15 October 2021

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We last shared a newsletter early in the year, when things looked very different. Coroner’s courts were reopening with some uncertainty. We were awaiting the historic trial of an officer charged with murder or manslaughter whilst on active duty. Our ongoing Legal Aid for Inquests campaign was quietly ticking on. And internally INQUEST was undergoing a period of transition, with new recruits joining us as much loved staff members left for new horizons.

Now, almost all Coroner’s Courts have reopened and long delayed inquests are taking place back to back. In June, the prosecution of a police officer for the manslaughter of Dalian Atkinson resulted in a guilty verdict – the first successful charge of its kind in 35 years. (A retrial of another officer involved and accused of assault is scheduled for 2022.)

Huge strides have been made in our campaign for legal funding for families, with more opportunities to come and a call to action for all who support us below. And we have some new members of the casework team about to join us, as well as an ongoing recruitment for an opportunity to join our team (but be quick, the deadline is Monday!).

If you are a family that has been supported by INQUEST, be sure to check out the family noticeboard at the end. There are a range of upcoming events and projects to take part in, on issues from mind and body skills, to communications and media, as well as our regular connection events and group.

That and much more is detailed in this bumper edition of the newsletter. As always, we thank you for reading and for your continued interest in our work. We are grateful for your support and welcome donations to INQUEST, to help us continue in the months and years ahead. You can also donate to bereaved families directly through the National Family Fund, who we work closely with.

DONATE HERE


In this issue:

  • Work for us
  • UFFC Annual procession
  • Coroners courts and access to justice
  • Fighting systemic racism
  • Policing
  • Prisons
  • Mental health and learning disabilities
  • Other news
  • FAMILY NOTICEBOARD

 


Work for us: Operations and Development Officer

INQUEST has almost doubled in size over the last four years. As a result, we are recruiting for this new role to support our development and operations in several areas, primarily fundraising, monitoring and evaluation, human resources and project management. This is an exciting opportunity for someone to join our values-based organisation and support it in its next stage of development. The closing date is Monday 18th October, 1pm. Find out more and apply here.

 


United Friends and Families Campaign: Annual Procession

Annual procession and protest, led by bereaved families
30 October 2021, Assemble 12pm at Trafalgar Square

More information


Coroners courts and access to justice

Earlier this year Parliament’s Justice Select Committee published the report of their inquiry on The Coroner Service. INQUEST submitted evidence from over 50 bereaved families and gave written and oral evidence to the inquiry.

This input was clearly influential: the committee made significant and wide ranging recommendations, focused at putting bereaved people at the heart of the inquest process. In September, the Government responded: it announced a positive step forward to remove the means test for Exceptional Case Funding – one of the ways many bereaved families secure legal support at inquests.

This marks significant progress in our ongoing Legal Aid for Inquests Campaign, and is one step towards a more balanced system for bereaved people. Though, there is much more to be done.

Beyond this, however, there was a disappointing lack of commitment to the Justice Committee’s recommendations to strengthen the Coroners service. We have written a joint letter to Dominic Raab MP alongside AvMA and other charities to call for more action on key issues.

At the same time, the Government has put forward measures on the Coroners service in its Judicial Review and Courts Bill. This presents an opportunity and a challenge. There are key aspects of the Bill which would limit access to justice for members of the public, including bereaved people challenging the state, which organisations like Liberty are campaigning on.

There are also provisions around inquests that we think pose some risks, and we are working to introduce safeguards to these. However, the Bill does present an opportunity to create a fairer inquest system that supports bereaved people and better effects change to protect lives. Crucially, it presents an opportunity to introduce public funding for bereaved families at inquests.

INQUEST are urging MPs to take part in the second reading on Monday 18 October in the House of Commons, to challenge problematic aspects of the Bill, whilst raising the need for amendments to seize this opportunity.

Ask your MP to attend the debate and send them INQUEST’s briefing for MPs

LEARN MORE AND TAKE ACTION


 

Fighting systemic racism

In July, United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, published a damning report calling on states including the UK to “end impunity” for human rights violations against Black people by police officers and reverse the “cultures of denial” towards systemic racism.

INQUEST provided evidence and analysis  to inform the report, and facilitated direct input from bereaved families. One of seven case studies included from around the world was on Kevin Clarke, a Black man who was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was excessively restrained by Metropolitan Police officers and died in 2018.

Marcia Rigg also shared details of her long fight for justice in a closed consultation with the UN High Commissioner, meeting with other bereaved families including the brother of George Floyd.

In July, we worked hard to support proposals before the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent.

This month Marcia Rigg delivered a video statement to the Human Rights Council, on behalf of INQUEST, the United Families and Friends Campaign, and the International Service for Human Rights. She called for member states to put the voices of victims of racism and bereaved families at the heart of the transformative racial justice agenda.

LEARN MORE

 


 Policing

The latest official data on deaths involving police shows there were 19 deaths in or following police custody in 2020-21. The majority of people who died had mental health concerns and/or were restrained by police prior to their death. There were also 54 apparent suicides following custody, and 92 ‘other’ deaths following contact with the police. Analysis by The Independent showed these figures represent a continued disproportionate number of Black people dying in or following contact with police.

Despite promises of action on racism, mental health, and restraint, these figures and issues are largely consistent with those of the past decade. Yet the Government recently claimed it has made “significant progress” in preventing deaths in custody following a 2017 review by Dame Elish Angiolini QC.

This was reported in the latest Government Progress Update on the Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody. However, if meaningful action is being taken by the government, police forces and public bodies then why do preventable deaths keep occurring? We discuss this in more detail here.

In August, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published a review of cases involving the use of Taser between 2015-2020. The review had highly critical findings and highlighted ongoing issues, including continued disproportionate prolonged Taser use against Black people. INQUEST responded, alongside some of the families of those who died, calling for stronger action.

See more updates on INQUEST cases involving policing here.

 


Prisons

The latest data on deaths in prisons shows that in the 12 months to June 2021, 396 people died. This is over a third higher than the previous 12 months and the highest rate of deaths per 1000 prisoners on record. Of these, 80 deaths were self-inflicted, a 3% increase.

These statistics reveal the devastating impact of Covid-19 and highly restricted prison regimes on both mental and physical health of people in prisons. Our Head of Policy, Louise Finer, spoke to BBC File on 4 about the broader failings in the prison healthcare system which are contributing to yet more preventable deaths.

In September, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman published their report on a particularly shocking death in prison – the death of a baby at HMP Bronzefield in 2019. INQUEST is working with the mother’s legal team and responded: “This harrowing report exposes the inhumane treatment of a young woman in need. It is further evidence of the inability and inappropriateness of prisons for keeping people facing serious trauma safe, and in this case their new born babies.”

We support the campaign led by Women in Prison and Birth Companions, calling for the Government to stop sending pregnant women to prison. Join us by signing and sharing the petition.

The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, alongside family campaigner Linda Allan, have published research on Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAI - the equivalent of inquests) on deaths in prison in Scotland. Over a 15 year period, their analysis found that FAI’s are taking three or more years to conclude, and in 94% no recommendations are made to prevent future deaths. Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Scottish prisons has risen. INQUEST joined the researchers and campaigners in calling for action to challenge this failing system.

See more updates on our cases involving prisons and courts here.


Mental health and learning disabilities

INQUEST are extremely concerned about the rise in deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act since the pandemic, which not only relates to Covid-19 infections but a significant rise in the number of deaths overall.

The Care Quality Commission reported that between 1 March 2020 to 3 September 2021 they were notified of 668 deaths of detained patients. Of these 179 related to Covid-19 and 489 did not. Thirty-six of those people were reported as having a learning disability or Autism, most of whom also had a mental health diagnosis. The majority of these (25) did not relate to Covid-19.

Recent inquests have highlighted a number of recurring issues in mental health and secure care settings nationally. We are particularly alarmed by repeated incidents involving mental health patients being able to access items which should be restricted, with fatal consequences. This was identified in the inquests of Joshua Sahota, Samantha Pounsberry and Sarah Price, who were all able to access the same item to self-harm, despite the known risks.

The inquest into the death of Ben King, a man with Down’s syndrome and a severe learning disability, concluded making a number of criticisms of the care he received. He died in July 2020, after spending over two years at Cawston Park, a now closed hospital for people with learning disabilities where two other people died in recent years. His mother, alongside the parents of Joanna Bailey, spoke to The Sunday Mirror.

The families of three young people who all died in the same hospital in Manchester have also been speaking out in The Manchester Evening News. Rowan Thompson, Charlie Millers, and Ania Sohail died in Prestwich Hospital in the past 12 months in concerning circumstances. We have called for urgent action from the Care Quality Commission to ensure other young people are kept safe.

See more updates on our cases involving mental health services here.

 


OTHER NEWS

  • We must pay tribute to the organisers of War Inna Babylon, the now closed exhibition at the ICA, which powerfully explored the historic resistance to state violence and racism, particularly in Tottenham. INQUEST’s Deborah Coles spoke at the exhibition alongside the United Friends and Families Campaign and organiser Stafford Scott (pictured), and we were able to contribute data and analysis from our work over the past 40 years. We hope to see more events from the organisers soon!

  • Supporters of INQUEST will be familiar with the case of Seni Lewis, whose family have been prominent campaigners against police racism and restraint. RIP SENI, a short film exploring Seni’s experiences and the creative response to his death, is now available on The Guardian. We recommend taking 20 minutes to watch this important film.

  • Deborah Coles has worked at INQUEST for 31 of our 40 years. She spoke to The Times about her long term commitment to standing with bereaved families and why the state’s repeated failures make her ‘bloody angry’, in this profile on her work.

  • Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice have called for the reintroduction of Hillsborough Law to Parliament. The law was created in response to the inequality of arms faced by Hillsborough’s bereaved families, as well as others bereaved by state related deaths. It would introduce provision for legal support for families, and a duty of candour for public bodies. INQUEST is a supporter of this law and spoke to The Guardian about the importance of these provisions.

  • INQUEST have joined charity leaders and The Good Law Project in challenging plans to politicise the head of the Charity Commission Role. This came after Minster’s said recruitment would be based on whether candidates followed Government plans to tackle the ‘woke’ agenda. The Good Law Project has launched a legal challenge in response and invite you to sign this petition.

 


FAMILY NOTICEBOARD

TAKE PART: BOOK PROJECT

INQUEST are delighted to facilitate a call for participants for a book project, Justice for All of Us, organised and led by Marienna Pope-Weidemann. She is going through the process of fighting for justice for her relative, Gaia Pope. She is now seeking to work closely with other families to collect the stories of those who have died, and bring together the voices of those left behind, to collectively fight for justice for all through this book project. Learn more and sign up to take part here.

TALK JUSTICE, COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA WORKSHOPS

As well as working on the above project, Marienna is an experienced communications professional. She is also working on her own family campaign Justice for Gaia, which has had a significant impact. To support other families, she has developed the Talk Justice workshop series, sharing her skills on media, press and communications.

Three workshops have already taken place, with great feedback and participation from families involved: Comms 101, Harnessing Social Media, and Hot on the Press (recordings are available). On Monday 18 October the Interview Survival Guide workshop takes place, followed by a workshop on Writing Your Story on 1 November. Both take place on Zoom, 6-8pm.

You can request recordings from previous sessions and register for the upcoming sessions here.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE: CONSULTATION CAFE

Families are invited to a Consultation Café event on the Judicial Review and Courts Bill on Thursday 4 November 2021, from 6 – 7.30pm. This will be an opportunity to feed into our work to introduce amendments to the Bill, including one which would ensure families have access to legal funding for inquests. This is part of our wider Legal Aid for Inquests campaign and we would like to hear from you about your experiences accessing legal support. Register to take part here.

MIND, BODY SKILLS WORKSHOPS

After a successful 8 week pilot, a new workshop series on Mind, Body Skills has started this week, with 11 families who are awaiting inquests now taking part.

Grounded in practical, evidence based skills around self-care, nutrition, self-awareness, and group support, the Centre for Mind-Body Medicine approach works to heal individual trauma and build community-wide resilience.

For families interested in joining the next round of workshops, starting in January 2022, we are running two Taster Sessions in December: Tuesday 14 December, 11am-12pm and Wednesday 15 December, 7pm-8pm. Families working with INQUEST can register here.

CONNECTION CAFÉ

The connection café for families, to come together and meet others in similar situations, continues to take place on the first Wednesday of every month. The next is on 3 November from 11am-1pm. For more information and to book your place email Mo the Family Participation Officer.

CONNECT ON FACEBOOK

INQUEST has an online space on Facebook exclusively for families bereaved by state related deaths. Families involved regularly share support, solidarity and understanding with one another, and discuss the common challenges they are facing. To join the private group please the visit the [email protected] Facebook Group and fill in the joining request.


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