MPs highlight issue of detention and deaths in custody of black people
3 December 2013
3 December 2013
A short but important adjournment debate tabled by Charles Walker MP took place last night on detention and deaths in custody of black people
He paid tribute to INQUEST’s co-director Deborah Coles, for being “extraordinarily generous in the time she has given me when preparing for this debate” and to Matilda MacAttram, Director of Black Mental Health UK for her work informing him ahead of the debate.
He highlighted a number of INQUEST concerns, not least the profound impact of contentious deaths of black people in custody within the community that were “a running sore and an open wound for 30 years”. He spoke of the serious delays often faced by families waiting for an inquest into a death in custody, and the fact that at the inquest, all state parties will be represented by taxpayer-funded lawyers, whereas the family will have no automatic entitlement to legal representation. He described this as “a disgraceful way to treat a mourning family, and if we do nothing else, it is incumbent on this House to end that inequality in arms”.
He also told the House that: “when someone dies in a mental health setting, as opposed to a police custody environment, we must ensure an independent investigation that carries the confidence of the family of the deceased and the wider community.”
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham intervened to highlight that there had been no successful prosecutions for manslaughter in the past twenty years despite a number of verdicts of unlawful killing. Diane Abbott MP reminded the House once again of the “pain [the matter of deaths in custody] causes among communities”.
The government response from Damian Green, Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims did not address the important points about public funding and the wider impact of custody deaths within the black community. He was also silent on the issue of independent investigation of deaths in mental health settings.
INQUEST will continue to work alongside bereaved families, their representatives and supporters to raise the important issues arising from black deaths in custody.
‘I was already working with INQUEST, which is the organisation who monitor deaths in custody, and at one AGM I told the audience that what happened to these people [killed in police custody like Chistopher Alder, Roger Sylvester and many others] could happen to any of us. And then a couple of years later, I was standing in front of them again but now it had happened to my cousin. So my family and me were now “users” of Inquest. It shows you that none of us are immune – here am I, Benjamin Zephaniah, patron of INQUEST and client of INQUEST at the same time.’
– Benjamin Zephaniah