Police officers found ‘not-guilty’ of Thomas Orchard’s death

Last week, a jury found three police officers not-guilty of gross negligence manslaughter in the case of Thomas Orchard. This was despite considerable and disturbing evidence uncovered during the trial about the brutal and dehumanising treatment of a vulnerable man.

In our media release Deborah Coles said “The fact that the restraint belt, a piece of equipment neither approved or regulated by the Home Office was used begs questions about corporate responsibility that needs urgently addressing. At a time when police are calling for more equipment, including spit hoods and tasers, we need to question priorities. Surely the first and most urgent need must be to train officers to respond safely and humanely to those in mental health crisis”.

The verdict secured considerable coverage for the family, despite the disappointing outcome. This included articles in the The Times, GuardianDevonLive and the Daily Mail.

In response to our concerns at the myths and stigmatising over spithoods, Deborah Coles approached the Hepatitis C Trust. This prompted coverage in the Times - "You can't get Hepititis C from spit" - where Hepatitis C and HIV charities challenged police justification for the roll out of spit hoods. Their input into the debate was greatly welcomed by INQUEST to counter act the false narratives being propagated by the police, to justify the introduction of greater restraint equipment in the name of officer protection. A balanced discussion is needed, whereby officer and detainee safety are equally considered.

An inquest into the death of John Ahmed who died in HMP Manchester after being restrained during a search in 2015 has started. This is the first restraint related death in prison we have worked on since 2005.  The conclusion is expected next week.

An INQUEST story you won’t have heard about in the media...

Whilst some of our cases attracted significant media and parliamentary interest, the majority go unnoticed. INQUEST works with hundreds of bereaved people every year, ordinary people trying to navigate, often unsupported, through the investigative inquest system after a state-related death.
Last month, we received a call from the family of a learning disabled, adult woman who had died whilst in the full time, supervised care of a privately-run care home; her place funded by the local council. The inquest hearing was due in a matter of days. The family did not have legal representation (or realise they needed it) and had failed to receive disclosure of any of the documents or evidence relevant to the case.  Neither had they been told about any investigation that should have taken place. Incredibly no one had explained the full and central role the family were entitled to play in the inquest proceedings.

  • INQUEST secured urgent pro bono legal representation through our Inquest Lawyers Group network.
  • Successfully secured an adjournment of the inquest, to allow the family time to adequately prepare with their legal team.

The Bishops Review – a catalyst for coronial reform?

It is hoped that the Hillsborough experience will be a catalyst for change across the coronial system and that families across the spectrum of state-related deaths will benefit from its legacy.

Theresa May asked the Rt Rev Bishop James Jones, the former Bishop of Liverpool and Chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel, to produce a report on the Hillsborough families’ experiences, the day after the jury found all 96 Liverpool fans had been unlawfully killed.

INQUEST was invited by the Home Office to contribute by inputting the experiences of other bereaved families going through the inquest process.

  • This month, INQUEST held a well-attended meeting between the Inquest Lawyers Group and the Bishop, at which ILG members shared powerful accounts of the obstacles faced by their clients when negotiating the inquest system.
  • INQUEST will also be holding a family listening day later this month. This brings together families who have been through the inquest system so that the Bishop can hear about their experiences.

We will make our submission and the listening day report available.

INQUEST and families give evidence to Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry on Mental Health and Deaths in Prison

Parliamentary debates have continued to focus on the escalating number of prison deaths since INQUEST and Dean Saunders family met with Liz Truss last month.

INQUEST evidence and Dean Saunders’ case were discussed at length in a Westminster debate on prison deaths on 1 March, led by Luciana Berger MP. INQUEST briefed the MP in advance of the debate on the broader issues surrounding the escalating death toll in prisons and the many other families affected by this. Transcripts of the debate are available here.

On 8 March, the families of Diane Waplington and Dean Saunders, alongside Deborah Coles of INQUEST, gave evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry on Mental Health and Deaths in Prison, outlining ongoing concerns over the deaths of people with mental illness in prison. Both families gave incredibly moving testimonies of their experiences to MPs.

Sheila Waplington gave a powerful interview to Channel 4 News about the death of her daughter Diane, a 40 year old mother of three, who suffered with long term mental ill health.
  • Diane was given a custodial sentence (her first) after setting fire to her hospital bed whilst on a mental health ward. She took her own life four days after being sent to HMP Peterborough.
  • As Deborah Coles told the JCHR, had the recommendations of the Corston Review (published 10 years ago) been implemented, Diane would never have been sent to prison in the first place.  
  • This month saw the first self-inflicted women’s prison death in 2017 - a 34 year old  woman at HMP Downview.

Transcripts of testimonies and a link to the Channel 4 news interview with Sheila and Deborah Coles can be found here.

We continue to be concerned about the imprisonment of people with mental health issues as seen across our existing and new casework. The inquest into Daryl Hargrave’s death at HMP Winchester opened this month – a 22 year old with a history of self-harm and suicide attempts who had suffered from mental health problems from a young age.  Despite his history, when he entered the prison, his notes were not looked at and despite clear visible signs of his ongoing self- harm, his observations were reduced.  He was one of the 4 people who took their own lives in HMP Winchester in 2015.

Systemic issues around state violence – Angela Davies speaks at the Women of the World Festival

The inspirational Angela Davies spoke at the Women of the World Festival about women, race and class in the post-Trump era. 

INQUEST Family Reference Group member and campaigner, Marcia Rigg, joined Angela Davies on stage when she paid tribute to the UK's work around deaths in custody and it's impact around the world. Deborah Coles met with Angela Davies after the event to talk in more detail about INQUEST's work.

Devastating impact of investigation delays on families continues

Bereaved families continue to experience the most unacceptable delays in post-death investigations. We are working closely with the media to ensure greater public awareness of how common and extensive these delays are and how they impact on families' distress and grief. It also frustrates the learning process.

Here are just some of the cases receiving media coverage over the last month:

Henry Hicks – In June 2016, a coroner’s inquest ruled that Henry was killed in a road crash during a police pursuit – after a jury rejected the version of events provided by police officers involved in the chase. The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) ruled that the four officers involved should face gross misconduct proceedings over their actions during the pursuit of Henry. Yet seven months on – and more than two years since Henry’s death – no date for a hearing has been set.

Joseph Phuong – almost 18 months since the death of their son and further delays in the investigation process has mean Joseph’s inquest has been delayed until September. Deborah Coles told the Evening Standard “This family had expected the inquest to begin shortly. This further delay places an intolerable strain on them.”

Anthony Grainger – Our thoughts were with the family of Anthony Grainger on the 5th anniversary of his death this month. His partner, Gail, spoke to ITV news.

  • As the public inquiry entered its second month, concerning evidence came out in relation to the disclosure provided by the Greater Manchester Police.  The senior police officer who authorised the operation admitted during the hearing that he went back to his log after the mission ended in tragedy to add in extra detail.   The officer who fired the fatal shot - who will be referred to as Q9 as he has been granted anonymity - will be giving his evidence in April behind a screen.  
  • More details regarding this inquiry can be found at https://www.graingerinquiry.org.uk/  

Olaseni Lewis – Now into the second month of the inquest, the jury has heard damning evidence from expert medical witnesses directly connecting the impact of the brutal and relentless restraint by 11 police officers to the death of this 23 year-old man, who was in good physical health. This month, Bromley police officers are currently giving evidence.  

  • On 1st March, INQUEST briefed Steven Reed, Croydon North MP (the Lewis family’s MP) in advance of his parliamentary question raising the concerns amongst young BME men over the treatment they receive when accessing mental health services. The MP highlighted Olaseni’s case in the Commons and the MP has requested a meeting with Theresa May to discuss how institutional racism can be addressed. INQUEST will push to make sure this debate happens and that bereaved families are central to this.

Mark Duggan’s family appeal to consider lawfulness of coroner’s directions at his inquest

On 4th August 2011, Mark Duggan was killed by a firearms officer of the Metropolitan Police service known as V53. The jury found that Mr Duggan was lawfuly killed despite finding he was unarmed at the time. The family have sought to quash the inquest conclusion arguing that the Coroner misdirected the jury. The Coroner should have made clear that if they found Mark to be unarmed at the time, they could not return a conclusion of lawful killing. We await a decision by the Court of Appeal.

Staffing news

Last month we said goodbye to Raji Hunjan and welcomed Arnaud Vervoitte as INQUEST's new Operations Director.

Arnaud has worked in social care since 1995, in a variety of roles, including casework and support work and, later on, in management and leadership positions in the charity sector. He worked in HIV/AIDS for eight years and with asylum seekers and refugees for 12 and has also been the managing director of Just for Kids Law, a legal charity supporting young people. Arnaud is a passionate campaigner on social justice issues, including anti-racism and the rights of refugees and migrants. 

Supporting INQUEST

"What families want is effective change so others don't die because of the same failings. The involvement and support of INQUEST brings all this together. I have a lifelong loyalty to INQUEST. They provide support you just can't get from anywhere else" (Quote from a bereaved brother)
This is a quote from just one of the thousands of families we work with.
People regularly express surprise that INQUEST is such a small organisation, believing we are a larger and well resourced organisation. The opposite is true – we have a staff team of 9, many part-time, and we rely heavily on volunteers. We need every penny to keep the organisation going. We are really grateful to all our donors and grant givers and your support can make a really significant difference to the work we do and the impact we have.

Thank you also to our families who fundraise on our behalf. This month, the family of Jack Portland launched their own fundraising campaign. More details can be found on Facebook here.
If you can, please make a donation or become a regular giver - any gift, no matter how small, contributes to securing INQUEST’s future. It's easy and secure to do via our JustGiving page or via CAF online. 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.