The last month at INQUEST

In this edition:

  • Standing in solidarity with the family of George Floyd
  • Recent news:
    • Over policed and under protected
    • Deaths of people in police custody
    • COVID-19 related deaths of frontline workers
    • Prisons
    • Mental health and learning disability
  • Resources: FAQ’s for families bereaved by COVID-19
  • Three years since Grenfell, still waiting for justice
  • INQUEST news: staff team

INQUEST and families stand in solidarity

INQUEST stands in solidarity with the family of George Floyd, the recent police killing in the USA. The shocking dehumanisation of a black man restrained to death. This most extreme manifestation of state violence and racism resonates with INQUEST’s work in the UK. For nearly four decades we have worked alongside bereaved families whose loved ones have died in custody and detention. We recognise the pain and trauma of those reliving these events.

Read INQUESTs Response 

We have been inundated with messages of support and encouragement and donations for the work we do, and are truly honoured and grateful. Your support enables us to continue the work we do for all bereaved families, as well as the policy and influencing work we undertake to fight racism and discrimination, and push for systemic and structural change. We give a warm welcome to all new subscribers to this newsletter, which shares recent news about INQUEST’s work and the issues we work on.

Families at the forefront

We, the INQUEST Family Reference Group, as family ambassadors, want to post a message of solidarity to all families bereaved by state violence. We feel the echoes of pain and anger in those affected by police brutality and neglect. We are stirred by the outpouring of solidarity in the rejection of anti-black racism and discriminations we see across the world. This is an issue that know no borders. We walk alongside you on the long road to truth, justice and accountability. We see you, we are here for you and we will keep going. Enough is enough. 

Kadi Johnson, sister of Sheku Bayoh - Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg - Aji Lewis, mother of Seni Lewis

  • Kadi Johnson, sister of Sheku Bayoh, who died after being restrained by up to five police officers in May 2015 Scotland spoke to the BBC "I’m scared when my children go out, when my nephews go out, if I see the police car I’m nervous, I don’t know what they are going to do .. why should I feel like that, this is a place I loved, I lived here for many years?"
  • Marcia Rigg, sister of Sean Rigg and member of our Family Reference Group, speaks powerfully to Elle about the parallels with George Floyd's death and her brother’s death in police custody in Brixton. “The bar is raised by having an international campaign, the public are outraged and they’re supporting us and that’s fantastic, but the families are about to speak.”
  • Aji Lewis, mother of Seni Lewis, who died after being restrained by 11 police officers spoke to BBC London News.“The very thing Seni was saying was ‘I can’t breathe.' There is no accountability and until there is, there is no justice."

Over policed and under protected

At a time of heightened awareness of police killings of black men in the USA, it is important to recognise that black people are dying here in the UK. These deaths are at the extreme end of a continuum of racist policing from disproportionate use of Tasers, fines under emergency powers and stop and search.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct have launched an investigation following six allegations of over use of force by West Midlands police on Black men in Birmingham. We told the Guardian"The test for the credibility of this IOPC investigation will be if something happens as a result.” This came after the IOPC added to the calls for greater scrutiny of Taser use and a man was left with life-changing injuries after being Tasered in London. 

Deborah Coles told the Independent that these recent incidents of police brutality are not isolated. INQUEST, lawyers and bereaved families continue to call for an urgent review of Tasers, their disproportionate use and accountability for abuse of force.

This comes after the coroners recommendations for a review of Tasers, following the inquest into the death of Marc Cole which exposed a shocking vacuum of research on the dangers of Tasers, was rejected by the Home Office.

INQUEST signed two letters calling for a review of the disproportionate punishment of black, Asian and minority ethnic people during lockdown. One was coordinated by Big Brother Watch and the other by Liberty, Open Society Justice Initiative and Stop Watch.

Deaths of people in police custody

Sheku Bayoh and Anthony Grainger

Sheku Bayoh was 31 years old when he died after being restrained by up to five police officers in May 2015, in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Deborah Coles brought the expertise of INQUEST to help inform the broad terms of reference for the inquiry, including the role that race played in the lead up to and events following his death. The inquiry was only set up due to perseverance of the family, their lawyers and INQUEST. Now there is a need for a diverse advisory panel of experts.

Misconduct proceedings for a senior police officer accused of breaching standards of honesty and integrity at the Inquiry into the fatal shooting of Anthony Grainger have been dropped. Gail, partner of Anthony Grainger, said: “The police have fought at every stage to avoid being held accountable.”

This comes after the government published its response to the criticisms of Greater Manchester Police made by the Inquiry in July 2019 and accepted the Inquiry’s series of recommendations for widespread reform of armed policing in the UK.

COVID-19 related deaths of frontline workers

INQUEST have written to the Chief Coroner to raise concern about guidance issued to coroners advising that inquests into the deaths of frontline workers are not the place to discuss, for example, the adequacy of policies and arrangement for the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Channel 4 News highlighted the concerns raised by INQUEST and spoke to the son of Peter Tun, who raised concerns about an apparent lack of PPE on his ward, before he died from COVID-19. A coroner has refused to open an inquest into his death.

“Instead of investigating these deaths fully, fearlessly and thoroughly, identifying the role of the State in failing frontline workers, the effect of your guidance is likely to stymie, limit and frustrate the investigations into the deaths of frontline workers from COVID-19.”

Learn more

INQUEST have also signed a letter asking the Prime Minister for an independent public inquiry into the disproportionate impacy of COVID-19 on people who are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. This must be broad in scope and examine: the impact of emergency powers, the level of COVID-19 exposure by key workers and the treatment of BAME people by employers. Read more in the Independent.


INQUEST continues to be appalled by the slow rate of release of people from prison. The latest figures, from a parliamentary question answered by Lord Keen, indicates that as of 15 May, only 66 prisoners had been released under the End of Custody Temporary Release Scheme. This remains far from the government’s own target of 4,000 and the Public Health England recommendation that 15,000 people must be released to prevent the spread of the virus. We continue to call on the government to #Release2SaveLives

INQUEST are concerned about the harrowing impact solitary confinement is having on people’s mental and physical health across the prison estate. There have been at least 16 self-inflicted deaths since the implementation of restrictive regimes in March. The Guardian have reported that five of these deaths occurred within a six day period. Deborah Coles told the Bristol Cable These deaths point to the frustration and despair of those faced with inhumane living conditions and highly restrictive regimes.”

In Scotland the Fatal Accident Inquiry into the self-inflicted death of 22 year old Zach Banner at HMP Inverness concluded that the sharing of information between police, health staff and prison services his well-being was inadequate. INQUEST was quoted in the Sunday Post the findings of the FAI are by no means unique to this case and point to a systemic failure to act on the learning of other deaths.”

The recent report by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture highlighted deeply concerning findings of staff on prisoner violence in HMP Liverpool and HMP Wormwood Scrubs. INQUEST told Private Eye "That such systemic staff violence appears not to have been picked up by our own inspection and monitoring bodies raises serious concerns. These disturbing findings require urgent parliamentary scrutiny.”

Mental health and learning disability

INQUEST have continued to call for greater transparency around the deaths of people in mental health and learning disability and autism settings amidst COVID-19 and for comprehensive data to understand the indirect impact on therapeutic services, the use of restraint, medication, seclusion and self-inflicted deaths.

Following combined pressure being brought to bear by INQUEST, campaigners, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the media, NHS England have begun to publish some information about the number of deaths of people in mental health learning disability and/or autism settings. The latest weekly figures indicate that there have been 76 deaths of people in these inpatient settings who tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of their death.
Deborah Coles told the Independent “Such data is meaningless without the broader context and disaggregation by gender, age, ethnicity, place of death and providers, including private providers. Ultimately, the stronger the data analysis, the greater the opportunity to implement changes to safeguard lives.”

Read more 

INQUEST were concerned by the disturbing evidence heard at the Joint Committee on Human Rights from families of people detained in inpatient settings around the high use of restraint in inpatient settings. We were dismayed that neither the CQC nor NHS England were able to give a clear indication as to whether instances of forcible restraint and solitary confinement had increased or decreased during this period, despite the requirements of the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, known as “Seni’s Law” which requires mental health units to publish data on how and when physical force is used. We have written to the Minister for State for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention raising a number of concerns.

The latest Chief Coroner’s statistics show that the number of suicide conclusions at inquests had risen by 11 per cent compared with 2018. Deborah Coles told the Times Many of these deaths illustrate the impact of austerity and inequality and a historic underfunding of health and community services.”

FAQ's for families bereaved following COVID-19

INQUEST are concerned about the lack of information available to bereaved families following a COVID-19 related death, including of keyworkers. We uniquely placed to advise about the various investigations which may be taking place into possibly preventable deaths as a result of COVID-19. This includes deaths in custody, detention and other care settings and the deaths of healthcare and key workers.

This webpage provides answers to some of the immediate questions asked by bereaved families whose relatives have died from COVID-19 and includes essential information about how to protect your rights.

Visit the FAQ page 

Three years since Grenfell, still waiting for justice

14 June will mark three years since the Grenfell Tower fire. Three years of bereaved families and survivors fighting for truth, justice and accountability and for people to be able to live safely in their homes. 

Please join the online event of remembrance and reflection, to remember the 72 lives lost and reflect on the ongoing journey to justice and change. INQUEST continues to support those affected in their struggle.

INQUEST's staff team

We are sad to announce Rezina Rai has moved onto to a new role at the Department of Health. Rezina was a dedicated caseworker and whilst her time at INQUEST was short, she had a huge impact. Rezina worked tirelessly for the families she supported and is very much missed by all. We wish Rezina the very best for the future.
Louise Finer has joined INQUEST as Head of Policy. Louise came to INQUEST from HM Inspectorate of Prisons where she worked as Head of Secretariat for the National Preventive Mechanism. She worked with 21 independent detention monitoring and inspection bodies around the UK to strengthen their efforts to meet international obligations for preventing the ill treatment of detainees. Prior to these roles Louise worked in international NGOs, including Amnesty International and the Centre for Reproductive Rights, in a range of research and advocacy roles. We wish her a warm welcome.

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