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Inquest opens into the death of Olaseni Lewis following police restraint at Bethlem Royal Hospital in August 2010
3 February 2017
Before the Senior Coroner for the South London Area, Ms Selena Lynch
South Croydon Coroner’s Court
2nd Floor, Davis House, Robert Street, Croydon CR0 1QQ
Starts 10am, Monday 6 February 2017 – expected to run for 10 weeks
Olaseni (known as Seni) Lewis was 23 years old when he died following prolonged restraint at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in the South London and Maudsley (SLAM) Mental Health Trust on 31 August 2010.
Seni was a well-loved, ambitious young graduate with no prior history of mental illness. His family brought him to hospital after he started to exhibit uncharacteristically odd and agitated behaviour. Within 18 hours, he had collapsed in the context of prolonged restraint involving 11 police officers from the Metropolitan Police Service. He never regained consciousness and was eventually pronounced dead on 3 September 2010.
The years since Seni's death have been marked by delays and prevarication in the course of protracted investigative processes involving the IPCC, the HSE and (belatedly) Devon & Cornwall Police. The result is that a public inquest into Seni’s shocking and contentious death is only taking place now, almost six and a half years later.
Key questions the inquest must now address include:
- How a physically healthy young black man came to die within hours of his admission for urgent mental health care.
- How and why the medical staff at SLAM appear to have failed in their duty to look after Seni’s welfare.
- How and why police came to be involved in responding to his mental health crisis.
- How a vulnerable patient came to be subject to a prolonged and inherently dangerous restraint by 11 police officers for over 40 minutes.
Seni’s mother, Ajibola Lewis, said:
“The long road to this inquest has been nothing short of hell for our family: his parents, his sisters and his nephews. The multiple investigations into his death have given us few answers up to this point. We now place all our hope on this inquest for the truth about the painful and terrible circumstances in which our precious son, brother and uncle came to die".
Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said:
"This deeply disturbing case has sent shockwaves across the police and mental health services. Indeed it was key to the Government’s decision to hold an independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody. The majority of police related deaths over the last 5 years have involved dangerous restraint of men in mental health crisis. Police involvement in healthcare settings should be absolutely the last resort, but the reality in practice has been very different. We hope this inquest will finally interrogate the events and practices leading to Seni’s preventable death, which previous investigations over the past 6 years have failed to do”.
Raju Bhatt, the solicitor for Seni’s family, said:
“Over the six years and more since Seni's death, his family has had to endure inexplicable, inexcusable and intolerable failures on the part of the various investigative authorities responsible for looking into the matter. The sorry history of those failures has meant that the family and the public alike have been denied the benefit of effective scrutiny of the shocking circumstances in which Seni came by his death. The family now look to the Senior Coroner for South London and her inquest to ensure that those circumstances receive the rigorous scrutiny that has been so notably absent throughout these years.”
INQUEST has been working with the family of Seni Lewis since his death in September 2010. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Raju Bhatt and Sophie Naftalin of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors with Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers and Alex Gask of Doughty Street Chambers.
 February 2016 the Home Secretary announced an independent review, conducted by Dame Elish Angiolini QC, into Deaths in Police Custody. Her report is due for publication imminently. INQUEST Director Deborah Coles was special advisor to the review. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/independent-review-of-deaths-and-serious-incidents-in-police-custody.
Notes to editors:
Seni’s family will be giving evidence on Tuesday 7th Feb. The family will not be issuing a statement or interviews until the conclusion of the inquest.
- Media enquiries/requests to Gill Goodby at INQUEST 07814 693 613 email@example.com
- For an interview with Deborah Coles, please call her direct on 07714 857236
- For an interview with Raju Bhatt, solicitor for the family, please call 020 7729 1115
All previous media releases issued by INQUEST in relation to Seni Lewis’s death can be found here
See here for INQUEST’s response to national guidelines issued in January 2017 by the College of Policing on use of police restraint in healthcare settings.
INQUEST supports many other families bereaved as a result of police restraint. Please visit our website for more information.
INQUEST provides specialist advice on deaths in custody or detention or involving state failures in England and Wales. This includes a death in prison, in police custody or following police contact, in immigration detention or psychiatric care. INQUEST's policy and parliamentary work is informed by its casework and we work to ensure that the collective experiences of bereaved people underpin that work. Its overall aim is to secure an investigative process that treats bereaved families with dignity and respect; ensures accountability and disseminates the lessons learned from the investigation process in order to prevent further deaths.
Please refer to INQUEST the organisation in all capital letters in order to distinguish it from the legal hearing.
‘My congratulations to all involved in this 30 year battle for disclosure [of the Cass report on the death of Blair Peach] … it was this awful state of affairs which led those of us who founded INQUEST to set it up. But it is mind-boggling to think that we were still arguing over this report 30 years later.’
– Terry Munyard, barrister at Garden Court Chambers and founding member of INQUEST