News INQUEST newsletter May 2018 newsletter In this edition: Grenfell Inquiry: the importance of truth, justice and accountability Last rights Protecting the lives of people with learning disabilities Broken prisons in a broken system Close women’s prisons to save lives Seeking accountability for deaths in police custody Building social justice not criminal justice GRENFELL INQUIRY: THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUTH, JUSTICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY The Grenfell Tower Inquiry opened on 21 May, starting with pen portraits. Families and friends shared videos, music and photos to help tell the stories of the victim’s lives. Our Executive Director, Deborah Coles told The Guardian, that these incredibly moving tributes “humanised those who died and brought their voices into the Inquiry”. Karim Mussilhy of Grenfell United, said “Seeing all these tributes and remembering our loved ones gives us all the strength, energy and motivation to continue our fight. The people responsible need to listen to our stories and learn from their mistakes.” On 1 June, The Guardian’s Editorial noted,“INQUEST’s calls for pen portraits of the individuals who lost their lives to be at the centre of the process and for descriptions of the gaps they have left behind in the lives of families and friends to be heard at the outset have been well heeded.” Last month INQUEST attended and spoke at the Grenfell rally outside Parliament to coincide with the parliamentary debate. In advance of the debate, we were joined by over 80 MPs at an event at Speaker’s House and launched a joint parliamentary briefing with Grenfell United. MPs who attended the event were visibly moved by the accounts of survivors and the bereaved. The introduction of a ‘Hillsborough Law’ was raised as a priority during the parliamentary debate. Such a law would ensure parity of parity of funding at inquests between public bodies and bereaved families and require public bodies to act openly and honestly from the outset during investigation processes. INQUEST were co-signatories to an important letter to the Prime Minister, calling on Theresa May to support Hillsborough Law. The Grenfell bereaved and survivors have been campaigning tirelessly to get to the truth and to ensure something like this never happens again. They have shown great dignity and resolve in their fight for justice. Without this campaigning for the voices of those who died and bereaved people to be at the heart of the Inquiry there would have been no pen portraits or panel. We now look to the Inquiry to perform its vital role, which Deborah discusses in depth in this Guardian Politics Weekly Podcast. LAST RIGHTS Deborah visited Lesbos in Greece as part of the Last Rights Project to establish international guidelines and standards on the rights of bereaved families whose loved ones have died on the migrant journey. During the meetings powerful testimonies were heard from refugee groups and people working on the ground with bereaved and survivors. The expert working group discussed the complete failure to document, investigate and prosecute those responsible for unlawful deaths of refugees and migrants. Following two days of discussions the Mytilini Declaration was agreed. To find out more, visit the Last Rights Project website. PROTECTING THE LIVES OF PEOPLE WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES Time and time again, grieving families are left to fight for accountability and to expose systemic failings in the care of learning disabled people. Writing for Open Democracy, Deborah Coles explains the need for a national oversight mechanism to collate, analyse and monitor learning arising from these preventable deaths in state care. Kate Dolan, in her powerful article, “The significance of small details. My sister’s life cut short” writes about the death of her sister, Josanne, and urges medical professionals to own up to, and learn from, mistakes.A Senior Coroner has written to the Department of Health and Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust following the inquest into the death of Robin Richards, which raised concerns about the shortage of suitable supported accommodation for vulnerable people with Asperger’s syndrome.Deborah Coles, commented in the Guardian saying “Robin’s case is one of an increasing number we are seeing involving failures around the assessment and provision of mental health care for people with Asperger’s and autism." BROKEN PRISONS IN A BROKEN SYSTEM The Chief Inspector of Prisons has continued to raise serious safety concerns about prisons. We responded to the ‘tragic and appalling’ levels of self-inflicted deaths and self-harm at HMP Nottingham. Sharon Whitford spoke to Channel 4 News about her son, Marc Maltby, whose self-inflicted death was one of nine in the prison since 2016. Speaking to The Independent, Deborah Coles said “Far too many recommendations from the previous Inspectorate report have still not been implemented, which for a prison in crisis is a disgrace.” HMP Exeter also hit the headlines when the Chief Inspector triggered an ‘Urgent Notification’. In a damning observation he said “safety in the prison has significantly worsened in many respects, and has attracted our lowest possible grading of ‘poor’”. He added that ‘recent tragic events in the prison,’ referring to the six self-inflicted deaths since August 2016, were ‘symptomatic’ of a lack of care, empathy and understanding provided to vulnerable prisoners. Deborah responded; “that serious safety concerns are systematically ignored points to an institutional and shameful indifference to the well-being of prisoners. In any other setting this institution would be closed down.” We also spoke to Byline, explaining that many prison deaths are preventable and evidence-based recommendations are regularly ignored. CLOSE WOMEN’S PRISONS TO SAVE LIVES Pauline Campbell was a formidable campaigner who exposed the harm inflicted on women within the prison system. Last month marked ten years since her death. In a blog for Huffington Post we remembered Pauline and her daughter, Sarah, and urged the government to invest in specialist women’s services and dismantle failing women’s prisons. Our latest report, Still Dying on the Inside was covered in Inside Time, calling for an end to the inappropriate imprisonment of women. Nicola Jayne Lawrence’s death at HMP New Hall could have been prevented. Nicola died of methadone toxicity and multi-drug administration and the jury identified various missed opportunities that may have resulted in her life being saved. Speaking after the inquest, Nicola’s mother, Christine, said ‘The fact that the jury have confirmed she might still be with us if the level and nature of observations had been different is painful to hear’. ‘Bereaved families need more than empty words ‘that lessons will be learnt’’, said INQUEST caseworker, Selen Cavcav, following the inquest of Michalla Sweeting. The Ministry of Justice released a statement on self-harm and suicide in custody, when in fact Michalla died after she was given heroin substitute methadone. Selen said, "This response from the Prison Service is alarming. It demonstrates a lack of attention to the findings of this inquest where the focus was on neglect in medical care, rather than suicide and self-harm management". SEEKING ACCOUNTABILITY FOR DEATHS IN POLICE CUSTODY The Independent Office for Police Conduct has directed the Metropolitan police to hold gross misconduct proceedings in relation to the fatal shooting of Jermaine Baker. Deborah Coles was quoted in The Independent on the need for the highest level of accountability and scrutiny where the police use fatal force.The inquest into the death of Rashan Charles following restraint by the Metropolitan police has opened. Deborah Coles said “The images of Rashan Charles’ restraint were deeply disturbing, and his death has rightly sparked significant family and community concern. In a statement, the family of Rashan Charles said “We support effective policing, fairness and justice, despite poor treatment and disdain throughout the scrutiny of this avoidable death.” BUILDING SOCIAL JUSTICE NOT CRIMINAL JUSTICE The Abolitionist Futures: Building social justice not criminal justice conference is taking place in London between Friday 15 June and Monday 18 June 2018. Deborah Coles is on the opening panel on Friday 15 June, Building the world we want: Prison Abolition and Gender, Racial and Economic Justice. Deborah will be appearing alongside Ruth Gilmore and Beth Richie. Register for this free evening event here. INQUEST will also be running a session at the conference alongside Marcia Rigg, Stephanie Lightfoot Bennett, and Lee Jarman who will speak about family justice campaigns, resistance and resilience. The conference includes more than 40 workshops, presentations and strategy sessions, plus film screenings, poetry, artwork and theatre performances from community organisers, activists, legal practitioners and academics from across five continents. Check out the schedule and how to book tickets for the conference here. THANK YOU… … to everyone who sponsored INQUEST in the 10k London Legal Walk through St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park to raise money for our work. We are pleased to say we raised almost £2,000. Congratulations to INQUEST’s brilliant Family Participation Officer, Ayesha, for completing the Wimbledon Half Marathon at the weekend. You can still support her by making a donation on JustGiving. Our casework, policy and campaigning efforts are only possible through charitable grants and donations we receive.