A short piece on the “accidental death” of young black Londoner Rashan Charles
Shine A Light marks the second anniversary of a contentious death under police restraint. (Warning, distressing content).
In the London Borough of Hackney, in the early hours of 22 July 2017, a police officer pursued a young black man into a convenience store. Within minutes the young man was dead.
His name was Rashan Charles. He was 20 years old, the eldest of seven children, a father himself, his daughter nearly two years old.
We’re not allowed to know the police officer’s name. We can say that he was a member of the Metropolitan Police Service’s highly trained Territorial Support Group.
The location was the Yours Locally store on Hackney’s Kingsland Road. The 22nd was a Saturday. The time was coming up to 2am.
What happened during those fatal minutes?
The Metropolitan Police Service asserted—on the Sunday morning—that Rashan had been “taken ill” after “trying to swallow an object” and the officer “intervened and sought to prevent the man from harming himself”.
But the incident had been captured on several of the store’s CCTV cameras. A few minutes of one camera’s footage had been recorded onto a mobile phone then shared online.
On the Sunday morning we spotted and studied this rather fuzzy footage, described what we could see and published the first report to challenge the official claims.
On the Monday, the London Evening Standard ran a story supporting the police account, with fresh (and fuzzier) CCTV footage that purported to show the very moment, as Rashan was entering the store, when he “swallows object”.
Three pathologists agreed that the probable cause of Rashan’s death was obstruction of his upper airway by a foreign body. An object removed from Rashan’s airway was found to contain caffeine and Paracetamol. It measured approximately 6cm by 7cm (the third dimension was not reported.)
No evidence has been presented to support the police suggestion that Rashan tried to swallow the object, let alone that he was “determined to swallow”, as police lawyer John Beggs would go on to suggest at the inquest into Rashan’s death.
In the two years since Rashan Charles died we’ve continued working on this story. We’ve sourced footage that raises further questions about Rashan’s death and we’ve published expert analysis by Rod Charles, a retired Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector and Rashan’s great uncle. My Shine A Light colleague Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi attended every day of last summer’s inquest and the November 2017 pre-inquest hearing at which the coroner was persuaded to grant anonymity to two police officers and two witnesses.
You can find all our reporting on the case here. There’s more to come.
Today, we’ll focus on just eight images.
Rashan is 6ft 1” tall and slightly built, 163 pounds (11 stone 9 lbs). He wears his hair in cornrows, has a white metal ring on his right middle finger, and a tattoo, “RIP Natasha” on his left forearm, a tribute to an aunt who died some years before.
Here, we see the police officer approaching Rashan, at speed and from behind, in the Yours Locally store. The store’s CCTV footage shows the date 22 July 2017, and the time: 01.40 and 16 seconds.
The officer seizes Rashan from behind, turns him around and walks him back down the aisle.
Here’s a combat throw, hard to the ground. The officer lands heavily on top of Rashan, the officer’s right hand goes to Rashan’s mouth—at 01.40 and 33 seconds.
Is this when the package gets lodged in Rashan’s airway?
Or is it here, at 01.40 and 45 seconds, when Rashan is on his back, the officer bracing his boot against a shop-fitting?
See how Rashan taps his hand against the cooler cabinet? Does he know he’s in danger? Is he signalling distress?
So far we’ve seen nothing to suggest that Rashan poses any kind of threat. And now, at 01.41 and 13 seconds, we see his knees rise up into a fetal position. The officer leans his weight onto Rashan’s thigh and twists his arm.
Here comes assistance. Not for Rashan, though. A tall athletic man, described by police as just a member of the public, joins the restraint, gets on top of Rashan. The time shows 01.41 and 25 seconds. We see Rashan’s eyes, wide and staring.
Now Rashan is limp and unresponsive, yet the officer proceeds to handcuff Rashan with help from the tall athletic man.
Perhaps 40 seconds later the officer radios for help. He’s not summoning an ambulance, though. He’s calling his team.
Here they are, arriving at one second before 01.44. Among them is a police medic.
Police officers are trained in first aid, but they allow the “member of the public” to attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Shortly afterwards, London Ambulance Service paramedics arrive. But it’s too late to save Rashan.
In January 2018 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute the police officer on a charge of common assault.
At the inquest into Rashan’s death in June 2018, coroner Mary Hassell told the jury to consider whether Rashan’s death was an accident, not leaving 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 IOPC cleared the officer of misconduct and said he “did his best in difficult circumstances”. He “failed to follow recognised first aid protocols” and delayed calling an ambulance, said the IOPC. These were “shortfalls in performance” that should be addressed in a meeting between the officer and his senior management.
Our work continues.
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