6th September 2013

As the family of Michael ‘Mikey’ Powell mark the 10th anniversary of his death tomorrow, Saturday 7 September, West Midlands Police have issued a formal apology for the first time.

Mikey Powell was 38 years old when he died after being detained by West Midlands Police on 7 September 2003. He had three children. He had a mental health crisis and smashed a window at the home he shared with his mother. His mother called the police for help, assuming they would take him to hospital.

During the incident that followed, the police drove a car at Mikey as fast as they could, claiming they thought he had a gun, which he did not. Mikey was injured but survived the collision. He was then sprayed with four times the recommended amount of CS gas, hit with a baton and restrained for at least 16 minutes.

No ambulance was called. Mikey was put on the floor of the police van and taken to the police station and into a ‘drunk cell’. It was only then officers noticed that he was not breathing.

The inquest jury found that Mikey died of positional asphyxia in the back of the police van while he was being taken to the police station.

Many issues were raised by the inquest into his death, including questions around possible assumptions made by police about Mikey, based on the area he was living in and the colour of his skin.  The family made several recommendations following Mikey’s death, including training for officers to avoid these kinds of assumptions being made.

Tippa Naphtali, Mikey’s cousin and founder of the Mikey Powell Campaign for Justice said:

“This apology comes to us very late, 10 years on, however it remains important to us as a family that West Midlands Police (WMP) have extended this gesture. Over the 10 years since Mikey's death we have influenced many major reforms and initiatives in relation to West Midlands policing as a direct result of the Rule 43 recommendations issued after the inquest in 2009.

“A number of other exciting initiatives are also being negotiated with WMP and Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation. None of this brings back our dear Mikey, but will ensure his death was not in vain and will serve to protect others.”

Benjamin Zephaniah, cousin of Mikey Powell said:

“An apology for the death of my cousin ten years after the event is cold comfort. We have been asking questions for ten years, protesting for ten years, writing letters, and poems, and statements for ten years, but most of all we have been collectively grieving for ten years.

“We can't reject an apology. The best we can do is simply raise our eyebrows and say, it's better than nothing. But it's only a little bit better than nothing. What is important is that we let it been known that although we accept this apology, we are intelligent enough to know that it is just an apology, and it is not justice.”

Sieta Lambrias, sister of Mikey Powell said:

“Whilst we appreciate the apology received by the WMP for the pain and anguish caused to my family as a consequence of Mikey's death, we would be far more appreciative of an apology acknowledging that it was the actions of their officers that caused the death, as found by the inquest jury in 2009.”

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST said:

“The apology is a tribute to Mikey Powell’s family’s tireless campaigning to improve the situation for people with mental health problems and the police. It is vital now that both West Midlands Police and all other police forces ensure that the lessons learned have been integrated into both local and national policy and practice.”

Jane Deighton, solicitor for the family said:

“The Powell family have fought a long and painful campaign to expose how Mikey died. It is a remarkable campaign which is set to continue until those responsible have been made fully accountable. This apology is one small if welcome step along the road.  It is shameful that the family have had to fight for this and that they have had to fight for so long.”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Mikey Powell since his death in 2003. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group member Jane Deighton of Deighton Pierce Glynn Solicitors.

Ends Notes to editors:

  1. Full background to Mikey Powell’s death and inquest can be accessed on the INQUEST website