12 November 2019

Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Justice in Scotland, has today announced a public inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh. This follows a meeting this afternoon (12 November) between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, Sheku’s family, their lawyer Aamer Anwar, and Deborah Coles the Director of INQUEST.

The announcement comes after yesterday’s decision of the Lord Advocate, chief public prosecutor for Scotland, not to charge Police Scotland or the officers involved in the death with criminal, corporate or health and safety offences. Sheku Bayoh was 31 years old when he died after being restrained by up to five police officers on 3 May 2015, in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. A black man born in Sierra Leone, his death has raised significant public concern over racism within Police Scotland.

Kadi Johnson, the sister of Sheku Bayoh, said: “The last 4 and a half years hasn’t been easy for us. We want this inquiry to mean something and Sheku’s death not to have been in vain. His name has been tarnished in the past 4 years. This is about achieving justice for Sheku and for a fairer Scotland for all irrespective of race and background. 

Deborah Coles, Director of INQUEST said: “This is a welcome decision and shows the Scottish government recognise the serious issues raised by Sheku’s death. This inquiry must have the family voice at its heart, terms of reference which can scrutinise the systemic issues raised, and a diverse panel.

Those entrusted with the role of policing must be subject to accountability before the law. This inquiry can help examine concerns about racial injustice and the way deaths in custody are investigated in the hope that future deaths are prevented. Today is a positive step in the family’s search for truth and accountability. It is in both the family and public interest.”

Aamer Anwar who represents the family said: “The Bayoh family welcome the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for keeping their promises to meet with them and taking on board their concerns. Following yesterday’s devastating news, today’s announcement by Humza Yousaf in the setting up of a Public Inquiry is a critical moment for Scottish justice, the rule of law and important step forward in the family’s campaign to establish accountability.

The family are deeply grateful to the Scottish Government for their announcement of a Public Inquiry. This is an important first step in holding power to account and establishing the truth, because without truth there can be no justice.”


For further information please contact INQUEST Communications Team: 020 7263 1111 or [email protected] or Aamer Anwar Solicitors on 0141 429 7090 aameranwar.co.uk

The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Aamer Anwar of Aamer Anwar & Co Solicitors. INQUEST has been working with the family and legal team, sharing expertise on deaths in custody, race and restraint from work on relevant cases in England and Wales.

INQUEST primarily works on cases in England and Wales. We are currently working on a two year project to build and share knowledge on post-death processes and experiences of bereaved families in Scotland.

The full ministerial statement made by Humza Yousaf is available here.


Sheku Bayoh was 31 years old when he died after being restrained by up to five police officers on 3 May 2015, in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. Sheku, a black man born in Sierra Leone, was a trainee gas engineer and father of two. His death has been of significant controversy, raising community concern over racism within Police Scotland.

On the morning of 3 May 2015, police received a call about a man behaving unusually. Sheku was stopped by police and was held face down on the ground within 46 seconds from the arrival of the first two officers. During the restraint officers used CS spray, batons, leg and ankle restraints and handcuffs. A post-mortem revealed that he sustained facial injuries, bruises to his body and a fracture to his rib. Around an hour and a half after the restraint, he was pronounced dead.

Sixteen months after the death, the Police Investigations Review Commissioner (PIRC), who investigate deaths in police custody and contact in Scotland, submitted their investigation to the Lord Advocate. The family waited two years for the original decision and have waited a further year for this review to be completed.

In the past five years there have been eight deaths in the custody of Police Scotland, according to an Freedom of Information request published by The National newspaper. All are awaiting FAIs and no investigation reports have been published.

Detailed timeline of key events available here.

Criminal Proceedings

  • The initial investigation into Sheku’s death was carried out by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) under the direction of the Lord Advocate. This organisation has a similar role in investigating deaths in custody to the Independent Office for Police Conduct in England and Wales.
  • The PIRC investigated, submitting an interim, then final report to the Crown Office.
  • The Crown Office considered the terms of those reports and carried out further investigations of its own.
  • After these, in October 2018 a decision was made by Crown Counsel that no one should be prosecuted in connection with Mr Bayoh’s death. See media release.
  • Victims of crime (in fatal cases, next of kin) are able to ask the Crown for a review of a prosecutorial decision. This is an internal review carried out by prosecutors within Crown Office. It is different from e.g. judicial review.
  • Mr Bayoh’s family submitted a lengthy review document to the Crown in relation to the decision not to prosecute.
  • On 11 November the Lord Advocate, chief public prosecutor for Scotland, confirmed a decision not to charge Police Scotland or the officers involved in the death of Sheku Bayoh with criminal, corporate or health and safety offences. 

A Fatal Accident Inquiry or Public Inquiry

  • When someone dies in police custody in Scotland and no one is prosecuted it is required that there be an inquiry into the circumstances of the death. In Scotland this almost always take the form of a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI - the equivalent to an inquest in England and Wales) but can take the form of a public inquiry.
  • The matters that can be considered by a public inquiry tend to be broader in nature than can be covered within the restrictive setting of a FAI.
  • A FAI is initiated by the local Procurator Fiscal on behalf of the Crown, whereas a public inquiry can be established by Scottish Ministers or the UK Government.

Civil action against Police Scotland

  • The family of Sheku Bayoh have also raised an action in the Court of Session against Police Scotland seeking damages. This is entirely separate from the above processes.
  • The family allege that the attending police officers acted in breach of their own Standard Operating procedures and as a consequence used unlawful force against Sheku; that their actions escalated events beyond that which was necessary; and that they used unreasonable and disproportionate force to the threat posed.
  • The family also allege that the manner of restraint deployed by the officers involved with Sheku was obviously dangerous and was not an approved method of restraint. They argue that the manner of restraint deployed by the officers caused or materially contributed to the death of the deceased.
  • The family require to prove their case on the balance of probabilities. The outcome of a successful action of this type in the Court of Session is payment of damages.

Further information:

  • Fresh questions over death in police custody, BBC Article, Dec 2018
  • BBC Disclosure: Dead in Police Custody, Full documentary, Dec 2018
  • Calls for inquiry after new CCTV of arrest emerges, Guardian Article, Dec 2018
  • Sheku Bayoh lawyer plans civil action, BBC Article, January 2017
  • Sheku Bayoh custody death officer 'hates black people', BBC Article, Oct 2015