Shine A Light

Inquest jury says death of Rashan Charles was an accident

Police failure to admit any responsibility for death of young black Londoner will set back community relations “for generations” family says.

Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi
20 June 2018

Police officer BX47 restrains Rashan Charles on Saturday 22 July 2017

Police officer BX47 restrains Rashan Charles on Saturday 22 July 2017

An inquest jury found today that the death of young black Londoner Rashan Charles was an accident caused by deliberate human action by Rashan himself, a police officer and a civilian bystander.

Their actions unexpectedly and inadvertently led to Rashan’s death, the jury said.

The coroner, Mary Hassell, in her directions to the jury, did not leave open the possibility of a more critical conclusion such as neglect or unlawful killing, saying she did not believe “a reasonable jury could see this”.

The jury gave a verdict of accidental death with a narrative that found:

  • Rashan had concealed a package in his mouth and resisted during arrest. The police officer, known as BX47, brought Rashan to the ground through “justified use of force”.
  • Officer BX47 failed to follow police procedure for when someone is not breathing or is suspected of swallowing drugs.
  • The officer failed to manage the impact of the civilian bystander known by the cypher Witness 1.
  • BX47 called for police assistance before calling for an ambulance. When he found the line busy, he failed to use his radio’s override function to summon the ambulance.
  • The jury said the omissions did not make a difference to Rashan’s death. “Rashan’s life was not salvageable at a point prior to which the medical emergency was readily identifiable.”
  • The cause of death was cardiac arrest caused by obstruction of the airway by a foreign body during a period of restraint, the jury said. Rashan died on 22 July 2017 at the Yours Locally convenience store on Kingsland High Road in Hackney, East London. (Not in hospital, as the police had claimed).

The jury added that none of the actions taken by the police medic BX48 or paramedics contributed to Rashan’s death.

Community relations set back by generations

Rashan’s great uncle Rod Charles, who had 30 years experience in the Metropolitan Police before retiring at the rank of Chief Inspector four years ago, said the inquest process had been “a farce”, and it was clear that BX47 “had a shocking night on the 22 July 2017, with fatal consequences”.


Rod Charles, speaking to reporters outside St Pancras Coroner’s Court (Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi)

Rod Charles challenged the independence of two expert witnesses, instructed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), who testified on police training and BX47’s use of force. Charles said that with 75 years combined service to the Metropolitan Police between them, “they still have an umbilical cord to the Met”.

The Charles family issued a statement through the charity INQUEST. “Rashan Charles was a young father and an integral part of his family. He is greatly missed by all of us,” they said. “We believe the IOPC investigation was flawed from the outset. We were left out of key decisions, evidence was excluded, police worn video missing and time frames manipulated. This felt to be a predetermined process by the IOPC, the Metropolitan police and the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service).”

They said submissions by the family barrister Jude Bunting “were overturned in court and evidence dismissed”.

The Charles family paid respect to the jury “who had to make a decision based on the limited evidence and confines put upon them.” About the two expert witnesses with 75 years combined service in the Met, “and one still serving”, they said: “This appears to us neither objective, independent or impartial.”

The family went on: “The police projected a criminal caricature of Rashan even after his death. This successfully served to detract from the events of 22nd July 2017. We are not adversaries of the police. This is about the conduct of individual police officers. However, the absence of admission of any responsibility does not stall community relations by weeks or years, but sets it back generations. This part of the flawed system is over, our work to receive answers continues.”


St Pancras Coroner’s Court (Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi)

The jury at St Pancras Coroner’s Court had heard eight days of evidence over two weeks from witnesses, police officers and experts on police safety training. The jury heard how, in Hackney, East London, in the early hours of Saturday 22 July last year, a police officer chased Rashan into a convenience store, grabbed him from behind, threw him to the ground and restrained him. A man described by the police as a “member of the public” joined in the restraint, helping to handcuff Rashan as he lay limp and face down on the floor.

The jury viewed footage captured by the shop’s CCTV cameras and the officer’s body-worn camera. The officer and the second man were known in court as BX47 and Witness 1, the coroner Mary Hassell having granted both men anonymity in a ruling last November.

BX47 was among highly trained Metropolitan police officers from the Territorial Support Group (TSG) on overnight patrol in three carriers in Hackney. Local police had briefed them about individuals on their wanted list. Rashan Charles was not one of them, BX47 said on Day Two of the inquest, Tuesday 5 June 2018.

Police officers told the court they noticed the car in which Rashan was a passenger because the driver had used his indicator lights indecisively and his eyes “lit up” when he spotted the police vehicle. Rashan got out of the car and two officers pursued him, BX47 catching up with him in the Yours Locally store on Kingsland Road.


Rashan Charles (Family)

In footage shown many times in court, BX47 can be seen grabbing Rashan from behind, getting him in a neck hold, throwing him to the floor, and subjecting him to a prolonged restraint. The man described as a “member of the public” and known in court as Witness 1 can be seen joining the restraint, getting astride Rashan, pinning him down.

Working together, Witness 1 and BX47 handcuff Rashan, who is face down on the floor and, by now, completely still. Witness 1 takes Rashan’s limp right hand and passes it for BX47 to apply handcuffs. He remains kneeling on Rashan’s limp body.

Once Rashan is cuffed, Witness 1 can be heard on the police body worn camera footage saying: “I’m a first aider. I’m trying to help you stay breathing.”

Witness 1 and police officer BX47 handcuff Rashan Charles on the floor of a Hackney convenience store, Saturday 22 July 2017

Witness 1 and police officer BX47 handcuff Rashan Charles on the floor of a Hackney convenience store, Saturday 22 July 2017

Under questioning from the family’s lawyer, Jude Bunting, on Day Two, BX47 maintained that he thought Rashan had something in his mouth or was attempting to put something in his mouth. Bunting reminded him that suspected swallowing of concealed drugs should be considered a medical emergency, so why did he not treat Rashan as a medical emergency?

BX47 replied: “Not initially. There was a lot going on. I was trying to look at what the situation was.”

Both Witness 1 and BX47 told the court that neither man had met the other before the fatal incident. On Day Three, Witness 1 said repeatedly that BX47 had seemed in shock. Under questioning from Bunting, he said: “I feel 47 was not one hundred per cent. He was tired. He was not himself.”

People who had been inside the convenience store told the inquest how Rashan was struggling to breathe and choking as the two men restrained him. Counsel for BX47, Neil Saunders, asked those witnesses repeatedly if what they saw and heard really were signs of choking, which he specified as “coughing” or “gasping for breath”.

Later, Jasmeet Soar, an intensive care consultant, told the inquest: “It’s not always obvious.” He said the way BX47 tackled Rashan to the ground “clearly contributed” to the packet getting lodged in his windpipe.

Rashan Charles and daughter (Family)

Rashan Charles and daughter (Family)

On footage from his own body worn camera, BX47 can be heard, several minutes into the restraint, and after Rashan has become limp, making two calls. On the first he says: “More to my location quick, back of the shop.” Then he makes a second call and asks for the London Ambulance Service.

Rashan Charles was the eldest of seven siblings and, according to his family, close to his mother and his grandmother who had expected to see him on Sunday 23 July; she was going to show him how to cook stewed chicken.

Rashan got on extremely well with his 82 year old great grandfather, had plans to visit him and other family members in Grenada. Rashan’s family said he was a talented footballer, well liked by his teachers, and a loving father to his daughter who was four months shy of her second birthday when he died. She still asks for him, the family said.

Edited by Clare Sambrook for Shine A Light. Additional reporting by Annissa Warsame.

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