Guest comment: Why avoidable deaths after police contact will increase

Rashan Charles died on July 22, 2017. Picture: RASHAN CHARLES' FAMILY

Rashan Charles died on July 22, 2017. Picture: RASHAN CHARLES' FAMILY - Credit: Archant

This month is the anniversary of the untimely and avoidable death of Rashan Charles. Rod Charles, great uncle of Rashan, discusses the outcome of the Inquest

He was pursued by a police officer into a convenience store in Kingsland Road E8, losing his life whilst being restrained.

Last month an inquest determined his death was an accident. It also identified failings by the police officer, known as BX47, but considered the mistakes not significant and said Rashan’s life was not salvageable in any event.

I do not accept the verdict and findings. Nor do my family and many thousands of people who have seen the CCTV footage showing the final minutes before Rashan’s death.

This is not bitterness stemming from grief or need for vengeance. It is a response to a fact-finding hearing that, in our assessment, was woefully chaired by the coroner Mary Hassell.

In advance of the Inquest sitting I said the end result was predetermined and the process would be a farce, and all has transpired as predicted. Knowing the hearing was premised on a flawed investigation conducted by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, I expected this outcome.

The results of our ongoing investigation will demonstrate why we reject the current findings.

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The inquest diverted focus, creating a caricature of Rashan as engaged in organised crime, depicting Hackney – the borough he lived and died in – as a no-go violent zone, and hostile ground for police officers.

I lived and grew up in Hackney. I know the borough has crime challenges, but the growth of new businesses, soaring cost of real estate and gentrification during past two decades were neatly omitted.

The core issue in this case is whether the use of force by BX47 was appropriate and justified. The coroner deemed the force appropriate. Notwithstanding that matters of law are for judges and facts are for the jury to decide, she directed the jury on her assessment of facts. Her decision is based on the evidence given by two “use of force” experts. I know both men from my time serving as a police officer with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS): they are competent police trainers. But their assessment of Rashan and how he was restrained was not independent, impartial or objective. Their aggregated service is 75 years with the very police service under scrutiny for this death. One of them is still currently employed by the MPS.

The routine closing of ranks and poor decisions by senior police officers after avoidable fatalities compounds damage to police and community relations. This will last for generations.

The death of Rashan Charles was avoidable and this is the same for several other fatal cases.

I know this from my policing experience. I also know these dubious events undermine sterling efforts of thousands of hardworking honest police officers. retired from the MPS four years ago, having served for 30 years. Assessing this and other fatalities, I have not asked myself: “What would I have done in those circumstances?” But rather: “What did I do when I found myself in similar or circumstances?”

Competent police officers will acknowledge that chasing suspects who attempt to discard or hide evidence is challenging – but it is routine policing. This incident only became extraordinary after the poor tactics selected and used by BX47. This is the primary reason why this death was avoidable.

For well in excess of 50 years there has been huge amount of time, money and resources invested in researching strategies that can slow if not halt the rise in similar fatalities. Two recent inquiries are significant: “Report of the Independent Review of Deaths and Serious Incidents in Police Custody” by Dame Elish Angiolini and “An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System” by David Lammy MP.

Both are poignant, with excellent detail based on wide ranging research and consultation. However, my opinion is both will be utterly futile. This is not a reflection on the completed inquiries, authors or the contributors; it is simply awareness that there is no real intention within British judicial and political spheres to implement the already existing mass of recommendations.

During 1965 to 2015 there were in excess of fifty reports published: “The Case for Change: The report of the Morris Inquiry” (2004); “Institutional racism and police: fact or fiction?” (2000); “The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry” (1999); “The Broadwater Farm report” (1986); “The Scarman Inquiry” (1981) and “Nigger-hunting in England” (1966)…

These are a very small selection of mainly archived inquiries, research and inspections. All of them were significant during their eras, uncovering, highlighting and signposting causes and potential causes of failed police relations with communities.

There is little new to be gained through merely repeating inquiries. Unless there is effective implementation it is a waste of time, money and resources. Worse still, the risk is there will be no abatement to the rate of avoidable fatalities.