Welcome to the January-February edition of the INQUEST E-Newsletter.

The first two months of 2014 have been intensely busy for our small team.  We began the year with the controversial jury conclusion of the Mark Duggan inquest. We supported the family to manage the considerable public and media interest following the conclusion and continue to work with them and their legal team as they challenge the ruling.

We continued our campaign for an independent review of deaths of children and young people aged 24 and under in prison, that has been ongoing since the publication of our groundbreaking report with the Prison Reform Trust, 'Fatally Flawed' in 2012. In early February we published a background briefing on why a review is so urgently needed. We also extensively briefed peers and parliamentarians ahead of a debate on the issue in the House of Lords on 7 February.  Subsequently, a letter in the Telegraph and coverage on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme and across BBC News preceded the announcement by the Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright MP that he was establishing a review into the deaths of young people aged 18-24 but not into the deaths of children.  This is a very positive development in our work on the deaths of young people and we will informing the review from analysis of specialist casework and our ongoing work on young deaths in prison.  However despite this positive step forward we remain dismayed by the exclusion of children.  The highly critical conclusion of the inquest into the death of 17 year old Ryan Clark in January and the start of the inquest into the death of 17 year old Jake Hardy in February are reminders of how vital it is to include children in any review.  Families agree: with INQUEST's support, the parents of six children who have died in custody since 2000 wrote a scathing letter to the Prisons Minister and the Guardian newspaper outlining their anger and distress after the announcement and this was covered by BBC Radio 5 Live.  INQUEST continues to campaign for children to be included in the review. 

Increasingly restrictive decisions on public funding for family legal representation at inquests are having a serious impact on our work.  Families are finding it increasingly hard to access funding for legal representation at inquests even in the most serious of circumstances. In February, the family of Alex Kelly, a 15 year old who died in prison in 2012, were refused funding. Coverage in the Observer arranged by INQUEST and representations from his family's legal team forced the Legal Aid Agency to back down but many other families are still having to battle for funding.  We comprehensively briefed Liam Byrne MP ahead of an adjournment debate he tabled on legal aid for deaths in custody on 4 February. The cases of Lloyd ButlerPhilmore MillsJames Herbert and Alex Kelly were all raised and Liam Byrne stated "INQUEST, an organisation I wish to praise to high heaven, has brought to me a number of other cases where bad decisions are being made in our name".  During the debate Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, announced the Committee would be opening an inquiry later this year into deaths in police custody, policing and mental health, and legal aid provision for families.

campaign success for INQUEST was marked early in the New Year with the announcement that coroners' reports are to be made public via a new website.  Previously, the lack of openness around these reports, which can be the only way evidence heard at an inquest has a direct impact on policy and procedure, contributed to the poor mechanisms for accountable learning following deaths in state care. We will however continue to work on ensuring a more transparent and robust analysis of what action is taken across sectors as a result of these reports, as there is still no-one with responsibility for this.

Also in January, INQUEST went to meet the Health Minister Norman Lamb MP with four families to discuss issues relating to policing and mental health, particularly concerning use of force and restraint.  The families of Seni LewisSean RiggJames Herbert and Thomas Orchard all attended the meeting, which was featured in a report on BBC London News.

February saw a second failed attempt by the police officer who shot Azelle Rodney to challenge the ruling made by the inquiry into Azelle Rodney's death that he had been unlawfully killed. The oral hearing took place over a day and judgment was returned two weeks later. The judges' ruling stated that E7's case was 'unarguable'. INQUEST welcomed the decision along with Azelle Rodney's family.

Also in February the family of Connor Sparrowhawk, an 18 year old with learning disabilities who died while in the care of Southern Health NHS Trust, succeeded in compelling the Trust to publish the independent report they had commissioned into his death, which revealed that his death could have been prevented.  This was extraordinary in many ways: deaths in healthcare settings are not normally subject to an independent investigation prior to an inquest and investigation reports are rarely published ahead of the inquest. INQUEST has been working with his family since his death in July 2013.

INQUEST staff have participated in a number of meetings and events already this year. INQUEST co-director Deborah Coles spoke at an urgent public meeting in parliament organised by Diane Abbott MP following the conclusion of the Mark Duggan inquest in January. In February she attended the Ministerial Board on Deaths in Custody chaired this time by Prisons Minister Jeremy Wright MP where she raised the exclusion of children from the review of young people's deaths in prison. She also presented at a seminar on Ensuring Victim Engagement with the Inquest Process organised by Rights Watch (UK) at Doughty Street chambers. We met with a number of parliamentarians, briefing Charles Walker MP for his work on black and minority ethnic deaths in custody, and met with the Labour Shadow Justice Team to brief them about a number of areas of our work including deaths of children and young people, and deaths of women.

Supporting INQUEST

We urgently need your help to continue our important work. Any gift helps secure INQUEST’s future and sustain our support for bereaved families. Please give generously, however you can, it's easy and secure to do via our JustGiving page. If you are a tax payer and you Gift Aid your donation, the government will give us 25p for every pound you donate – at no extra cost to you. Thank you.

INQUEST Casework

INQUEST's casework team opened 71 new cases in January and February 2014.  Of these, 34 were enquiries relating to deaths in custody requiring our specialist casework service and 37 non-custody cases. Of the custody cases, two were deaths in immigration detention, 8 were deaths in psychiatric settings, 6 police custody deaths and 18 deaths in prison.

The high number of non custody related enquiries continues to demonstrate the lack of alternative sources of advice for families going through the inquest process. So the publication by the government in February of a 'Guide to Coroner Services and Investigations' aimed at bereaved people going through the inquest process was welcome.
New cases continue to reflect the rise in self-inflicted deaths in prison, concerns relating to care of detained and voluntary psychiatric patients and deaths involving police use of force.

Nearly two years since Anthony Grainger's death in March 2012, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced in January they would not be prosecuting the police officer who fatally shot him but that they would be bringing a charge under health and safety legislation against the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, Sir Peter Fahy, who was in charge of the operation. Other CPS decisions are still awaited in many cases. The son of Jimmy Mubenga, whose death was ruled by a jury to be unlawful in July 2013, wrote a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions in February pleading for a decision to be made as soon as possible. And the families of Thomas Orchard, Kingsley Burrell, Seni Lewis and Philmore Mills are all still awaiting prosecution decisions.

A number of prison death inquests were heard during this period with critical conclusions and evidence at the inquests into the deaths of Kevin ScarlettKieron Dowdall and Amy Friar .

We were pleased to announce in January that we have been awarded much-needed funds from the BIG Lottery. After a long period of uncertainty, the funding will enable us to continue our services working with bereaved families and is a significant step towards improving our long term position although there is still some way to go.  

We are also delighted that the Barrow Cadbury Trust has awarded us funding to produce a report on the deaths in prison of 18-24 year olds as a follow-up to our 2012 report, Fatally Flawed.

We said goodbye to Scarlet Granville, our longstanding caseworker of seven years, and Anna Edmundson, our Policy and Research Officer of four years, both much-valued members of our team. Our thanks to them both for their hard work and dedication throughout their time here. Their departures leave us with an even smaller staff team than usual, we are working hard to resolve this as funding allows.  And we welcomed Matija Vlatkovic who joined us as a volunteer in February.

Deaths in prison
We continue to be extremely concerned about the very high numbers of self-inflicted deaths in prison. There were 72 in total in 2013 and there have been 14 already this year (to end February 2014), compared with 6 in the same period last year.
So far this year three young people under the age of 24 have died in prison, and one woman, all self-inflicted.
As of 28 February there have been a total of 32 deaths in prison.
Deaths in police custody
There have been five deaths in or following police contact so far in 2014, of which two were deaths in custody.  Two deaths of vulnerable men in police custody following restraint within ten days of each other in November have again raised considerable concerns over policing, mental health and use of force.