In this edition:

  • Powerful call for public funding for families at inquests
  • Time for action on mental health
  • The inhumanity of immigration detention
  • The dangers of prison
  • Supporting families our key priority
  • Grenfell Inquiry updates
  • Hands up for INQUEST
  • Continuing the legacy of Mariella Franco

Powerful call for public funding for families at inquests

Families and INQUEST were called to give parliamentary evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights this month. Deborah Coles, Executive Director of INQUEST, appeared alongside Connor Sparrowhawk’s mother, Sara Ryan and stepfather, Richard Huggins and Joseph Phuong’s sister, Louise Rowland and her husband, Simon Rowland. They gave powerful testimonies about their experiences of the inquest process and the ‘inequality of arms’ families face in accessing legal support when state agencies are represented by large teams of publicly funded legal experts. To read our summary of the session and links to our written evidence and other coverage, click here.

Nadja Ensink, the widow of Jeroen Ensink, was interviewed by BBC Breakfast last week about how she was refused legal aid for the inquest and had to raise money through a CrowdJustice campaign.

INQUEST are calling for non-means tested legal aid for all families bereaved by deaths in state care and custody. Legal aid is an essential part of making sure that inquests are fair and open and we are lobbying hard to end the crisis in legal representation faced by families.

Time for action on mental health

INQUEST have seen an increase in the number of families coming to us bereaved after a death in a mental health setting.

Lack of investigations putting lives at risk. Our letter to The Guardian highlighted the accountability gap in post death investigations and inquests into deaths of mental health patients.

The Mental Health (Use of force) Bill committee stage will take place this Wednesday. The Bill is known as ‘Seni’s Law’ after Olaseni Lewis, a young man who died as a result of prolonged restraint by police officers whilst a voluntary inpatient at Bethlem Hospital. The Private Members Bill, brought by Steve Reed MP, is intended to strengthen protection for people in mental health units, and the monitoring and follow up of use of force such as restraint.

The inhumanity of immigration detention

‘The ever-rising death toll and suffering, as highlighted by the women currently on hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood, is the human consequence of the UK’s unjust detention system.’

We called on Amber Rudd to end the ‘inhumanity’ of immigration detention in a joint letter to The Guardian, co-signed by INQUEST, Liberty, Medical Justice and Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID).

The dangers of prison

‘Prisons cannot keep women safe’. Deborah Coles spoke on a panel at the Women of the World festival, highlighting the death of Emily Hartley in 2016. Emily was a young woman with serious mental ill-health, imprisoned for setting fire to herself and her bedroom.  INQUEST and Women in Prison have drafted a template letter for people to write to their MP. Please sign the letter and join us in our call for an end to the inappropriate use of imprisonment of women.

Following a powerful interview with Emily Hartley’s mum, Diane, BBC Radio 5 Live played a poignant clip of Deborah Coles from more than ten years ago discussing the death of Petra Blanksby in hauntingly similar circumstances. Listen here (from 10.35-33.00 for the interview with Diane and her lawyer Ruth Bundey, and from 02:11 for Deborah Coles).

The lack of action on dangerous prison conditions were highlighted as part of a BBC Radio, File on 4 programme on Carillion and deaths in prison. Deborah Coles was interviewed, alongside Lisa, whose son Sean Plumstead, died in HMP Winchester.

The rising numbers of people dying after release from prison were highlighted in our written evidence to the Justice Committee’s Transforming Rehabilitation inquiry. These deaths are largely ignored, hidden from view and do not receive the same level of scrutiny, concern or investigation currently received by deaths in custody.

No more prisons in Wales. INQUEST’s written evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee’s inquiry on prison provision in Wales, drew attention to deaths in prison and called for an immediate reduction in the prison population and for resources to be redirected and invested in welfare, health and social care.

Supporting families our key priority

Families are at the heart of everything we do.INQUEST’s expert casework team work with families and their lawyers over many months and years in the ongoing struggle for truth, justice and accountability.

Recent case updates;

  • Police misconduct hearing finds that surveillance of Janet Alder was unlawful but concludes with ‘no case to answer’ for officers involved. Read more here.
  • Crown Prosecution Service announces they will not prosecute police officer who fatally shot Jermaine Baker. View the full response from the family, INQUEST and legal team here.
  • Neglect and failings in care contributed to death of Michael Dean Forster at HMP Leicester in 2016. Read more here.
  • Coroner to raise concerns on lack of care provision for people with Asperger’s, as inquest concludes on the death of Robin Richards. Read more here.

Grenfell inquiry update

It has been nine months since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. INQUEST are continuing to support the bereaved and coordinate meetings with the Grenfell Inquest Lawyers Group. INQUEST wrote to the Inquiry team about the importance of opening the Inquiry with Pen Portraits to allow the bereaved to speak about their loved ones. We were heartened to hear that the Inquiry will indeed begin with Pen Portraits.

Deborah Coles and Remy Mohamed attended the Inquiry procedural hearing on 21 March 2018 in support of all the bereaved, survivors and residents.

We are concerned that there has been no movement in the appointment of a diverse panel for the inquiry. However, we welcome the debate taking place in the House of Commons on the 14 May on this issue following a successful petition

Hands up for INQUEST

We were delighted to host a hugely successful ‘Hands Up for INQUEST’ fundraising dinner earlier this month, attended by lawyers, families and our supporters. Organised by Marcia Rigg and sponsored by Doughty Street chambers and Garden Court Public, we were joined by special guest, Patrisse Cullors-Khan, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Thank you to everyone who supported the event, and in particular to Aji Lewis, the mother of Seni Lewis who gave such a moving and heartfelt speech on the importance of our collective efforts challenging state power, seeking truth and working for long term systemic change.

Mariella Franco

Last week Deborah Coles met with colleagues from Brazil to discuss projects on state violence in Rio and the high numbers of police killings. During their visit, we heard about the assassination of Mariella Franco a gay, black woman and outspoken human rights activist. She was an outspoken voice against police violence in the favelas in Rio and a defender of the rights of black women. Deaths in custody are a global human rights issue and we must campaign together for truth, justice and accountability for those responsible for her killing and to continue her legacy.

Supporting INQUEST

Our casework, policy and campaigning efforts are only possible through charitable grants and donations we receive. The INQUEST team will be taking part in the London Legal Walk 2018. You can support us by making a donation here where all funds raised by the team will go directly to INQUEST.