15 December 2020

Before Senior Coroner for Bedfordshire and Luton, Emma Whitting
Opens 9.15am 4 January 2021, expected to last six weeks
Leon Briggs was 39 years old when he died on 4 November 2013. He had been detained under the Mental Health Act (section 136), and died following restraint by Bedfordshire police officers at the scene and at Luton Police Station. Seven years on, the six-week inquest into Leon’s death will begin on 4 January 2021.
Leon had a mixed ethnic background, was from Luton and was a father to two children. His family describe him as “a loving brother and father, caring and genuine”. In addition to his day job as a lorry driver, he taught computer skills to the elderly. 
On 4 November 2013, police were called following reports of a man behaving unusually in the street. When officers arrived, they restrained Leon and detained him under the Mental Health Act. East of England Ambulance Service arrived shortly after. Leon was then transported in the back of a police van to Luton Police Station and placed in a cell. Leon became unresponsive and an ambulance was called to take him to hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The inquest will explore the actions of the police and ambulance service and whether their actions were appropriate, caused or contributed to Leon’s death. 
The inquest follows an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (the IPCC, which was subsequently replaced by the Independent Office for Police Conduct or IOPC). In 2016 they referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether manslaughter charges should be brought against the officers involved in Leon’s death. In 2018, the CPS confirmed no further action would be taken.  
In February a gross misconduct hearing was due to take place to consider allegations against three officers for breaching professional standards concerning the use of force, and against five officers for breaching standards relating to duties and responsibilities. However, the IOPC had to withdraw the directions of misconduct after Bedfordshire police force said they would not present any evidence against its officers. 
Margaret Briggs, mother of Leon Briggs said: “It has been over seven long years of delays and excuses. Enough is enough. It is my belief that, if Leon had been fairly treated by the Police, he would still be with us today. Leon was a loving father and our family need answers, which we hope this inquest can provide.”

Anita Sharma, Head of Casework at INQUEST said: “The dangers of restraint are well documented, particularly when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. We find ourselves in yet another inquest of a black man who died following police use of force. Leon’s family have endured seven years of protracted investigations and legal processes that simply are not fit for purpose. They now turn to the inquest to provide the utmost scrutiny of the circumstances of his death.” 

Jocelyn Cockburn of Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors said “It is now over 7 years since Leon’s death and the fact that it has taken this long to hold a public inquest into his death is in itself a miscarriage of justice. This delay has impacted on a family still struggling to come to terms with the tragic death of a loved one. The need for public scrutiny in this case is acute. The truth of what happened to Leon must come out and the right lessons must be learned. This will be extremely difficult for Leon’s family and my thoughts are with them during the 6 weeks of this inquest.”
Gimhani Eriyagolla of Hodge Jones & Allen solicitor said: “This year, we’ve seen terrible injustices towards black people come under scrutiny in the media, specifically surrounding the Police’s treatment of black people. Sadly, Leon is another victim of these systemic issues faced by many, and we hope that this inquest provides some of the answers that Leon’s family desperately need and deserve, so lessons can be learnt and tragic cases such as this can be prevented.” 


For further information, to note your interest, or to request an interview please contact:

  • Or Yellow Jersey PR who are working with the legal team:
    Sarah Jehan, [email protected], T: 0808 239 2247 | 0808 239 5975
    Alex Crean, [email protected], T: 0808 239 3996 | 0808 239 5975

A photo of Leon, provided by his family for media use, is available here

*Please contact the Coroner’s Court directly to arrange access to observe the proceedings in person[email protected]. NB: if you experience ongoing difficulties in gaining access to the proceedings please let the family know by emailing the above Sarah Jehan/ Alex Crean.

Leon’s family are represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Jocelyn Cockburn and Gimhani Eriyagolla of Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors, Dexter Dias QC of Garden Court Chambers and Adam Straw of Doughty Street Chambers. INQUEST’s Head of Casework Anita Sharma has been assisting the family.

The other interested persons represented at the inquest are the chief Constable of Bedfordshire, six police officers (five officers and one detention officer who is now a PC), East of England Ambulance Service and the IOPC.

Section 136 of the Mental Health Act (1983) enables police to detain people who they think have mental ill health requiring ‘care or control’, to be taken to a ‘place of safety’ which could be a home, hospital or police station. 
Case background

The 2017 Angiolini Review on deaths in police custody found that long delays in the investigation and legal processes following deaths in custody to highly damaging to cases and extremely harmful for families, officers and for public confidence.

The review also made a series of recommendations around the use of restraint including that National policing policy, practice and training must reflect the now widely evident position that the use of force and restraint against anyone in mental health crisis poses a life-threatening risk. 

Now more than three years on from this landmark review, action is awaited on these issues. See a recent INQUEST article exploring this (November 2020). 

The latest data 
on deaths in police custody and contact is available here. Deaths involving people with ‘mental health concerns’ continue to be a significant issue, with 18 people dying in or following police custody in 2019-20, 11 of whom were identified as having ‘mental health concerns’. 

Ethnicity and deaths in custody: 
Black people are subject to 16% of use of force by police, despite comprising 3% of the population (Home Office data on use of force, April 2018 to March 2019). 
Analysis of available data by INQUEST shows the proportion of deaths in police custody of people from Black and Minority Ethnic groups where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than in other deaths in custody. 
More information on ethnicity and deaths in custody is availableon our website.

Recent deaths in police contact involving restraint and mental ill health:

  • Kevin Clarke, a 35 year old Black man, was experiencing a mental health crisis when he died following restraint by Metropolitan Police officers in South London on 9 March 2018. An inquest in October 2020 concluded his death was caused by Acute Behavioural Disturbance in a relapse of schizophrenia and contributed to by restraint and serious failures.
  • Mzee Shemar Mohammed-Daley, an 18 year old Black man, died after being restrained and arrested by security staff and Merseyside police during an acute psychotic episode on 13 July 2016. An inquest in December 2019 concluded with no critical findings, despite deeply concerning evidence.
  • Darren Cumberbatch, a 32 year old Black man, died in hospital on 19 July 2017, nine days after use of force by police officers whilst he was experiencing a mental health crisis. Officers noted he was experiencing Acute Behavioural Disorder. An inquest in June 2019 found restraint contributed to his death, as well as a number of critical issues. 
  • Douglas Oak, a 35 year old White man, died following prolonged restraint by Dorset Police officers on 11 April 2017. It was reported that he had been behaving erratically, and later found he’d been experiencing Acute Behavioural Disturbance. A critical inquest into his death concluded in October 2019.
  • Meirion James, a 53 year old White man, died of positional asphyxia following excessive restraint by Dyfed-Powys Police on 31 January 2015. He was detained under section 136 during an acute psychotic episode. An inquest in January 2019 highlighted a number of serious failures. 

Also see recent updates on the deaths of Sean RiggThomas OrchardKingsley Burrell, and Seni Lewis.