One Saturday two summers ago, in the early hours, a young black man called Rashan Charles died on the floor of a Hackney convenience store.
The police claimed that Rashan had been “taken ill” after “trying to swallow an object” and that a police officer “intervened and sought to prevent the man from harming himself”.
That’s not what happened.
My name is Rod Charles. Rashan was my nephew.
Last summer, here on Shine A Light, we examined the store’s security video that showed what really happened to Rashan. I shared my analysis, based on my training and 30 years’ experience with the Metropolitan Police — I retired as a Chief Inspector four years ago. We saw the visual evidence, we noted what the police officer did and what he failed to do.
Today, we’ll assess just some of the official claims that have been made about Rashan’s death. Let’s see how they stand up to scrutiny.
Police claim: officer intervened to prevent harm
In the hours after Rashan died, the Metropolitan Police claimed that he was “taken ill” after “trying to swallow an object”. A police officer had “intervened” to “prevent the man from harming himself”.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC, since rebranded as the Independent Office for Police Conduct, IOPC) echoed the Metropolitan Police story. In its first statement the IPCC claimed: “The man became unwell and first aid was provided by a police officer, police medic and paramedics.”
These accounts mislead by omission.
They fail to mention that a police officer at the scene heavily restrained Rashan, with help from a second man. Instead they direct attention towards Rashan’s own actions.
He was “trying to swallow an object”. This implies a deliberate and reckless act. Without explicitly saying so, it suggests Rashan is a drug dealer. According to this framing, the police officer is the rescuer who “intervenes” to prevent Rashan harming himself, but sadly fails.
We see on the CCTV footage that Rashan was upright, standing unaided, showed no signs of being unwell or physically distressed until after he was thrown to the ground and held down by police officer BX47. (We must refer to the police officer as BX47 because the police applied for an anonymity order and the coroner granted that request.)
After throwing Rashan to the ground, BX47 attempted a mouth search.
Far from helping, the officer’s attempts to forcibly search Rashan’s mouth were dangerous and unapproved and put him at risk of choking.
Searching a suspect’s mouth requires more than one police officer. Where someone is thought to have swallowed an object, the guidance for officers is clear: consider the subject vulnerable and obtain medical treatment without delay.
This guidance is from the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice manual ‘Response, arrest and detention’, first published in October 2013, updated in April 2017: “A person suspected of swallowing drugs should be treated as a vulnerable person. Incidents should be treated as a medical emergency.”
BX47 did not treat Rashan as a vulnerable person. Instead the officer persisted in neck and throat holds, moves likely to restrict air and blood flow. And he allowed a man described by police as just a bystander, a member of the public, to assist. He allowed this man to get astride Rashan and pin him down.
Rashan’s signs of distress go unseen or ignored, the restraint is intensified. When police officer BX47 and the “bystander” handcuff Rashan, he is limp, perhaps unconscious.
While unresponsive, he is subjected to further prolonged restraint, ceasing only after a police medic arrives on the scene.
Police claim: officer thought Rashan had a weapon
Three months after Rashan’s death we were told about a suspected weapon.
Six months after Rashan’s death the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) provided some detail: “The officer told the investigation that his initial intention was to search Rashan for a prohibited article, that is, a weapon.”
The problem is, it’s not enough for the officer to intend to search for a weapon; he must state his reasonable grounds for suspecting a concealed weapon. As far as we know, no reasonable grounds have been offered by BX47.
Secondly, if an officer suspects a person of possessing a weapon, they are required to take particular actions. They must contain and control the person. Isolate him at a distance. Failing that, take hold of him, handcuff his hands to restrict movement. Stop him reaching for a weapon to ensure officer and public safety.
But that’s not what we see in the video footage. The type and degree of force the officer used were incompatible with his claim that Rashan may have had a weapon.
The suspected weapon claim fails the test of scrutiny.
Police claim: officer saw Rashan put something in his mouth
Colin Gibbs of the Crown Prosecution Service claims that the shop’s CCTV shows the officer had a “line of sight” to Rashan as he enters the shop and appears to place an item in his mouth.
The officer has stated that “he saw Rashan making a movement of his arm and hand at this time”.
As we’ve seen, the officer enters the shop seconds after Rashan. He is in pursuit, but he has to turn a corner at the door — as did Rashan — to enter the shop.
If, as claimed, the officer suspected Rashan had concealed drugs in his mouth, his training would tell him that a neck hold and hard throw to the ground puts Rashan at obvious risk of choking.
The same goes for a forcible mouth search, which, as we’ve discussed, and for reasons that must by now be obvious, is a multiple officer tactic, carried out in controlled conditions, and should not be attempted alone. There is no UK police training that equips or enables a solitary officer to safely carry out a forced mouth search.
The claim that the officer saw Rashan put something into his mouth is not convincing.
Crown Prosecution Service claim: an independent expert on restraint techniques supports police accounts
The CPS relied upon an anonymous “restraint expert” whose identity was revealed only three months before the inquest that was held in June 2018. My multiple requests to the IOPC and CPS for earlier disclosure of the expert’s identity, for their experience and credentials, were denied.
In January 2018 the CPS claimed: “The officer has said that he carried out the move to take Rashan to the floor in order to get more control of him because Rashan’s actions had caused him to believe that he was resisting and would continue to resist being detained for the purposes of a search. Police training, guidance and practice allows this to take place in these circumstances.”
The CPS claimed this tactic met with the anonymous expert’s approval: “An expert in restraint and mouth searches (‘the restraint expert’), who provided a report to the investigation. . .considers that this was a viable and logical tactical option.”
The expert reported and the CPS accepted that: “Following the application of the handcuffs the majority of the officer’s actions appeared to be undertaken in order to provide assistance to Rashan by attempting to remove the item that the officer clearly thought might be blocking his airway.”
I have seen no evidence to date that anyone has explored why BX47 did not attempt alternative restraint options where he and Rashan could remain upright.
Two expert witnesses, Ian Read and Martin Graves, former officers of the Metropolitan Police, testified on police training and BX47’s actions. At the time of the inquest, Read was still a Met employee, Graves worked as an external trainer through his own company.
Their knowledge of police training is exemplary. But, their assessments of the actual tactics used by BX47 can’t be considered impartial.
As I told reporters at the inquest, these men had 75 years combined service to the Metropolitan Police between them, and “still have an umbilical cord to the Met”.
I believe their links to the very force under scrutiny compromises their independence. There are numerous ‘use of force’ experts serving or retired from other UK police forces who might have offered independent testimony.
Crown Prosecution Service claim: video evidence supports the restraint expert’s approval of BX47’s actions
The Crown Prosecution Service’s confidence in the IOPC’s choice of independent restraint experts is troubling. The IOPC have long disregarded the real concerns I continue to highlight.
The CPS wrote to our family on 19 January 2018, defending the decision not to charge officer BX47 with common assault.
They referred to the audio evidence from the officer’s body-worn camera where he is heard urging Rashan to “spit it out” and reassuring him: “Breathe” and “The drugs don’t matter” and “We want to look after you.”
The CPS notes that these comments came immediately after BX47 switches on his body-worn camera.
This contradicts BX47’s own claim, in his second statement that he switched it on around the point when he was moving Rashan down the supermarket aisle.
Certainly officer BX47 failed to activate his camera at the start of the incident and pursuit of Rashan, as he was obliged to do.
Crown Prosecution Service claim: BX47 provided assistance to Rashan
Why didn’t BX47 immediately summon medical assistance as soon as Rashan showed signs of distress, or immediately Rashan became unresponsive?
The CPS says BX47 provided assistance to Rashan. How exactly? According to the CPS: BX47 attempted to look into Rashan’s mouth, attempted abdominal thrusts, put his hands on Rashan’s face in order to bring a reflex motion.
But as we’ve seen, Rashan was unresponsive when handcuffed, with an adult male astride him. This state persisted throughout the period when it is being claimed that he was in receipt of first aid or medical assistance. We see no “abdominal thrusts”, only some light prodding of Rashan’s abdomen region while he lies unresponsive, handcuffed and restrained.
The restraint expert’s findings, as communicated by the CPS, are baffling. They are not supported by the visual evidence of what happened to Rashan.
I am an expert in restraint and police use of force. My credentials include:
- National Public Order Tactical Trainer (Level 1 Public Order trained; Trainer for police officers to Level 1, 2 & 3 standards for public order)
- Arrest & Restraint Trainer & Dept. Manager
- Level 1 - Police Support Unit Commander
- Advanced Public Order Trained Cadre
- Authorised Firearms Officer
- Firearms Tactical Advisor
- Borough Operations Manager
- Criminal Justice Manager
- Principles of conflict management (City & Guild)
- Mediating conflicts
I find significant difficulties with almost all of the tactics used, specifically from the point BX47 violently takes Rashan to ground and onwards until Rashan is clearly unresponsive, and thereafter, when Rashan remains handcuffed and under restraint until the police medic arrives on the scene.
Court should hear the evidence
Stop and search is a regular task for operational police officers. Fatalities are not expected outcomes from this routine policing tactic.
According to Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, something every competent officer knows by rote, the use of force must be appropriate to the circumstances. The officer who apprehended Rashan used a series of restraints that were not appropriate for the incident he was dealing with. Some were not approved policing tactics, to a degree that was, in my view, disproportionate and grossly excessive, and prolonged the restraint despite Rashan’s appeals (tapping his hand against fridge door), use of force continuing despite his loss of responsiveness.
I have heard evidence at the inquest, and I note the verdict: accidental death. I note the IOPC findings that, although BX47’s “performance . . . fell short of expected standards”, his failings “were not deliberate and did not amount to misconduct”.
However, the degree of conflict between official claims and the CCTV and body worn camera video is deeply troubling. The visual evidence — in my opinion — suggests that the officer has a case to answer for gross negligence manslaughter and gross misconduct.
- The continued presence of a person astride Rashan as he lies prone and unresponsive.
- The absence of command, control or directions to save life from any of the several officers attending that scene.
- The extended period before removing handcuffs.
- The significant delay, without rendering first aid and medical care.
In my view these exceed evidence for misconduct by some way. In my view, only by fair judicial scrutiny in the Crown Court can it be determined if there was breach of the duty of care, gross negligence and criminal offences causing or contributing to Rashan’s death.
Drafted in collaboration with Clare Sambrook and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Shine A Light. Image collation by Sambrook and Omonira-Oyekanmi. As required by Coroner Mary Hassell’s anonymity order, we have obscured the faces of BX47, police medic BX48, Witness 1 (astride Rashan) and Witness 2.
In August last year Shine A Light put concerns raised in this article to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. A spokesperson said:
"The identity, credentials and experience of the restraint experts was provided, along with their reports, three months in advance of the inquest proceedings in line with the disclosure process.
While we were aware from the inquest proceedings that Mr Charles’ family members were unhappy with the choice of experts, the Coroner specifically requested a report from someone experienced in Metropolitan Police restraint procedures to assist with the inquest. Ian Read, an experienced trainer, was instructed. The CPS made the same request and also requested a report from a national expert on restraint procedures. Martin Graves who had worked for the Metropolitan Police, and authored the national policing ‘Personal Safety Manual’ was instructed.
Mr Graves is an official ‘expert witness’ whose duties under Civil Procedure Rules are to assist the court not the organisation which has instructed them (https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/part35#IDASLICC). It is worth noting that all witnesses at Coroner’s proceedings swear an oath and are made aware that providing false information can lead to a criminal charge of perjury.
The visual evidence that the experts used was examined, at length and in depth, by ourselves and the inquest. It was forensically examined by the Coroner and three barristers- one of them instructed by the family. In terms of what was physically seen on the footage, there has not been any specific fault identified in what the experts have described as seeing."
“BX47 did his best” says Independent Office for Police Conduct
Clare Sambrook writes: On 15 August 2018 the Independent Office for Police Conduct published its investigation report on the death of Rashan Charles. The IOPC found that BX47’s “performance ... fell short of expected standards”, but his failings “were not deliberate and did not amount to misconduct”.
They said: “while the restraint technique used was unorthodox it did not cause any injury to Mr Charles’ throat nor contribute to his death.” And: “BX47 did his best in difficult circumstances.”
The IOPC confirmed that (as we revealed in June 2018— here) BX47 failed to switch on his body worn camera as he left the police vehicle to pursue Rashan. Another officer’s footage was, according to the police watchdog, “not retained” and the police were “unable to confirm if this was due to human or computer error”.
IOPC investigation reports are provided to the coroner ahead of the inquest and form an important part of its fact-finding process.
At the inquest into Rashan’s death in June 2018 the jury watched CCTV footage of what was done to Rashan. They heard evidence from long-serving ex-Metropolitan Police officers who were presented as “independent” experts on restraint. Coroner Mary Hassell directed the jury to consider whether Rashan’s death was an accident. She did not leave them the option of a more critical conclusion, such as unlawful killing or neglect. They returned a verdict of accidental death.