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Police watchdog omits 3 contentious deaths from record-breaking count of deaths in custody

Exclusive: Annual count of police custody deaths in England and Wales hits 23, an 11-year high. But deaths of Rashan Charles, Shane Bryant and Edson Da Costa are excluded from the headline figure.

Police officer BX47 restrains Rashan Charles on Saturday 22 July 2017

Three young black men who died during or after police restraint are not included in the latest official count of “deaths in or following police custody”, Shine A Light has learned. 

The three are Rashan CharlesShane Bryant and Edson Da Costa.

report published today by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (formerly known as the Independent Police Complaints Commission) records 23 police custody deaths in England and Wales in the year to 31 March 2018. That’s an 11-year high. 

But at least three young black men who are known to have died during or after police restraint are not listed by the IOPC among the headline 23 “deaths in or following police custody”. 

Edson Da Costa, 25, died in Newham, East London, on 21 June 2017, following restraint by police six days earlier. 

Shane Bryant, 29, died in Leicestershire on 15 July 2017 following restraint by members of public and police two days earlier.

Rashan Charles, 20, died in Hackney, East London on 22 July 2017 during or following restraint by police.

But none of the three are among the 23 recorded “deaths in or following police custody”, the IOPC confirmed today.

Responding to questions from Shine A Light, an IOPC spokesman explained: “Because Rashan Charles was never actually arrested and read his rights, he will not be one of the 23. It’s because of the way we define ‘in custody’.” 

Asked to specify why Shane Bryant and Edson Da Costa were not included in the headline figure, the IOPC said that their deaths also did not meet the IOPC’s definition.

Instead, the deaths of Rashan Charles, Shane Bryant and Edson Da Costa are listed among the 170 “other deaths. . . following contact with the police in a wide range of circumstances”. That category of deaths rose from 132 in the previous year, a 29 per cent rise. The IOPC said that the steep rise reflected its increased capacity to carry out investigations.

Eight black people among 17 restraint-related deaths

Taking into account both categories — “deaths in or following police custody” and “other deaths. .  . following contact with the police” — the IOPC said that 17 of the people who died “were restrained or had force used against them by the police or others before their deaths”. 

Of the 17 people who suffered restraint-related deaths, “nine were White and eight were Black”, the IOPC said.

The charity INQUEST, which provides expertise on state-related deaths and their investigation, is aware of six restraint-related deaths of black men during the IOPC’s reporting period.

As well as Rashan Charles, Shane Bryant and Edson Da Costa, INQUEST’s records include:

Darren Cumberbatch, 32, who died in Nuneaton, Warwickshire on 19 July 2017, following restraint by police; Nuno Cardoso, 25, who died in Oxford on 24 November 2017 following restraint by police, and Kevin Clarke, 35, who died in Lewisham, South London on 9 March 2018 following restraint by police.

The IOPC confirmed that Darren Cumberbatch, Nuno Cardoso and Kevin Clarke, are included among the headline 23 police custody deaths, but was unable to say whether they were listed among the restraint-related deaths. 

INQUEST’s casework and monitoring suggests that there have been a further nine deaths in police custody in the four months since the end of the IOPC’s reporting period.

Lack of accountability and impunity

In October 2017 the landmark Independent review of deaths and serious incidents in police custody by Dame Elish Angiolini QC noted that, despite unlawful killing verdicts at coroner’s inquests, there has never been a successful manslaughter prosecution of a police officer for a death in police custody. 

Earlier this year a panel of UN human rights experts said: “This points to the lack of accountability and the impunity with which law enforcement and State agencies operate.”

They expressed “serious concerns over the deaths of a disproportionate number of people of African descent and of ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom as a result of excessive force by State security”.

They added: “People of African descent with psychosocial disabilities and those experiencing severe mental or emotional distress reportedly face multiple forms of discrimination and are particularly affected by excessive use of force.”

Responding to today’s report, Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST, said: “These figures, the highest for over a decade, are an indictment of the failing systems of investigation, learning and accountability which follow police related deaths.”  

The IOPC reported that twelve of the 23 headline deaths in custody involved people who had “mental health concerns”. Coles said: “Too many highly vulnerable people with mental ill health and addictions are ending up in the criminal justice system. The solution does not lie within policing. Many of these preventable deaths illustrate the impact of austerity and the historic underfunding of health and community services.”

Coles added: “The disproportionality in the use of force against black people adds to the irrefutable evidence of structural racism embedded in policing practices. Following the Angiolini review, this has been a year of widespread promises of change and learning lessons. Clearly real systemic change remains to be seen.”

Rashan Charles’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, also commented on today’s IOPC report.

He told Shine A Light: “The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and its predecessor the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) did not effectively probe police conduct in numerous dubious deaths occurring over several decades, this was their primary failure. Secondary, is the abject lack of empathy and support to bereaved family and friends. First impressions of the recently rebranded ‘Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)’ is a continuation of the same flawed processes. However, they should be given time to prove if they can actually function as an effective independent investigative body.”

Rashan Charles (Family)


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