Shine A Light: Investigation

New evidence, fresh questions about death of young Black Londoner Rashan Charles

Police claimed the man who helped an officer restrain and handcuff Rashan Charles was “a member of the public” with no police connection. CCTV evidence raises doubts. Shine A Light exclusive (distressing content).

Clare Sambrook Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi
26 November 2020, 12.01am
BX47 pursues Rashan down the aisle at 01.40.16 on 22 July 2017
CCTV stills by Shine A Light

Rashan Charles was a healthy young man out with friends in East London when a uniformed police officer from the elite Territorial Support Group chased him into a convenience store. Without any verbal warning, the officer grabbed Rashan from behind, threw him to the floor and heavily restrained him. A second man assisted the officer. Rashan, who was unarmed and presented no threat, died on the floor of the Yours Locally shop on Hackney’s Kingsland Road in the early hours of 22 July 2017. He was 20 years old, the eldest of seven children and a father himself, his daughter coming up to her second birthday at the time.

The Metropolitan Police Service claimed that the man who helped the officer restrain and handcuff Rashan was a “member of the public”, a helpful bystander who had no connection to the police or security services. At the inquest into Rashan’s death, in June 2018, both men, giving evidence while screened from public view, claimed under oath that they had not met one another until the fatal incident. Since lawyers representing the police obtained an anonymity order forbidding identification of either man, these claims cannot be verified.

"Taken ill"

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The day after Rashan’s death, we published a Shine A Light article challenging the official story that Rashan was “taken ill” after “trying to swallow an object” and that the police officer “intervened and sought to prevent the man from harming himself”. We have continued to investigate, attending every day of the inquest into Rashan’s death, and publishing a series of investigative reports on this troubling case.

We have gained exclusive access to footage recorded by multiple CCTV cameras at the scene. Having analysed the footage, it is our belief that interactions between police officers and the “member of the public” raise fresh doubts about police assertions that the two men who restrained Rashan had never met before the fatal incident, and that the second man had no connection with the police.

In parallel today we are publishing an expert analysis of the CCTV footage by Rod Charles who is a retired Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector and Rashan’s great uncle, and a 20 minute documentary film.

Here is our interpretation of what we see.

In the early hours of Saturday 22 July 2017 (soon after 01:40, by the CCTV clock) a uniformed officer from the Metropolitan Police Service’s elite Territorial Support Group pursues Rashan into the Yours Locally convenience store and grabs him from behind. According to evidence heard at the inquest, the officer gave no verbal warning.

Bz.40.17_BX47_grabs_Rashan_aisle copy_censored.jpg
BX47 grabs Rashan from behind at 01.40.17 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

Seconds later the uniformed officer, whom we must call BX47, throws Rashan to the floor, landing heavily on top of him.

BX47 throws Rashan to the floor at 01.40.29 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

A second man, whom the police describe as a “member of the public”, walks into the store. We are not allowed to identify him. We must call him Witness 1. Without hesitation, Witness 1 climbs on top of Rashan and pins him to the floor.

Witness 1 joins the restraint at 01.41.25 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

Rashan is limp and unresponsive, face down on the floor, when the two men, working together, handcuff him. We can see that Rashan’s right hand is limp as Witness 1 passes it to BX47 at 01:41 and 44 seconds. It’s barely a minute and a half since BX47 chased Rashan into the store.

Close-up: Witness 1 assists BX47 in handcuffing Rashan at 01.41.42 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

Rashan is subjected to further prolonged and heavy restraint, ceasing only after a police medic, whom we must call BX48, arrives on the scene (just before 01:44, by the CCTV clock). She assesses Rashan and orders the handcuffs taken off.

The police officers allow Witness 1, who, according to the official narrative is a complete stranger to them, to spend the best part of a minute palpating Rashan’s chest and tummy. They permit him to attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Rashan.

Witness 1 palpates Rashan’s chest at 01.47.36 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

London Ambulance Service paramedics arrive at the scene around 01:50 by the CCTV clock. Witness 1 withdraws and disappears from view, reappearing 9 seconds later in an adjacent aisle where he speaks to another witness.

Meanwhile, BX47 watches the paramedics at work. Witness 1 beckons him over. BX47 immediately approaches, stepping over Rashan’s feet to join Witness 1 in the aisle.

Witness 1 beckons to BX47 at 02.06.12 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

BX47 joins Witness 1 in the aisle at 02.06.16 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

The pair greet each other with a one-armed embrace. Witness 1 offers BX47 a bottle of water. The officer declines. Witness 1 shows BX47 a card from his wallet. The officer writes in his notebook, then returns it to his pocket.

The two men clasp hands. In our opinion the video evidence suggests a warm, intimate encounter. The time by the CCTV clock is 02:10. Twenty-eight minutes have passed since we saw Rashan limp and unresponsive.

BX47 and Witness 1, a one-armed embrace at 02.06.17 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

BX47 and Witness 1 clasp hands at 02.10.18 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

Paramedics retrieve a package from Rashan’s airway. (Later it is found to contain caffeine and paracetamol.) A police officer places the object in an evidence bag.

That officer approaches Witness 1 in the aisle. Witness 1’s facial expression—which we are obliged to obscure, due to the anonymity ruling—seems to us to suggest recognition, perhaps even familiarity. The officer shows the bag to Witness 1 and they talk.

BX47 greets another officer with a smile at 02.19.47 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

Officer shows evidence bags to Witness 1 at 02.19.54 on 22 July 2017 | CCTV stills by Shine A Light

Unverifiable assertions

The Metropolitan Police Service has repeatedly asserted that Witness 1 was not a police officer, “not connected to the police”, “not police or security services”.

At the inquest into Rashan’s death both BX47 and Witness 1 claimed under oath that they had not met before the fatal incident. Jude Bunting, the barrister representing Rashan’s family, raised the question of who was in charge at the scene, the police officer or the member of the public? Bunting even asked Witness 1 if he felt that BX47 had assisted him.

Witness 1 replied: “I feel 47 was not one hundred per cent. He was tired. He was not himself.”

Let us pause on that. Witness 1 told the inquest that the police officer he claimed he had never met before was “not one hundred per cent. He was tired. He was not himself.”

The inquest jury asked questions about who was in charge, BX47 or Witness 1? The coroner put their questions to Witness 1 and asked him to clarify his conflicting accounts of who was in control. In evidence Witness 1 had said that BX47 gave him instructions, but he also said that BX47 froze and did very little. “He was giving instructions to the best of his ability, but I just feel that he also needed extra help,” said Witness 1.

The jury asked the coroner to ask Witness 1 again if he thought BX47 was making decisions or not. “I don’t know,” Witness 1 replied. Then he said again, “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Fresh questions

Here are some of our questions arising from the interactions we have observed between Witness 1 and officers at the scene.

Why did BX47 appear to defer to this eager stranger, and let him take control of the scene?

BX47 and his colleagues were members of the highly trained Metropolitan Police Territorial Support Group. All front-line police officers receive Emergency Life Support training, and BX48 was a police medic with enhanced medical training. So, why, even after police medic BX48 and other officers arrived at the scene, was Witness 1 allowed to examine Rashan, palpate his abdomen and chest, and, apparently, attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? Why did the officers defer to a complete stranger? (At the inquest Witness 1 said he had taken part in just one day’s training in first aid, five years prior to the fatal incident.)

When, at last, an ambulance was summoned, paramedics arrived and attempted to resuscitate the stricken Rashan, why did police officers permit BX47 and Witness 1 to talk together and with another witness? Why were other members of the public allowed to come and go?

Was “accidental death” the likely outcome from the start?

Why did an officer show the evidence bag to Witness 1 and discuss it with him if, as claimed, he was a “member of the public” who had no connection with the police?

Had none of the officers present considered the Yours Locally as a potential crime scene, and BX47 and Witness 1 as potential suspects in a criminal investigation? Or was “accidental death” the likely outcome from the start?

Testing the official narrative

Since the day after Rashan’s death, over the course of more than a dozen articles, we, in parallel with Rod Charles, have tested official assertions against the available evidence, airing doubts and raising questions.

What were BX47’s lawful powers and tactical options and how did his actions compare? Why did police claim that BX47 intervened to help Rashan, when Rashan was upright, standing unaided and showed no signs of being unwell or physically distressed until after BX47 threw him down?

If, as claimed, BX47 suspected Rashan of swallowing drugs, why did he not immediately summon an ambulance, or instruct one of the bystanders, customers or shop staff, to do so? When BX47 did decide to summon assistance, why did he call his fellow officers and not an ambulance? Training and guidance is clear on this. According to College of Police Training Authorised Professional Practice guidance at the time of the incident (published in October 2013 and 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.”

Why was BX47 pursuing Rashan at all? What were the grounds? Why does BX47 fail to activate his body-worn video camera when he starts the pursuit? Why does the officer neglect to shout a verbal warning? Why does the officer use such force in the face of Rashan’s passivity? (Rashan offered no threat of violence. He was 6’1” tall and slightly built, he weighed about 163 pounds—11 st 9 1bs.)

Why does BX47 permit a member of the public to forcefully restrain the stricken Rashan? Why does BX47 decide to handcuff Rashan when he presents no threat, is not resisting, indeed is face down and unresponsive? Is Rashan unconscious when they handcuff him? Why continue to restrain him? How come one officer’s body-worn camera footage is “accidentally deleted?” How can the Independent Office of Police Conduct assert that the deleted footage was not evidentially significant when, by their own admission, they have not seen it?

Rashan Charles family portraits
Rashan Charles family portraits
Composite by Shine A Light

A beloved son

According to his family, Rashan was a loving father to his daughter who was four months shy of her second birthday when he died. He was a beloved, son, friend, nephew, brother. He had a tattoo, “RIP Natasha” on his left forearm, a tribute to his severely disabled aunt whom the family had lost some years earlier. Rashan was close to his mother and his grandmother who had expected to see him that weekend. She was going to teach him how to cook stewed chicken.

The impression created was one of serious threat.

The inquest into Rashan’s death was held in front of a jury at St Pancras Coroner’s Court, London in June 2018. Police barristers created a narrative of Hackney as a lawless place, “plagued” by a summer of “shootings and stabbings”. About Rashan, who had low level convictions for possession of cannabis and intent to supply, police lawyers drip-fed a theory that Rashan was potentially dangerous. Despite the absence of any evidence that Rashan’s family presented a threat of any kind, the Metropolitan Police provided a significant presence around the court. The Coroner’s anonymity ruling meant that four witnesses were known only by cyphers. When they gave evidence they were screened from public view.

How might all this have influenced the jury? In our opinion, the impression created was one of serious threat.

At the inquest into Rashan’s death the jury watched CCTV footage of what was done to Rashan. They heard evidence from long-serving ex-Metropolitan Police officers, Ian Read and Martin Graves, who were presented as “independent” experts on restraint. Both acknowledged that BX47’s actions were not in keeping with his training, but they were reluctant to criticise him. Read said: “It could have been done better in hindsight. From what I have seen and what I have heard he has tried to look after Rashan.”

Coroner Mary Hassell, who had yielded to police requests for anonymity, 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. The jury returned a conclusion of “accidental death”.

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 BX47 had 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”.

Systemic injustice

Deborah Coles, Director of the charity INQUEST said: “Rashan’s death occurred in the context of decades of disproportionate use of force, over-policing and criminalisation of young black men. The state narratives peddled by lawyers were an attempt to smear Rashan’s character to deflect attention away from police actions. This sent a message that the lives of certain groups are disposable. Over three years since the harrowing restraint of Rashan and we are left with more questions than answers as to the circumstances of his death.

“Deleted body worn evidence, restricted participation of the family in the IOPC investigation, the lack of independence of police experts and the hostile environment created at the inquest through the tactics of police lawyers. The experience of Rashan’s family is regretfully not an anomaly but is consistent with the systemic pattern of the obfuscation, denial and defensiveness faced by bereaved families in their battles for truth, justice and accountability following a death in police custody.”

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. For Shine A Light’s complete reporting of the Rashan Charles story, see here.

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