Unlocking the Truth, published in 2007, describes the experiences of families bereaved by deaths in custody from the time of death to the conclusion of the investigation and inquest and situates them within the political, recent historical and legal context. Thoroughly researched and extensively referenced, the report:

  • Describes the issues that have emerged since the early 1980s which have shaped public, family and state perceptions about deaths in custody.
  • Presents families’ experiences in their own words.
  • Makes extensive recommendations and presents families’ suggestions for changes in practice.
  • Demonstrates how all agencies involved following a death in custody have a crucial role to play in supporting bereaved people.
  • Shows how current systems are failing through basic lack of provision and poor implementation of existing protocols.
  • Argues that scrutiny, criticism and proposals for reform of the way the state deals with deaths in custody is a crucial contribution to the health of its democracy.
  • Makes two key overarching recommendations that argue for extensive improvements following the conclusion of the investigation and inquest to improve accountability, learning and preventative action, and for the creation of a Standing Commission on Custodial Deaths.

Unlocking the Truth is essential reading for researchers, policy makers, penal reformers, family liaison officers from the police, Prison Service and those working for the independent investigation bodies, human rights specialists, legal professionals, coroners, voluntary sector bereavement agencies, bereavement counsellors, academics, students and all those with an interest the mechanisms that follow contentious deaths. The report was made possible by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation.

Responses to the report: 

“You would have thought that in a democratic country such as ours, the right of families to have state officials treat their loved ones in custody with due respect, dignity and appropriate care in all circumstance was an inalienable one. Unlocking The Truth – Families’ Experiences of the Investigation of Deaths in Custody must be taken seriously by all concerned in order to usher in truth, justice and the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.” Arlington Trotman, Chairman, Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe.

“The voices of the families and their accounts are powerful arguments that reform is needed.” Eric Allison, in The Guardian, 3 October 2007

“The report is exemplary in placing to the foreground the voice of the families who have experienced a loss and presents their experience in their own words. It is a model of how to crystallise campaigning practice experience in a concise report format.” Will McMahon, Policy Director, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

“Hopefully this book will prevent future deaths in prison and affecting other families, and it may be that someone now will take notice of what is going on in prisons and improve them, because they definitely need to be improved… This book is a good thing because it highlights the shortcomings of the Home Office.” Helen and Anthony Redding, parents of Anthony Redding Jr., who died in Brinsford Young Offender Institution in February 2001.

The authors Helen Shaw and Deborah Coles were co-directors of INQUEST at the time of publication.

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Hard copies are also available on request, contact us here.