In this edition:

  • Calls for legal aid grow stronger
  • Police under scrutiny
  • UFFC: No justice no peace
  • Family campaigns
  • Toxic prisons
  • Treatment of people with learning disabilities
  • Deaths in Scotland
  • Grenfell
  • In other news

Calls for legal aid grow stronger

Our call for automatic legal aid for families bereaved by state related deaths continues to gain momentum.

In an in-depth piece for the Guardian, Owen Bowcott drew on INQUEST’s recent evidence submission to the Ministry of Justice and spoke to families. Deborah Coles said;

“A searing injustice of the coronial process is the enduring inequality of arms at inquests. It is morally and ethically unacceptable that the agencies of the state have unlimited access to public funds, whilst bereaved people have to battle to obtain legal aid funding.” 

The Guardian published a letter from families and INQUEST, highlighting the ‘obscene power imbalance’ between bereaved families and state bodies. Please get in touch if you are a bereaved family who would like to be added to the list of signatories on our website.

Natasha Abrahart was one of eleven self-inflicted deaths of Bristol University students since 2016. Despite the mental health trust being represented at the inquest at the public expense, the family are having to crowdfund for their legal representation. Please consider supporting the CrowdJustice campaign.

The sisters of PC Keith Palmer, who died during the Westminster Bridge attack, have joined the calls for urgent changes to the legal aid system so that the families of those who have died in similar incidents are not side-lined in court.

Police under scrutiny

Metropolitan Police statistics reveal a 79% increase in the use of force in just one year. We told the Guardian:

Increasing numbers suggest that routine use of force is becoming the first, rather than the last response, and that raises important questions about training and police culture.

Appearing on BBC Sunday Politics, Deborah Coles said “These are really alarming figures. At INQUEST we see the tragic consequences when the use of force goes wrong. As with any data, these statistics require more detailed analysis.” (Watch from 21 minutes)

Devon and Cornwall Police plead guilty to a criminal failure to ensure the safety of Thomas Orchard, who died in 2012 following use of force and restraint by police.

This is only the second Health and Safety prosecution of a police force in relation to a death following contact with police. However, the court has not yet determined whether the use of the Emergency Restraint Belt caused Thomas’ death. In April there will be a further hearing to examine causation and to consider the sufficiency of officer training concerning the use of the ERB.  

The family of Thomas Orchard said “We will continue to fight for justice for Thomas and are committed to doing all we can to reduce the shameful frequency with which people with mental health difficulties die in police custody.” 

We told the Guardian and Daily Mail  “This historic guilty plea is long awaited acknowledgement by Devon and Cornwall police of the criminally unsafe restraint belt used in Thomas’ brutal restraint.”

The Crown Prosecution Service is to consider charges against two police officers in relation to the death of Dalian Atkinson in 2016.

The family of Dalian Atkinson described it being “a long, frustrating and difficult process over the last two years, watching the investigation take its course and awaiting answers as to how our brother died. We still don’t know all the details even now, and look forward to the time when everything is in the public domain.”

Misconduct hearings in relation to the death of Kingsley Burrell are to begin on 19 November. He died in 2011 following a prolonged and brutal restraint by West Midland Police officers.

UFFC: no justice no peace

It is your last chance to reserve your free tickets to the United Families and Friends Campaign conference on Interrogating State Violence, taking place this Friday, 26th October, in London. INQUEST’s director, Deborah Coles will join a panel of speakers on Friday morning and will discuss the Angiolini review one year on.

In advance of the conference, Marcia Rigg spoke to the Lockdown podcast about the death of her brother Sean in 2008 following police restraint in Brixton, and the campaign for justice since.

The 20th annual UFFC procession will gather at Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London from 12 noon on Saturday 27 October. The INQUEST team will be joining the procession and we hope to see you there.

Family campaigns

  • INQUEST held our third family reference group meeting, exploring options for family participation work. We also discussed plans for a Christmas Party for families on Saturday 15 December. Information to follow about how to reserve a ticket.
  • Janet Alder is crowdfunding to write a book about the death of her brother Christopher Alder in 1998, and all that happened to her family after.
  • A new award has been launched by the Metropolitan Police and South London and Maudsley NHS Trust in memory of Seni Lewis to recognise collaborative initiatives between the police and health services, to showcase the importance of providing multi-agency response to mental health crises.
  • Melanie Leahy has made a powerful video about her continued fight for accountability and change following the preventable death of her 20 year old son, Matthew, at the Linden Centre of North Essex Partnership NHS Trust in 2012.

Toxic prisons

INQUEST responded to the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) annual report which highlighted grave concerns about prison conditions, in which prisoners continue to die preventable deaths. Through casework at INQUEST, we have seen the damaging effects of increasing pressures to PPO resources. INQUEST was quoted in the Guardian:

The same recommendations on systemic failings are repeated by the PPO with dismal regularity. The systematic disregard of potentially lifesaving recommendations demonstrates a lamentable complacency at all levels of the prison and health service.”

The family of Winston Augustine are demanding answers after he was found dead in a segregation cell at Wormwood Scrubs in December 2016. His family spoke to Get West London.

INQUEST responded to the HM Inspectorate of Prisons damning inspection report of HMP Chelmsford. Deborah Coles spoke to the BBC about the high rate of self-inflicted deaths in the prison. Our monitoring indicates that there have been six deaths at the prison this year, three of which were self-inflicted and three are awaiting classification.

The Inspectorate also issued a deeply critical report on HMP Exeter, which received an Urgent Notification in May 2018. We told the Independent “despite repeated warnings about Exeter prison, a lack of action by the prison service and ministers had maintained a trajectory of rapid decline”.

Treatment of people with learning disabilities

The inquest into the death of Heddwyn Hughes concluded that he was failed following a catastrophic injury whilst detained in a care home. We told the Guardian

These failures are all too familiar in the cases of people with learning disabilities, whose premature deaths are endemic in our health and care systems.”

Parliament debated a petition on the importance of mandatory training for medical staff in autism and learning disabilities to prevent avoidable deaths. The petition received over 51,000 signatures and was a result of extensive campaigning by Paula McGowan following the tragic death of her son, Oliver.  

The use of restraints on adults with learning disabilities in hospital units in England rose by 50 percent between 2016 and 2017. This use of restraint is dangerous, damaging, unacceptable and requires an urgent review.

Deaths in Scotland

The Lord Advocate ruled that there will be no criminal prosecutions brought against any of the officers following the death of Sheku Bayoh.
The family, their lawyer Aamer Anwar and INQUEST Director Deborah Coles met with the Scottish Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf, to ask him to hold a public inquiry into the case.
Katie Allan was 21 when she died in Polmont prison in Scotland in June this year. Her death was self-inflicted and parents have called for radical reform to the way courts and prisons deal with mental health. Please support the family's crowdfunding campaign.


INQUEST wrote to the Prime Minister about the importance of appointing an independent and diverse panel for the Grenfell Public Inquiry as soon as possible. It has been five months since the decision to appoint two panel members, and the delay gives rise to uncertainty.

A ban on combustible building material, which will make homes safer across the country, has come as a direct result of the campaigning from the bereaved, survivors and residents. The inquiry must listen to them, writes Seraphima Kennedy.

Other news:

The INQUEST annual northern conference was a great success. We examined issues around inquest funding, practice and procedure. Thanks to the INQUEST Lawyers Group members in attendance, to Garden Court North for hosting, and all those who joined us for the fundraising quiz.

‘Systemic change is needed; it’s a social justice and feminist issue’. Thank you to organisations who attended our roundtable on deaths in women’s prisons from across the criminal justice and women’s sector.

Supporting INQUEST

Huge congratulations to Sarah Allen who raised nearly £2,500 for INQUEST in memory of Hannah Evans by running the Budapest Marathon on 7 October 2018. Hannah died aged 22 following mental ill health.

Thank you also to Rebecca Montacute, who is fundraising for INQUEST in memory of her mum, Julie, who died earlier this year during a mental health crisis. You can donate to the JustGiving page here.

As a charity totally independent from government, our casework, policy and campaigning efforts are only possible through charitable grants and donations we receive.