The very mention of custody deaths brings to mind nasty foreign repressive regimes. But these deaths happen in Britain, too - on average, one a week in police custody alone. Then there are the deaths in immigration detention centres and in prisons, including children. Many of these deaths occur under dubious circumstances. Moreover, those in custody may not not have been convicted of any crime and are supposed to be presumed innocent.
The suicide rate is much greater in custody - as much as 18 times the UK average for young males, and disproportionately large among black people, especially as a result of "the excessive use of force by functionaries of the state", according to the group Inquest [example]. Deaths can also occur as a result of deliberate police inaction.
There is a lack of transparency in investigations into deaths in custody and very long delays before inquests (up to five years in some cases) as well as lack of accountability after juries return 'unlawful killing' verdicts. Of those verdicts since 1990, which the group Inquest is aware of, 18 police officers were prosecuted but all were acquitted. As far as is known, no police officer has ever been brought to justice for such killings.
Links: United Friends and Family Campaign’s annual Remembrance Procession (2006) | 19 minute video | photos Guido, Real2Reel, Marc Vallée | 2005 (photo report) | 2003 (photos & audio) | Ireland 2006 part 1, part 2.
In its Corporate Manslaughter Bill 2006 committee stage briefing, Inquest is very concerned that the police may now be explicitly exempted from prosecution in cases of custody deaths. They say, "We strongly object to the explicit exemptions in the Bill that allow specified public bodies to escape prosecution when their activities cause the death of members of the public. We do not believe it is justified that police, prisons, emergency services and child custody services should be immune from prosecution in relation to these deaths".
In their report, human rights group Liberty claim that the system for dealing with deaths in custody in England and Wales breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. The report condemns the current system as often 'ineffective, secretive, slow and insufficiently independent'. It calls for deaths in police custody, prisons and secure hospitals to be investigated independently.
The police sometimes try to suppress or deflect evidence. The screening of a documentary exploring the experiences of some of the relatives of those who have died in custody was cancelled by threats of legal action . An article in the Guardian said, "A frequent complaint is that police try to assassinate the character of a family's loved one to deflect attention. The worst treatment is sometimes at the hands of a 'family liaison officer' who sees it as their job to investigate the victim. This might include demanding addresses of friends and relatives coming to pay condolences, or asking about past dealings with the police and about the deceased's mood in the days leading up to the fatal encounter."
There have been 9 annual protests against custody deaths organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign.
Here is just a sample of articles on this issue from the Indymedia Newswire.
Licence to kill? | Prison Ombudsman finally releases report. | More Black Deaths in Custody in Lambeth. | 12 Deaths in Immigration Custody. | Police Violently repress [peacful] PEACEFUL protest in Brixton. | Pauline Campbell nicked at Eastwood Park Prison/YOI/mother & baby unit. | Kenny Peter's Inquest Points to Asylum Failures | Deaths in Custody: [Pickett]PICKET the IPPC.
Homepages of just a few family campaigns
Doug | imc-uk-features
"The Metropolitan Police spent £505 million on VIP protection and anti-terrorism operations last year - twice the amount it spent investigating burglaries, sex attacks, robberies and drug crime.
Specialist Operations - which includes guarding politicians, Royalty and visiting dignitaries, and all terror-related duties - consumed nearly 16 per cent of the force's budget in a year that saw the July 7 London bombings. It was a massive increase of £100 million on the previous 12 months.
The figures show how Britain's biggest police force is spending ever larger sums of taxpayers' money on protection and security work.
Disturbingly, the amount spent on routine patrols - the most visible and reassuring police presence - fell from £331 million to £313 million.
There was also a sharp drop in spending on intelligence-gathering, research and analysis, down from £161 million to just under £94 million.
Nearly £63 million was spent on cover for sick officers, the time officers took for refreshments cost £69 million in wages, and £122 million was spent on administrative paperwork.
Astonishingly, a further £26 million went on "checking paperwork" and £4 million on waiting time unrelated to any crime, such as officers waiting for equipment or vehicles to be repaired.
The Met's total expenditure for the 12 months to April 2006 was £3.2 billion - almost a quarter of the national policing bill.
Norman Brennan, director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "These figures show that a disproportionate amount of money is being spent on operations like guarding VIPs, which should be funded by the Government.
"Crimes such as burglary and rape have a devastating effect on victims. The public want to see officers patrolling the streets and catching criminals. That is where resources should be concentrated."
The Met's Specialist Operations department includes an elite Special Escort Group of 50 motorcycle outriders who whisk anyone deemed a security risk through the London traffic at high speed.
Scotland Yard refuses to discuss its secret list of people judged worthy of such treatment. But there was surprise earlier this year when this newspaper revealed that two Range Rovers and six outriders had been assigned to escort a fleet of limousines taking the King of Bahrain and 70 guests to the Dorchester to celebrate his son's graduation from Sandhurst.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said last night: "As well as protecting our citizens, investigating crimes and delivering local policing, the Metropolitan Police also have capital city functions that bring national and international responsibilities. This does not detract from our ability to fight crime."
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Authority, which supervises the force's budget, defended the millions spent on form-filling. "The Met is the largest single employer in London and this cost reflects the operational feat involved in running an organisation on that scale," he said."
and view the film titled, "Politricks", a piece about a march on Downing Street protesting against deaths in police custody, featuring the poet Benjamin Zephaniah.
Filmmaker In A Rucksack