Before HM Coroner Mary Hassell
Poplar Coroner's Court
15 – 17 November 2017

Officers involved in the death of Rashan Charles have been granted anonymity at the pre-inquest review into the death of the 20 year old father. Rashan died following restraint by Metropolitan Police officers in Hackney, East London in the early hours of Sunday 23 July 2017. The coroner rejected the argument that there was a direct threat to officers lives, but granted anonymity.

The officers will therefore give their evidence to the inquest into his death anonymously, meaning their names will not be revealed, and their faces will not be visible to the public gallery.  Officers are to be referred to as BX47, the officer who initially restrained Rashan, and BX48. Anonymity was also given to two witnesses.

Coroner Mary Hassel rejected that there was a real and immediate risk to life to those granted anonymity and said, “Mr Charles’s family must be allowed to participate effectively. What is in a name? A great deal.” However the judgement continued: “My starting point is open justice. I regret deeply any departure from that.” Concluding, “I am acutely aware that there already exists a lack of confidence by some in certain institutions, for example the police. However, on this occasion, although it is finely balanced, I am of the view that the screening of the two police officers at inquest, and the use of ciphers in place of their names, is necessary in the interests of justice.”

Rashan’s death, the latest of four deaths of young black men in just over four weeks in summer, sparked widespread concern. The spate of deaths in June and July is part of a long history of a disproportionate number of restraint related deaths of people from black and minority ethnic groups.

At the hearing, Jude Bunting, a legal representative for the family, argued that the case is of the utmost public interest noting, “…the Black Lives Matter movement have taken this to heart.” The legal representatives of the police however highlighted the murder of Jo Cox MP by a far-right terrorist engaged with Nazism and white supremacy, as an example of the risks posed to officers.

The full inquest into Rashan Charles’ death is scheduled to open on 4 June 2018. An Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigation is ongoing; they are yet to announce whether recommendations for further criminal action should follow.

A spokesperson for the family said:

“Although this is disappointing it was not unexpected.  Our focus remains on the quality of the IPCC investigation of Rashan’s death, and on ensuring that proper consideration is given to criminal charges. These officers will not be able to hide behind anonymity in the criminal courts.”

Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said:

This is a case of significant public interest and the process for holding police to account must be an open and transparent one. There is a disturbing trend of anonymity being granted to police officers at inquests and hearings into contentious police related deaths. Open justice is vital to assuage public concern about cover ups and to ensure accountability. This decision will only fuel the anger and suspicion that the police are promoting tactics to deflect responsibility for their actions.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

For further information, contact Lucy McKay at INQUEST. The family are not planning to make further comment.

Previous statements by the family are available on the ‘Justice 4 Rash’ facebook page. On 20 September the family made a comment on the decision not to suspend the main police officer involved, available here. On 4 August the family issued a statement on the contents of the package, available here.

INQUEST has been working with the family of Rashan Charles since his death. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Carolynn Gallwey and Chanel Dolcy, Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, and at the PIR by Jude Bunting, Doughty Street Chambers.

We are aware of the following deaths after police contact in June/July 2017:

  • Wednesday 21 June - Edson Da Costa, 25, black male, died in Newham, East London following restraint by police after stop and search six days earlier.
  • Wednesday 19 July - Darren Cumberbatch, 32, black male, died in Nuneaton, Warwickshire following restraint by police.
  • Saturday 15 July - Shane Bryant, 29, black male, died in Leicestershire following restraint by members of public and police two days earlier.
  • As well as Rashan J Charles

INQUEST casework and monitoring shows that the proportion of BAME deaths in custody where restraint is a feature is over two times greater than it is in White deaths in custody. (Analysis of figures 1990-2016)

During the hearing, the family’s representatives referred to recommendations in The Independent review on deaths and serious incidents in police custody, which was published 30 October 2017. It made recommendations aimed at tackling discrimination and institutional racism in the police; improving access to justice for families and the involvement and experience of families in the inquest processes; as well as strengthening the systems of investigation and accountability for police. More info here.