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Jury return critical misadventure and narrative conclusion at inquest into death of Habib Ullah following police restraint

Monday 2 March 2015

Today the jury returned a comprehensive and highly critical misadventure and narrative conclusion in relation to the level of force used to restrain Habib Ullah and the lack of appropriate after care provided by police.

Habib “Paps” Ullah, a 39 year old father of three, died when he was stopped and searched by police on 3 July 2008 in the Sharrow Vale area of High Wycombe. In the course of being forcibly restrained, Habib suffered a cardiac arrest. He was taken to hospital but attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

The jury said that they believed that the officers could have considered alternative ways of dealing with Habib without using force. For example, engage with verbal communication; using specific, clear and repeated commands as outlined in the police training for non physical compliance; and to allow Habib sufficient time and opportunity to respond to the commands, that is to stand back and monitor and consider hand cuffing him at this time.

The jury narrative continued that once it had been decided to use physical force the officers could have used the rear take down technique.

The jury questioned whether the level of force used was appropriate given the level of resistance initially shown by Habib. They said they were particularly concerned that the techniques were applied by several officers simultaneously while Habib was restrained in the prone position.

The jury concluded that greater consideration should have been given to the risk factors including stress associated with positional asphyxia and that more care should have been taken to monitor Habib for any warning signs displayed.

No CPR w as applied before the ambulance arrived and Habib was not put in the recovery position. Several officers recognised some signs associated with abnormal breathing but no practical assistance was offered. The jury found that valuable time was lost due to the fact that the officers believed him to be feigning unconsciousness.

The jury stated that once Habib was unconscious rigorous monitoring should have been undertaken, and that they believed the level of monitoring was inadequate.

Furthermore the jury considered that the incident was poorly managed. In particular they found that the l ack of communication and clear command by a leading officer resulted in an uncoordinated and ineffective restraint.

An investigation into Habib’s death was carried out at the time by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) which cleared the police of wrongdoing.

An inquest began in December 2010, however police officers giving evidence admitted, when questioned by the family’s barrister, that they had taken out key passages from their statements on the advice of a Police Federation solicitor. Consequently, the coroner decided to discharge the jury.

The IPCC conducted a further investigation into five police officers, who were each interviewed under criminal caution. The solicitor advising the officers was also interviewed under criminal caution in relation to an offence relating to perverting the course of justice. In February 2014 (three years later), the IPCC finally formally referred the file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The following charges were considered: Manslaughter by gross negligence; Misconduct in public office; S39 Assault; Acts tending and intended to pervert the course of justice; and Perjury.

On 8 August 2014 the CPS announced that no charges would be brought against Thames Valley police officers and their solicitor. A CPS review of the decision reached the same conclusion on 3 December 2014.

Nasrit Mahmood, sister of Habib Ullah said:

“We are pleased that we have a critical narrative verdict. It's been an extremely difficult time for the family since my brother, Habib, died at the hands of Thames Valley Police.

What is so hard to accept is that it has taken almost seven years for an inquest to be completed into his death. All these years of fighting has taken a tremendous toll on the family and just in the last few days, my late brother’s wife has had to go to hospital again due to panic attacks.

There are still many matters that remain unresolved. We are deeply unhappy about events that took place afterwards at the police station and the way statements were changed. We hope that the forthcoming disciplinary hearings will be both effective and will send out a clear message to officers about their conduct. We also hope that CPS will finally put the officers concerned on trial. Whatever the outcome we will be considering a civil claim on the basis of assault and breaches of Article 2 Right to Life.

We would like to thank our legal team Anthony Metzer QC and Marian Ellingworth for their support and hard work on our Habib's case and our two brother Saqib Deshmukh and Zia Ullah without whom there would be no campaign.”

Zia Ullah, Justice4Paps said:

“'It is only right that people irrespective of their positions are accountable for their actions. It has been a long and drawn out journey in trying to hold Thames Valley Police and their officers to account. What we didn't expect was that officers would change their statements, withhold evidence, and that witnesses to Habib's death were not interviewed at the time. At every point, even with the involvement of the IPCC attempts were made to bend what had happened to the extent that th e first inquest had to be abandoned!

Our family campaign has been resilient and persistent in challenging the false narratives and smearing of Habib. It is this persistence that has seen justice upheld today with this verdict and this completely vindicates our campaign and our initial concerns.

Although we have reached an outcome, 7 years of campaigning has left no faith in the very institutions that are supposed to investigate the police and ensure that justice is served. “

Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:

“This damning jury finding raises profound concerns about the use of inappropriate and dangerous restraint on a man in their care and a disregard for his safety and wellbeing. Habib Ullah's family have endured an unacceptable wait for answers. ”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah since his death in July 2008.  The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Marian Ellingworth from Tuckers solicitors and Anthony Metzer QC of Goldsmith Chambers.

The Justice for Habib ‘Paps’ Ullah/Justice4Paps campaign was set up in July 2008 after the death of Habib during a routine stop and search in a car park in High Wycombe. So far the campaign in partnership with family members have organised thirteen vigils in the town centre/Police station, a demonstration through the town, five public meetings, and attended national and regional demonstrations against deaths in custody. For further information please visit http://justice4paps.wordpress.com/

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