Until the early hours of Saturday 22 July 2017, Rashan Charles was a fit and healthy young man. He walked quickly into a convenience store on Kingsland Road, Hackney, followed by a Metropolitan Police officer who apprehended and restrained him. Within minutes Rashan lay dead on the floor.
Rashan was 20 years old. He was my great-nephew, my sister’s grandson.
Within hours of Rashan’s death someone posted video footage from the store’s CCTV cameras.*
I watched that footage, watched the police officer pursue Rashan, take him down with a combat throw. I watched Rashan die.
Rashan appeared fit and healthy, his normal self, until the officer took him down. At no point does he pose a threat to the officer.
I used to be a police officer. Six years ago I retired from the Metropolitan Police at the rank of Chief Inspector after 30 years’ service. I’ve trained police officers in control and restraint. I know how it’s supposed to be done.
Two years ago, here at Shine A Light, I shared my analysis of what the officer did and failed to do. (As stated there, and reported below, the police officer, known as BX47, has been cleared of misconduct.)
Today I’ll narrow my focus onto the man who assisted the uniformed police officer in restraining Rashan. The police have called him “a member of the public” and “a bystander”. Many people who’ve seen the video find that hard to believe, because of his significant and prominent role in this fatal incident.
We may not name this man, nor may we show his face — his identity is protected by an anonymity order. We must call him Witness 1.
Much of the footage we’re analysing here is from the store’s CCTV cameras — you can view some of it online. I’ve viewed video that’s not in the public domain, of what happens in the moments after Rashan’s death, and CCTV footage from outside the shop. And, in June 2018, I attended every day of the inquest into Rashan’s death. There, over and over again, we saw footage from police body-worn cameras.
Here we’ll describe Witness 1’s actions, and we’ll ask some of the questions that a competent investigator should ask.
Witness 1, the “member of the public”
We first see the “member of the public”, Witness 1 (in footage that is not online) standing outside the convenience store on Kingsland Road. It’s not clear what he is doing there or where he is planning to go.
CCTV footage shows him entering the shop with two other men, just after Rashan and the police officer. (Almost one year on, at the inquest into Rashan’s death, Witness 1 said he went in to buy a sandwich and a drink).
We see Witness 1 next inside the store. Of the three men we saw outside, only Witness 1 joins the restraint of Rashan.
What prompts him to participate? Is he asked? Does he volunteer?
In his statement, said to have been made at 07:15hrs 22 July 2017, Witness 1 says: “Officer was panicking and required assistance.”
Under oath, at the inquest into Rashan’s death, Witness 1 said that “without thinking” he offered to help. “The officer and Rashan Charles both didn’t look comfortable,” he told the court on Wednesday 30 June 2018. “So I thought I would step in to defuse any resistance and struggle between the two.”
He said the police officer had appeared “panicked”, “confused” and “in shock”. Both Rashan and BX47 “seemed to be in an awkward position”. Witness 1 claimed: “I wanted to assist both parties.”
Before this man joins in, we’ve already seen the uniformed police officer, whom we must call BX47, follow Rashan into the store.
We’ve seen BX47 apprehend Rashan from behind, take him in a neck hold and use a combat throw to take him to the floor, landing heavily on top of him.
We’ve seen Rashan kick his legs against the floor, tap the fridge door in what looks like a distress signal.
We’ve seen Rashan’s hands go limp and his legs rise up into the fetal position, while BX47 twists his left arm. We’ve seen Rashan twist onto his front, his right arm reaching out beyond the fridge. (In footage from BX47’s body-worn camera that was played to the court, Witness 1 can be heard saying: “Do you want a hand?” The officer replies: “Yes.”)
Now we see Witness 1, the “member of the public” join the restraint. Tall, athletic, he gets himself astride Rashan, using his left leg to pin Rashan down.
Briefly we see Rashan’s face, he turns his head to his left, his eyes are big and wide. He faces Officer BX47, looking directly at him. Rashan’s distress is clearly visible. This is the last time we see Rashan’s face alive.
Rashan falls still, completely still, face down on the floor. The “member of the public” moves Rashan’s limp right hand behind his back and passes it, correctly positioned, for the uniformed police officer to apply handcuffs.
It is as if he is familiar with this process, as if he has applied handcuffs before. Both men are jointly applying the handcuffs, and neither one of them react appropriately to Rashan’s unresponsiveness.
CCTV footage shows Rashan is not responsive. But the account said to have been given by Witness 1 at 07:15 hrs on the morning of Rashan’s death tells a different story. He refers to Rashan “still resisting”, claims there was “strength in his body” and his “fists were clenched but nothing in his hand”.
Fifteen seconds after applying handcuffs to the unresponsive Rashan, BX47 and Witness 1 shift him onto his right side. BX47 kneels to the left of him. Witness 1 stays on top, his left knee still pinning Rashan down at the buttock or upper thigh.
Both men look into Rashan’s face. BX47 shakes Rashan a little, prods him around his abdomen region, his actions now apparently focused on Rashan’s unresponsiveness. But still Witness 1 keeps Rashan pinned to the floor. The handcuffs stay on.
BX47 and Witness 1 speak to one another. The shop’s CCTV footage has no sound, but we may observe body language. BX47 seems, perhaps, to defer to Witness 1. The police officer is plainly not in control of this incident.
Three and a half minutes after Rashan is taken down by a neck throw more police officers arrive. The “member of the public”, Witness 1, has been astride Rashan for over two and a half minutes.
All police officers receive basic first aid training. Not a single officer takes immediate lifesaving command and control of the scene. No one directs the “member of the public” to immediately remove himself from the stricken Rashan.
One of the police officers attending the scene is a police medic, BX48. She carries out responsiveness tests. When the seriousness of the situation registers, she removes the handcuffs. But too much time has elapsed.
The “member of the public”, Witness 1, has remained astride and pinning Rashan for three minutes and 44 seconds. The handcuffs applied to an unconscious and unresponsive Rashan stayed on for three minutes and 45 seconds.
Actions that are eventually taken to begin first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) are slow paced.
Now the first person to attempt giving mouth to mouth breaths to Rashan is the “member of the public”, and the first to attempt chest compressions is the uniformed police officer, BX47, who put Rashan into his unconscious state.
Paramedics arrive. The “member of the public” steps back and disappears from view, up the aisle the far side of the fridge.
Attempts at resuscitation continue. Something is taken out of Rashan’s mouth and put in an evidence bag.
The following scenes appear in the shop’s CCTV footage of the minutes after the fatal incident. This evidence is not in the public domain, though parts of it were shown at the inquest into Rashan’s death.
The “member of the public” disappears from view. Later he is seen again, walking towards the camera, in the aisle the nearside of the fridge.
Here he checks his pockets, takes a piece of paper or card, maybe a form of ID, from his back pocket. He says something to another man, a plump man, who checks his phone.
Now Officer BX47 joins the “member of the public”, Witness 1, in the aisle. Their interaction appears warm and friendly. The “member of the public” lightly places his hand against BX47’s back. He shows BX47 the card he has removed from his wallet. The officer writes in his notebook.
A few moments later Witness 1 offers BX47 a bottle of water from the shop floor, a friendly gesture albeit not that it is his water to give. BX47 declines.
BX47 puts his hand on Witness 1’s chest. The pair clasp hands. The member of the public again pats BX47, this time on the right arm before BX47 moves out of view. Witness 1 starts texting, while another officer interviews the plump man.
Let’s not forget the law here. Regardless of his status, the “member of the public”, like Officer BX47, is subject to the law:
Section 3 Criminal Law Act 1967 states:
A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.
Is what we’ve witnessed “reasonable force”?
- What did the “member of the public” observe prior to becoming involved?
- What was said between him and the uniformed police officer before, during and after the restraint of Rashan?
- Why do the two men handcuff Rashan when he poses no threat and is in medical distress?
- When, belatedly, BX47 focuses on Rashan’s unresponsiveness, why doesn’t the “member of the public” remove himself? Why doesn’t the officer direct him to remove himself?
- When several police officers attend the scene, why does not one of them direct the member of the public to immediately remove himself?
A first aider
On the second day of the inquest, police officer BX47 told the court that he allowed Witness 1 to assist because the man said he knew first aid.
The police medic BX48, told the court that she allowed the man to stay at the scene because he was a first aider. She said she could tell his first aid training was historic, but he was supporting Rashan’s head so she didn’t ask him to leave.
Under oath at the inquest, Witness 1 told the court he had done a one day first aid course six years previously.
A helpful bystander?
Within hours of Rashan’s death, when CCTV footage of the pursuit and restraint circulated online, many people watching the footage assumed that the second man was a plain-clothes officer. Why else would he be there?
People were troubled by early police and IPCC (Independent Police Complaints Commission) claims that he was just a helpful bystander.
It didn’t make sense.
Public unease and concern
On Tuesday 25 July 2017 people from the neighbourhood held a vigil outside Stoke Newington Police Station, just half a mile from the convenience store where Rashan had died on the Saturday morning. Hackney Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Simon Laurence, came out onto the street, expressed his condolences and took questions. People recorded on their mobile phones, asked him to speak up over the traffic noise.
One woman said: “When can we hear how this death occurred? What we’ve heard is apparently, the second person wasn’t a police officer?”
Here’s Ch Supt Laurence’s response: “So, the only officers involved in the investigation are in uniform.”
The woman sounds puzzled. She asks: “So, who was the plain clothes?”
Laurence repeats himself: “The only officers involved in the incident were in uniform.”
The woman, still courteous, persists: “Sorry, sir. He was in plain clothes when this occurred.”
Laurence: “I reiterate. The only officers were in uniform.”
Another voice: “He’s a police officer, all right.”
One man asks: “Do you believe that was reasonable force used on Rashan that day?”
Ch Supt Laurence replies: “So, the answer I will give to that is, there is an independent investigation.”
Then he turns and walks back inside the police station. (In February 2018 Ch Supt Laurence stepped down from his Hackney post to head the Met’s response to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.)
All comments by the Police, IPCC/IOPC, Crown Prosecution Service, Coroner’s Officer, and Home Office Pathologist, support the original police claim that the person assisting the police officer was a “member of the public”.
In early August 2017 the journalist Clare Sambrook put written questions to the IPCC. (Note: At the time of Rashan’s death, the police watchdog was called the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). It has since been rebranded as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)). Here are Sambrook’s questions, with the IPCC’s responses:
SAMBROOK: Regarding IPCC statement “A member of the public visible on CCTV and involved in Rashan’s restraint is not connected to the police.” Please would you advise: Did that person act in response to request from the police?
IPCC: This will form part of our investigation.
SAMBROOK: Has he been interviewed under caution and/or charged in relation to the incident?
IPCC: No — he has been interviewed though and a witness statement taken.
SAMBROOK: Can you state his occupation?
SAMBROOK: Regarding: “not connected to the police”, can you confirm that he has no connection with police or other security services?
IPCC: Not police or security services.
We’ve seen how this man intervened (when there was no threat to the police officer). We’ve heard his opinion that BX47 was panicking whilst restraining Rashan. We’ve seen for ourselves that at no point did the officer face threats of or actual violence from Rashan. We’ve observed how the uniformed officer seems to defer to Witness 1.
Both BX47 and Witness 1 claimed under oath that they had never met before the fatal incident.
At the inquest, our family’s barrister Jude Bunting asked Witness 1 if he felt that BX47 had assisted him. Here’s how Witness 1 replied:
“I feel 47 was not one hundred per cent. He was tired. He was not himself.”
In a statement given on 1 August 2017, Witness 2 is quoted as saying: “I thought the guy that helped was a plain clothes officer.”
Taking all factors into consideration, my personal view is the man is not a plain clothes police officer. But, I cannot discount others’ assessments and opinions. I may yet be proved wrong, he may be found to have some law enforcement connections.
The most significant concern for me is his high level of involvement throughout the course of this fatal incident, and the absence of command and control of this incident, most notably by BX47 and then by all officers attending the scene. It is bizarre.
There have been no credible threats or risks to those involved in this fatality.
The coroner’s decision to grant anonymity to four people including the uniformed police officer BX47 and the “member of the public” only deepens doubts about the status of the second man, and about the integrity of the investigatory process.
Rod Charles’s piece was drafted in collaboration with Clare Sambrook and Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi for Shine A Light.
Image collation by Sambrook and Omonira-Oyekanmi from original CCTV footage. As required by Coroner Mary Hassell’s anonymity order, we have obscured the faces of BX47, BX48, Witness 1 and Witness 2.
Mobile phone recording of CCTV footage from the Hackney convenience store circulated on-line in the hours after Rashan’s death. The Guardian pixellated that footage in light of the anonymity ruling. We link to the Guardian’s version.
For Shine A Light’s complete reporting of the Rashan Charles story, see here.
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