Mikey Powell died a little over a year ago. We couldn’t believe reports that he had been hit by a police car and then by batons and C.S gas, before being sat on. After initial resistence from the police a march was organised along Soho Road ending at Thornhill Road Police Station. However the officers at Thornhill Road were in full riot gear.
Mikey’s Mother had called the police when he jumped through a window. He was mentally ill. But she didn’t begin to imagine it would end up with his death.
We attended a memorial service a year on, yet still no one knows why Mikey died. Still a long way to go in the fight for justice here.
Downing Street hears call for end of custody deaths
by Lester Holloway Black Information Link 30/10/2004
Over three hundred protestors marched on Westminster to demand a public inquiry into deaths in custody and in a poignant moment dozens of grieving families saw wreaths laid at the gates of Downing Street in memory of their loved-ones. Poet Benjamin Zephaniah, cousin of death in custody victim Mikey Powell, joined demonstrators as they marched from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street.
He said: “We want an approach which says the death of a black person is treated the same as the death of a policeman.
“We are not asking for anything special. All we’re asking for is a basic level of justice. We want justice by, as Malcolm X said, by any means necessary.”
Powell, 38, died in September 2003 after being struck by a police car and, according to witnesses, beaten with batons outside a family home in Lozells, Birmingham.
In the sixth annual march organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign an estimated 30 families, including young children of custody death victims, marched in silence along Whitehall.
Family representatives delivered a letter to Tony Blair calling for a public inquiry and better care of the bodies of the deceased. A role call of the dead was read out, with each name acknowledged by the crowd.
Asked how she was feeling, Sheila Sylvester, mother of Roger Sylvester, 30, said: “I’m feeling angry right now. My health has deteriorated quite badly and I’m on anti-depression tablets. I’m always weeping. There is no justice.”
Roger Sylvester died in January 1999 after being arrested outside his home in Tottenham, north London, and then restrained by eight cops. This Wednesday the cops implicted in his death go back to court in an attempt to overturn an unlawful killing inquest verdict.
Milena Buyum, national coordinator of the National Assembly Against Racism, said: “Those responsible for deaths and injuries in custody should not be able to escape justice, which unfortunately many have.
“There is already enough compelling evidence that the system has not delivered justice for death in custody victims or their families. Sufficient evidence for the government to act on specific demands for officers to be suspended immediately and for cases to be properly investigated.”
Tippa Naphtali, cousin of Mikey Powell, said: “This is an epidemic in society.” Powell’s sister Sieta Lambrias commented: “Mikey left behind three lovely boys. “We’re now here with other families asking ‘why, why, why?’ We hoped Mikey would be the last death in custody, but there have been a hundred since. We have to make some noise.”
Deborah Coles, of campaign group Inquest, said: “Every year there are new families. It is a reminder that this is continuing to happen, and a reminder to government of the systemic failings that have denied families justice. A public inquiry is necessary to learn the lessons about how the criminal justice system can be made transparent and accountable.”
While the Sylvester family were at the High Court, the family of Derek Bennett attended the Inner London Coroners Court in Borough for a first hearing of the inquest into Bennett’s fatal shooting in Brixton, south London, in July 2001 by a police marksman.
The main inquest hearings began the following Monday, 8 November. The inquest was expected to hear that Bennett did not point his gun-shaped lighter at officers, but was shot four times in the back.
An inquest delivered an unlawful killing verdict in the case of Irishman Harry Stanley, 46, who was shot dead in September 2001 after leaving a Hackney pub carrying a table leg which officers assumed as a sawn-off shotgun.
David Jordan, father of Andrew Jordan, 27, said cops who were found guilty of causing deaths in custody should be “locked up and the key thrown away.” Andrew Jordan died last October after at least ten officers entered his house in Erith, south-east London. A post mortem has failed to find a cause of death, but assault is being alleged.
Still 10 deaths too many
Between 1st April 2003 and 31st March 2004 ten black men died after coming into contact with the police. These figures come from the Home Office report entitled “Statistics on Death During or Following Police Contact 2003/04”, which was published earlier this week.
Home Office Minister, Hazel Blears commenting on the report said, “There was an encouraging reduction in the number of deaths of people from minority ethnic communities from 22 in 2002/03 to 10 in 2003/04.
Following the rise last year we commissioned urgent research and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) looked at all minority ethnic deaths in police custody between 1998 and March 2003 to identify any links or causes.
The PCA report found that while there are grounds for concern about the some aspects surrounding the general treatment of detainees, there is little evidence that this concern can be attributed to racist attitudes or behaviour.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Centre for Policing Excellence have set up a project group which will be working to develop policies on the safer handling of detainees. Their report is due to be published in spring 2005.
These words however, are of little comfort to the dozens of families who have lost relatives in these circumstances.
Mikey Powell died on 7th September 2003 shortly after being arrested in Birmingham. Witnesses claim he was knocked down by a police car, and allegedly beaten and sprayed with CS gas before being taken to Thornhill police station in Handsworth. Six police officers were eventually suspended, and two were later charged in connection with Mikey’s death.
Mikey Powell died in 2003 after being arrested by the police. His family are still seeking answers as to the cause of his death.
Chair of the Mikey Powell Campaign for Justice, Tippa Naphtali gave the following response to Hazel Blears’ statement.
“We have concerns regarding the current Home Office definition of custody deaths, (shared with many other campaigns and national lobbying groups), which presently encompasses any death where the deceased came into contact with the police, (heart attacks in cells, collisions with police vehicles responding to emergencies etc) even if only for a short period. Campaigners have long called for a clear definition of the sorts of suspicious or violent deaths in custody as in the case Mikey Powell, Christopher Alder, Harry Stanley and others.
Until this is addressed, whatever figures are presented will be far too wide to give accurate details on particular types of custody deaths.
It is stated that deaths decreased in 2003/04; but whether 22 or 10 deaths, this is still unacceptable. We must remember that for each of those 10 deaths there are 10 families that have lost loved ones in extremely traumatic circumstances, and who are up against the might and experience of top police legal representation, and Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service decisions, which have come out in favour of the police, prisons and other institutions consistently over many many years.
Families have also had to contend with an unwillingness to get their legal costs covered, graphically demonstrated recently in the Roger Sylvester case.
The PCA was disbanded because of concerns about its ability to be independent, and many campaigners therefore will give little weight to their findings on racism within the police, and how race influences the course of investigations into custody deaths. Black people are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people. Black men are also disproportionately over-represented in the prison population compared to white men; and a previous commander of the Metropolitan Police’s anti-racist unit said the force remained institutionally racist, despite a “sea-change” in its attitudes and behaviour.
Exposures in the Christopher Alder case, the TV documentary’s ‘Death on Camera’ and ‘The Secret Policeman’ and of course the well documented findings of the MacPherson Report following the murder of Stephen Lawrence; all beg to differ with the view adopted by the PCA and other official Government bodies.
One only has to type ‘deaths in custody’ in any Internet search engine to see the breadth of concern about this issue in Britain today.
News that The Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Centre for Policing Excellence have set up a project group doesn’t particularly excite us. We have been flooded with reports and empty promises for years, and still progress is taking place at snails pace. Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the subsequent Inquiry rocked the legal system in this country like no other before it, and yet we continue to see racism (and an unwillingness to recognise it) within the police and most other major institutions in the country.
Much more interaction with campaign groups, national agencies (such as Inquest), and citizens at community level needs to be done in order to seek genuine solutions and restore confidence in a system that is perceived to have failed victims and their families time and time again.
Without meaningful engagement with real people on the ground, rooted to communities, there will be no real progress.”
Death in cell storm Oct 21 2004
By Mark Cowan, Birmingham Evening Mail
A police watchdog overseeing the investigation into the death in custody of Michael Powell today dismissed calls for suspended officers to be reinstated.
Commissioner John Crawley said the ongoing suspensions of four officers were “in the public interest” until a decision was made on whether they would be charged in connection with Mr Powell’s death.
Father-of-three Mr Powell, aged 38, died on September 7, 2003, after he was arrested for causing a disturbance outside his house, in Wilton Street, Lozells. It is still not clear how he died.
The four, including an inspector and a sergeant, have been suspended on full pay for nine months, and two other officers have been charged with common assault.
Police Federation chairman Paul Tonks said it was “disgraceful” the case had dragged on for so long and called last month for the officers to be given desk jobs while they waited.
But Mr Crawley, who is overseeing the inquiry for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, today dashed the idea.
“I know Crown Prosecution Service lawyers are working hard to decide whether further criminal charges should be brought against any police officers.
“Before they can take a final decision, it is necessary to finalise some aspects of the expert evidence, including further statements from some of the forensic pathologists brought in to advise on the cause of Mr Powell’s death.
“As regards the police officers involved, I believe their continued suspension by West Midlands Police can be justified as in the public interest pending the CPS’s final decisions.”
Mr Tonks said: “I am saddened by his views regarding the officers’ continued suspensions. It is my view that this is a force decision and is still under review.
“This investigation needs to be concluded as quickly as possible and that is in the best interests of the family of Mr Powell and the officers under investigation.”
A decision on the four officers is thought to be weeks away.
Miscarriages of JusticeUK (MOJUK)
No more Deaths in Police Custody
“We can never forget those we have lost – and we WILL NEVER allow the government to do so”
In 1969 David Oluwale became the first black person to die in police custody. That was over thirty years ago and hundreds of people have died in custody since then. Many of these incidents have been suspicious, yet none of the police officers involved have ever been convicted. Even when unlawful killing verdicts are returned at inquests charges against the police never follow. We have lost confidence in the ability of the system to deliver real justice.
The United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC) has been set up to challenge this system and stop the killings of black and white people in custody. It is a coalition of families and friends of those that have died in the custody of police and prison officers as well as those who are killed in secure psychiatric hospitals. Together we are building a network for collective action. The manner of deaths of our relatives have been brutal – CS gas, long handled batons, restraining belts and guns are just some of the methods by which our brothers and sisters have been killed. These institutionalised and often racist killings are an affront to a society that seeks to be a civilized democracy. These deaths represent unacceptable breeches of human rights and must stop. The UFFC’s aims and objectives are to ensure that such basic human rights be upheld and stop deaths within custody. It is to ensure that when deaths do occur, that the whole truth as to how they were killed, by whom and why emerges. The custodial institutions must be made accountable to the communities that they serve and criminal charges brought against the officers and staff that are responsible.
UFFC was formed in early 1997 since then our consistent challenges of the Police Complaints Authority, the Crown Prosecution Service and the government has made an impact and changes have been promised – but it is far from enough. Nothing less than the prosecution of the killers of our family members will do. On a number of occasions we have asked the Government to hold an inquiry into these deaths but they have refused. We can never forget those we have lost – and we WILL NOT allow the government to do so. On the last weekend of October every year, we hold a remembrance procession from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street, until the politicians finally act to prevent further deaths and more families suffering the grief we carry every day.
Inquiries, further information:
United Families & Friends Campaign
firstname.lastname@example.org 330 7927
07770 432 439