27 June 1997

The jury at the inquest into the death of David Howell, a 40 year old man diagnosed as schizophrenic, who was shot dead by West Midlands police in Birmingham on 20 November last year today returned a verdict of lawful killing.

The family were represented at the inquest for free by Jonathan Glasson; a barrister who is a member of the INQUEST Lawyer’s Group. As no legal aid is available for representation at inquests even in cases which raise serious issues of public concern, families and the wider public interest are dependent on voluntary help to ensure the facts and circumstances of such tragic deaths are fully explored at the inquest.

This case has brought to light disturbing evidence about the care of people with mental health problems in the community and the use of firearms by the police and has highlighted the profound inequality in the treatment of families after such tragedies. Mr and Mrs Howell, David’s parents were legally represented only because a journalist put them in contact with INQUEST two weeks before the inquest. They had been told nothing about the circumstances of David’s death by the police investigating the shooting and heard at the inquest for the first time the distressing detail of the last hours of his life.

Helen Shaw Co-Director of INQUEST said: `This case, like so many other controversial deaths, clearly demonstrates the need for a thorough review of the inquest system both in the public interest and in the interest of fairness to the bereaved. At a six day inquest, where other parties such as the police and health authority are legally represented from the public purse it is wrong that a family have to rely on voluntary help to ensure they are properly legally represented and that they have to hear such distressing evidence for the first time in public. It is not right that the bereaved, who are also the victims in such cases, are treated with such insensitivity and inequality. INQUEST is pressing the Government to undertake such a review to ensure that the bereaved are no longer the victims without a voice.’