In this edition:

  • Now or never! Legal aid for inquests
  • Multi-agency failings exposed
  • Police deaths: No justice, no peace!
  • Grenfell - No death in vain
  • Action needed: Prisons and immigration detention
  • INQUEST out and about

Now or never! Legal aid for inquests

On 26 February, we launched our new family led Now or Never! Legal Aid for Inquests campaign calling for the introduction of automatic non-means tested legal aid funding for bereaved families following state related deaths.

Rt Rev James Jones, author of the Hillsborough report, The Patronising Disposition of Unaccountable Power, chaired a packed parliamentary meeting of more than 100 people. We heard powerful contributions from Dr Sara Ryan (mother of Connor Sparrowhawk), Tellecia Strachan (sister of Kevin Clarke) and Tania El Keria (mother of Amy El-Keria).

Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer QC, faced an angry and frustrated room, and spoke of the Ministry of Justice’s proposals to provide better information to families. Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, pledged that a Labour government would provide automatic legal aid at inquests. A full report of the launch with photographs, can be viewed here.

Sign the petition 

Read our new report 

The petition gathered more than 2,000 supporters on the first day and we also have the formal backing of a long list of organisations. We could not have launched the campaign without the support and determination of families who lobbied MPs, attended the parliamentary launch, spoke to the media, and signed and shared the petition.

#LegalAidforInquests in the media:

  • Justice is a right - not something grieving families need to crowdfund, Guardian. 7 March 2019
  • No Funding, No Justice: Legal aid at inquests, Open Democracy1 March 2019
  • Interview with Deborah Coles and Ben Bennett, father of Sophie Bennett on Russia Today about the battle families face to access legal aid.
  • Bereaved families demand end to inquest ‘injustice’, The Times 26 February 2019
  • Government Minister Tells Bereaved Families She Stands By Plans Not to Give Those Whose Relatives Die in State Care the Right to Automatic Legal AidByLine Times 27 February 2019
  • We refuse to be silenced': MoJ urged to reconsider legal aid for inquests, The Law Society Gazette 27 February 2019
  • Labour promises automatic legal aid for state-related deaths: Shadow lord chancellor says families must not be reduced to ‘shaking a collection tin’, Guardian 27 February 2019
  • Labour pledges legal aid for inquests into state-related deaths, The Times, 28 February 2019

Over the coming months we will continue to work alongside families, lawyers and our partners to build support for the campaign.

Please get in touch if you would like to get involved and make it clear to government that they must listen to families and implement meaningful reform of funding for inquests for bereaved people.

Multi-agency failings exposed

Family of Timothy McComb expressed disappointment at the traumatic and unfair process they had been through. Timothy had multiple needs and received disconnected, unsuitable care. Katie, Timothy's sister, said:
"We have fought for an Article 2 inquest, been refused public funding, forcing us to fundraise to pay for representation, face a Coroner who refused to call witnesses and even refused to let us show a photograph of Timothy, further dehumanising him"

A series of critical failures by South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust staff were found to have caused or contributed to Charlotte Ball’s self-inflicted death. Dr Clare Jackson, Charlotte’s mother, was quoted in MyLondon “Charlotte was let down by what seems like a culture of complacency and ignorance with regard to long standing and basic procedures to protect the safety of patients.”

A jury found that neglect contributed to the self-inflicted death of teenager Sophie Bennett in a care home for people with mental ill health. The family of Sophie spoke to ITV and Channel 4 News about the outcome.

The inquest concluded into death of Agnes McDonald, who was a patient at a mental health unit run by the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. The coroner will be writing to the Trust to seek reassurances that changes promised at this inquest are implemented.

Hannah Warren died aged 28, one day after she was reported missing to police. The coroner advised the family to seek legal representation because it is 'impossible to represent yourselves'. Please support their CrowdJustice page.

In George Julian’s latest blog she highlights how “the state is quite content with the spending our taxes on legal support to protect their own, while leaving families to crowdfund, fundraise or appeal for pro bono support to cover the costs of their own legal support.” George is currently live tweeting from the inquest of Colette McCulloch which will examine the care she received for mental ill health and autism @JusticeforCol. The family had to crowdfund to cover legal costs to challenge the decisions of the original coroner.

Police deaths: No justice, no peace

All charges of gross misconduct against officers involved in the death of Sean Rigg have been dismissed. Sean died following police contact in Brixton in 2008.

His sister, Marcia Rigg, spoke to the Guardian, The Voice, and ITV London.

"I do not accept this decision. I do not accept this as an honest judgement of the evidence before the panel. I had little faith in these proceedings, but I always held hope they in the end they would do the right thing, based on such clear facts and evidence. My question remains, if the police acted as they were required, why is my brother dead? Nothing will tell me that this is justice.”

Deborah Coles said: "This shameful outcome points to the impunity of the police, and a process which frustrates the prevention of abuse of power and ill treatment. The delays in the process were the result of failings of the IPCC, and of the police to cooperate with the investigation. The Rigg family are the only people who come out of this process with any credibility”

Adrian McDonald died after being Tasered and restrained by police in 2014. His family spoke to BBC Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire about the use of Tasers and the need for a focus on de-escalation (from 13.25).

Lee Lawrence, son of Cherry Groce, who was shot in front of him by the police on 28 September 1985 when they raided his family home, has spoken about his family’s experiences in a podcast by Backstory

Roger Sylvester was restrained face down in the street by police outside in Tottenham home 20 years ago. Deborah told the Morning Star “Roger’s was a pivotal case in exposing the brutality, negligence and racism institutionalised within the police, the absence of accountability at all levels and the failure of the criminal justice system to deal with police responsible.”

A fresh inquest into the 1997 death of Onese Power has concluded, finding the actions of the Metropolitan Police contributed to his death. Without legal funding at the original inquest, Onese’s widow, Ann Power, represented the family on her own. In contrast, an experienced barrister acted for the police at public expense. This fresh inquest was an opportunity to explore outstanding issues fully and publicly. 

Selen Cavcav, Senior INQUEST Caseworker said to HamHigh “If it wasn’t for the determination and tireless efforts of this family, the file containing the police’s version of events of what happened would have continued to gather dust, never to be opened again". 

Christopher Alder is remembered in new artwork in HullChristopher died in custody in 1998, and since then his family have faced a truly harrowing battle for justice and accountability which continues today. Janet, Christopher's sister, is Crowdfunding for a ghost writer to assist with a book about their experiences.

No death in vain: Grenfell

Survivors and bereaved of Grenfell have expressed their frustration after Scotland Yard said charges would be unlikely for at least two years. INQUEST told the Guardian “A lack of clear timeframes for these processes causes unnecessary anxiety and anguish. The ongoing lack of accountability and change maintains an ever-present risk of further deaths. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Research by the Guardian has revealed that the Grenfell Inquiry is to cost taxpayers nearly £10 million. Deborah Coles said “Any concern about cost shouldn’t fall on the families side. The bereaved, survivors & residents need to be represented to have their voices heard. You can’t compromise on families access to a process about finding the truth about what happened.”

INQUEST’s Grenfell project coordinator, Remy Mohamed, attended the launch of the ‘No Death in Vain’ campaign by Justice 4 Grenfell. Bereaved, survivors and the community joined celebrities to take over the catwalk at London Fashion Week.

Action needed: Prisons and immigration detention

INQUEST responded to the latest Ministry of Justice statistics on deaths and self-harm in prison, which highlight a 31% rise in self-inflicted deaths and 10% rise overall. INQUEST told the Guardian and Rights Info that this historically high level of deaths is a national scandal.  

INQUEST trustee Professor Joe Sim, writes in his blog that "The figures are scandalous and are a scathing indictment of the abject failure of penal policy in England and Wales, particularly around the health and safety of prisoners."

A coroner has written to the Justice Secretary urging action to prevent future deaths HMP Bronzefield. This follows the inquest into the death of Natasha Chin which found numerous failures by Sodexo in it’s duty of care. Marsha Chin, sister of Natasha, spoke with Simon Israel for Channel 4 News:

“There were many opportunities that the prison had to recognise that Tasha needed help. If they had monitored her correctly, communicated with each other, simple things really, those simple things could have saved her life. As a family, we are very angry about that... It was so unnecessary for Natasha to die”

Jury conclusions highlight numerous failings contributed to the death of Michael Judge at HMP Swaleside. Michael’s mother said: “The prison failed my son at every level. Michael was in crisis and needed help, yet his ACCT was closed prematurely and staff failed to reopen it later that day. The prison must learn from Michael's death.”

Father of four, Sean McCann, died after a catalogue of errors and neglect by prison staff at HMP Peterborough. INQUEST Caseworker Natasha Thompson was quoted in The Bucks Herald. 

INQUEST were joint signatories in an open letter with Article 39 and others urging government to close Medway Secure Training Centre, where, 15 years after the death of Gareth Myatt, children continue to be unlawfully restrained.

Two key witnesses for the inquest into the death of Carlington Spencer, who died in Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, were scheduled onto a deportation flight by the Home Office. Deborah Coles told the Independent "Obstructing key witnesses from giving evidence significantly undermines the investigative function of the inquest to get to the truth and expose any wrongdoing. The Home Office and other persons responsible for Carlington’s care must be effectively scrutinised and held accountable for future”

INQUEST out and about

  • Deborah Coles went to Dublin to speak at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties event on deaths in contested circumstances.
  • Natasha Thompson, INQUEST caseworker, attended the NPMP event Campaigning Against Deaths in Police Custody.
  • Caseworkers Natasha Thompson and Victoria McNally contributed to a series of meetings held by the Independent Office on Police Conduct, including the IOPC Independent Youth Panel.
  • Deborah Coles met with the victim’s commissioner, Baroness Newlove, to discuss the treatment of bereaved families following state related deaths, and Minister Edward Argar about women in prison, our concerns about the inquest system and the Independent Public Advocate. 

Supporting INQUEST

Hannah and Lisa are running the Hackney half marathon on 19 May for INQUEST. Please show them support by donating through JustGiving page.
We wish them the best of luck!