that they can be represented at inquests. There should be a full, open and independent public inquiry into those shameful deaths, to which the families would all have full access. We want some answers from the Minister about the state's role in those deaths.
§ 1.5 am
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)
I have listened to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) with care, and there is one point—although probably only the one—on which I can agree wholeheartedly with him. When a member of the public dies while in the hands of an agent of the state who is charged with his care, that must be treated as a most serious matter.
Indeed, deaths in custody are treated as a very serious matter. It is a requirement for all police forces to report any death in custody to the coroner without delay, and to the Home Office within 48 hours, giving details of the circumstances leading to the death.
For such purposes, the term "custody" is extremely broadly defined, and includes any death in a police station, whether or not the person had been arrested, and also the deaths of witnesses who had been attending a police station voluntarily. The definition includes deaths that occur in hospital if the deceased had been taken there from a police station. It also includes any death that takes place in the street after a person has been arrested by a police officer, 291 and any other case in which the person was in the hands of the police at the time of death—for example, in a police vehicle—or in police custody at a court. Finally, it includes any death that results from an injury caused by a police officer in the execution of his duty.
The full definition is set out in the Home Office consolidated circular of 1986. It is deliberately couched in wide terms to avoid any suspicion that a death of which the police were culpable could somehow fall outside its terms of reference. In my view, it probably errs on the side of being too wide, and I have been re-examining it to see whether it should focus more clearly on circumstances in which there is some possibility, however small, of police culpability.
Far from our hushing up such matters, the full details of all deaths in police custody are published each year in a Home Office bulletin of police complaints and discipline statistics. The bulletin gives details of the date when and the place in which each death took place, the age and the gender of the victim, and the verdict of the coroner. It also gives a brief account of the circumstances of each death.
We provide that information because we recognise that it is crucial to preserving trust between the police and the public that there should be as much openness as possible about deaths that occur in police custody. For the same reason, it has now become standard practice for police forces to call in the Police Complaints Authority whenever a death occurs in custody, so that the authority can decide whether to look further into the matter.
Deaths of prisoners in Prison Service custody also have to be reported immediately to the coroner and to Prison Service headquarters. Where there are suspicious circumstances, the police will also be brought in. Rule 19 of the prison rules requires the spouse or next of kin to be informed at once, as well as any other close associates of the deceased. They may also visit the establishment in which the death occurred.
Like the police and the Prison Service, the immigration service has clear rules on the procedures for reporting deaths in immigration custody, in which the coroner would be informed at once and the police asked to investigate any suspicious circumstances. There has been only one death in immigration custody in recent years, and that was a tragic case in which two men set fire to their own cell, killing one and seriously injuring the other.
It is important to put into context the number of deaths in police custody. In the past five years, it has ranged between 36 and 61 per year, and more than 1.5 million people are arrested by the police each year. Given the number of people who pass through police hands each year, it is an actuarial inevitability that some will die while they are in police custody. Indeed, a number of deaths occur each year as a result of heart attacks suffered by people who have been arrested.
A large proportion of deaths are associated with drug or alcohol abuse. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes have strict requirements about the treatment of drunks. They must be roused and spoken to every half hour, to ensure that they do not lapse into a coma. If the condition of any detainee gives grounds for concern, a doctor must be called. But people who abuse drugs or alcohol put their lives at risk and, despite the best efforts of the police, some of them die while in police custody.
292 The hon. Gentleman asked about neck-holds. The Police Complaints Authority, in its annual report for 1993, stated that, following a number of high-profile cases, it had compiled a substantial body of expert opinion on the effect of neck-holds and certain arm locks, which it had passed to the relevant committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers. The expert opinion was that a neck-hold that exerts any pressure on the carotid artery—the artery in the neck that carries oxygenated blood and nutrients to the head—or any hold that compresses the airway, involves, except in extreme circumstances, an unacceptably high element of risk. The authority expressed the view that that advice must be emphasised in police training to avoid the risk of deaths resulting from that type of restraint.
The use of training and self-defence techniques is an operational matter for the chief officer of each force. Guidance on those matters is issued by ACPO through its standing sub-committee on self-defence, arrest and restraint. I understand that the sub-committee is in the process of reviewing its guidance and is looking at, among other things, the use of neck-holds in restraining assailants.
I shall now say a few words about lay visiting in police stations. Lay visiting plays a valuable role in police-community relations and in providing independent oversight of police treatment of detainees in police stations, and the conditions in which people are held. Following the success of pilot schemes set up in 1983, the Home Office recommended the setting up of lay visiting schemes in all force areas. Updating guidance was issued in 1991 in respect of the Metropolitan police district, and in 1992 for the rest of the country. All areas now have lay visiting schemes in operation. The responsibility for the setting up of lay visiting arrangements lies with the police authority. In London, it lies with the Home Office, now the Metropolitan Police Committee, in consultation with the chief constable.
From the earliest days, it was recognised that schemes needed to evolve to suit local circumstances. There is accordingly a wide variation in schemes and panel membership, ranging from those comprising visitors recruited from the public at large to those that consist of police authority members who make visits as part of their normal duties. The purpose of lay visiting is to enable members of the local community to observe, comment and report on the conditions under which persons are detained at police stations, and the operation and practice of the statutory and other rules governing their welfare, with a view to securing greater public understanding and confidence in those matters. Those arrangements also provide an independent check on the way in which police officers carry out their duties with regard to detained persons.
The police are required to give direct and immediate access to lay visitors, who arrive unannounced at police stations at any time of the day or night. Lay visitors may inspect empty cells, talk to all detainees if the detainees consent and examine custody records—again, if the detainees consent. Any areas of concern, or complaints, are immediately drawn to the attention of the custody officer. Reports on each visit are made to the police authority.
The police service accords the highest priority to good relations with all members of the community that it serves, irrespective of racial background or other factors.
293 Since 1993, the service has been collecting information for Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary on the ethnic origin of those stopped and searched under the relevant powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The 1993–94 figures were made available nationally, and chief officers are beginning to make available locally their forces' figures for the most recent financial year. Additional ethnic monitoring of police activity will begin from 1 April next year.
All that will help chief officers to assess whether their officers are delivering an equitable service to all sectors of the public. It also shows that our police service is prepared to look at how it operates, and to make changes to its policies and practices if necessary.
The recruitment and retention of members of ethnic minorities to the police service is a high priority. The Government are keen for the service to represent the communities it serves.
§ Mr. Cohen
What the Minister has been saying does not really address the seriousness of the concern expressed in my speech, and the feelings of the families of those who have died. What lessons have the Minister and the police learnt from those 70 deaths, and what changes will be made to prevent another 70 in the future?
§ Mr. Maclean
As I tried to make clear at the beginning of my speech, the vast majority of those people died while suffering from the results of alcohol or drug abuse, or from heart attacks, or in other circumstances in which no blame can be attributed to the police. It is unfair of the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there are 70 deaths a year, and that the police are somehow guilty because people happen to die while they have been visiting a police station, giving evidence at a police station or sitting in a police cell. Moreover, while the police service is happy to look into neck-holds, I am concerned that the service should have sufficient restraint methods to deal with some of the raving maniacs whom it must hold at times.
294 Let me also tell the hon. Gentleman that, when there is any evidence whatever of police culpability in the use of excessive violence, or any other action that results in the death of someone in police custody, a proper investigation takes place. If there are lessons to be learned, they will be learned and put into practice. As I intimated in connection with neck-holds, the police are investigating what additional training may be necessary so that they can safely grab some violent raving maniac by whatever part of his body is available, but hold him in a way that will not result in his untimely death.
It is all very well for us to sit in the plush comfort of the House of Commons and talk about police officers who should show tremendous care for some of the people they must arrest. It is quite another matter to be patrolling the streets on Friday and Saturday nights and to have to deal with the people out there who are assaulting the police time and again, knifing and murdering them. Of course the police must behave within the rule of law; when they do not do so, they are held to account and dealt with very severely.
I was also trying to demonstrate to the hon. Gentleman that, in order to prove to the communities they guard that the police can be trusted to behave properly and favourably to all sections of those communities, the police are engaged in ethnic monitoring of the people whom they arrest and with whom they deal, and of those whom they recruit for the police service. They are keen to ensure that, throughout England and Wales, serving police officers properly represent those in the community with whose policing they are charged.
For the past few years, we have actively encouraged police forces in their attempts to secure more black and Asian recruits, but we recognise that there is more work to be done in increasing the representation of ethnic minority groups in the police force.
§ The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes past One o'clock.