Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Letter to Nick Herbert, Home Office from UFFC re: deaths in custody

C/o Inquest 89-93 Fonthill Road, London N4 3JH

Email Contactuffc@gmail.com                                                      Telephone: 07770 432 439

Your ref: M19541/11                                           Reply to: Marcia Rigg – Chair UFFC


The Rt. Hon Nick Herbert MP
Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
30 January 2012

Dear Mr Herbert

Deaths in State Custody

Thank you for your letter of 7 December 2011 in reply to our letter to the Prime Minister of 28 October.

You state that the Independent Police Complaints Commission (the “IPCC”), a public body providing a specific service to the public is “independent – ‘by law’ – and they make their decisions independently of the police ….”.  You thereafter go on to outline the definition for what this means and to whom the IPCC are accountable and the procedures – by law – taken by the IPCC.  We thank you for your clarification.

We note that you make no reference to any report to the fact that 8 out of 9 senior investigators within the IPCC are ex-police officers.  Neither do you comment on the Home Affairs Select Committee’s Inquiry into the work of the IPCC and that the IPCC ‘fail to inspire public confidence’.

You also state that the IPCC will “stand up to scrutiny throughout both the coronal and (if applicable) criminal process”.  If the Home Secretary and Ministers and, in turn, Parliament, to whom the IPCC are accountable, were to investigate fairly and thoroughly, we have no doubt that it will be found that the IPCC requires urgent reform in order to be truly independent – as required by law.

With reference to the 6 priority areas identified by the IPCC to ensure that police forces learn and improve - specifically deaths and serious injuries in police custody - and that deaths, injuries and complaints reduce in number in order that the public’s confidence generally improves, we submit that there is sufficient evidence to show that, even after countless recommendations, including the voluminous recommendations given in the McPherson Report following the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry back in February 1997 having held that the police are institutionally racist and evidence of police corruption, there has been little improvement.

Following the recent welcomed “partial” justice by the Stephen Lawrence family, which was unnecessarily long over-due, due to the fact that the Lawrence family had to tirelessly pursue the judicial system for 18 years (and we are proud to say with dignity and remarkable strength), having received unacceptable service in the initial investigation by the police and the judicial system, it is widely accepted that there is still much work to do to bring about justice and change.

You say the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 makes clear that unlawful killing verdicts at Inquests may not be “framed” in such a way as to appear there is any question of criminality.  In contrast, unlawful killing verdicts are given by a jury who have scrutinised the evidence and “found” criminality, hence the unlawful killing verdict.  Any “realistic prospect of conviction” is then quashed by the Crown Prosecutor usually due to insufficient evidence, which evidence of course is likely to be in the custody of the police and in some instances conspiracy is engaged, hence the lack of conviction and accountability of any officer due to deliberate lack of evidence and denial.  So, it’s an unnecessary vicious circle - 18 years to get ‘partial’ justice when the evidence is available all along and after an unlawful killing verdict at an inquest.  Surely this is unlawful.  In any event, it is totally unacceptable. 

Not to mention the Alder family whereby after 13 years, like the Lawrence family, have tirelessly fought the judicial system for the unlawful killing by police (as was found by a jury at an inquest) of Christopher Alder, a solider whom had fought for this country - including the family taking the Crown Prosecution Service to court for not making the police officers accountable for their unlawful racist killing, and thereafter to the European Court of Justice - were further insulted by being informed that, contrary to the fact that the family had buried Christopher some 11 years ago, in fact, his body was still lying in a mortuary, 13 years after his death, and that the family had buried an elderly woman instead!

The Government’s recent unprecedented and highly unusual admittance of failures in that investigation; that it breached its obligations in regard to preserving life and ensuring that no one is subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment and the giving of an apology: - "The government of the United Kingdom regrets the occurrence of the actions which have led to the bringing of the present application, in particular the treatment in custody of the applicant's brother, Mr Christopher Alder, and the anguish that this treatment and his death have caused to his family.  The government accepts that the lack of an effective and independent investigation in this case constitutes a violation of the procedural obligations in articles 2 and 3 of the Convention. Further, the government accept that the treatment that the applicant's brother received in police custody amounted to a substantive violation of article 3 with 14 of the Convention."  It is deeply worrying that even after all the unlawful treatment, Christopher’s body is still not buried.  The public are deeply alarmed at this and the Government should note that it is of the most greatest concern to us.

We note the list of charges that may be considered outlined by you where the case involves a death in custody or death after contact with the police and that the Government “fully endorses” the requirement for all deaths in custody to be sufficiently investigated under the States obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights.  Thank you for your clarification.  It is for this reason that you will be pleased to know that on 20 January 2012 the United Families and Friends Campaign supported by others, including the Rev Jessie Jackson of the Civil Rights Movement, launched an e-Petition to 10 Downing Street for there to be an independent inquiry into deaths in custody and no doubt this should contribute to the endorsement. 

You give no reasonable explanation as to why there are no plans to place cameras in police vehicles.  Wasted costs carrying out unnecessarily long drawn out investigations from the public purse could be better spent on cameras at the back of police vehicles.  With respect, and in the interests of the public and the police, and transparency, and the fact that the Government are aware of the genuine concerns of the public about what sometimes happens unlawfully inside some police vehicles by some police officers (such as death or near death or serious injury), this is unbalanced.  For instance, irrespective of the Data Protection Act, cameras are placed on buses, trains, taxi’s, on the street, almost everywhere ‘Big Brothers’ watching, except inside police vehicles. Why? If there is something to hide (which there is), then this is unacceptable to the public.

In contrast, however, CCTV evidence is crucial in any police investigation against the public, and rightly so.  Imagine if police investigations against the public encountered the lack of witnesses or CCTV or the CCTV was not working or had been tampered with in order to conceal any crucial evidence, or even concealed by the police for some reason, criminals would evade murder charges as there would be insufficient evidence and therefore no realistic prospect of conviction, even though there are instances where it is known that a murder was committed by a named person or persons.  Alarmingly, there would be killers on the loose.  Obviously, and we agree, this would be unacceptable by the Government and the public.

You appear in your letter to be ‘tactfully’ silent on the alarming statistics of deaths in custody, apart from repeating the fact that the Government say they regret all these deaths. The Independent Advisory Panel (the “IAP”) on Deaths in Custody report published in 2011 states: “… in total, there were 5,998 deaths recorded for the 11 years from 2000 to 2010.  This is an average of 545 deaths per year.  Despite the fact there have been 11 unlawful killing verdicts since 1990 there has never been a successful prosecution.”  One should consider, as the Government appears to - by law - doing, whether there has been any improvement in respect of deaths in custody?  If not, why is there no improvement?  Should officers be made accountable for these deaths?  Perhaps if officers and/or officials were properly made accountable for criminal offences, as would a member of the public, things would improve and it would be in the public’s interest to do so.

Nor do you comment on the necessity of officers and/or officials being interviewed by the IPCC immediately after a death in police custody or the prevention of collusion between officers and/or officials (which is unlawful) or full disclosure to families.  Does your silence offer the possibility that police corruption (which is unlawful) is still institutionalised?

We politely repeat that in respect of the Legal Services Commission’s procedure outlined in your letter and reiterated previously by Crispin Blunt; the procedure is unfair.  The State has a duty of care and families should not have to contribute costs for representation at any inquest to find out how their loved one died whilst in the said State’s care.  With respect, an inquest is not a private prosecution by the family. An inquest is a fact-finding exercise and not a method of apportioning guilt. The procedure and rules of evidence, which are suitable for a trial, is unsuitable for an inquest. It is an inquisitorial process, a process of investigation.  The proceedings and evidence at an Inquest shall be directed solely to ascertaining the following matters, namely who the deceased was, how, when and where the deceased came by his death, and the particulars required by the legislative Acts to be registered concerning the death.

We are disappointed that the Prime Minister (to whom we are copying this letter) has not felt it courteous to reply personally to the UFFC or to offer his acceptance or declination to the invitation to meet some of its members; if only to show his sympathy and to listen to the families for the loss of their loved one whilst in the care of the State, and the fact that families were grieving outside his residence.  This would show some regret.

Again, we invite the Prime Minister to meet with us.  A direct voice to express concerns with Mr Cameron would be appreciated.

This is an open letter, as with previous correspondence and in the interests of the public.  All our rights are reserved.

United Families and Friends

Cc:      The Prime Minister, The Rt Hon David Cameron MP

 Open letter from UFFC to the Prime Minister re: deaths in state custody:


Letter from Nick Herbert(Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice):
7th December 2011