Inquest & Updates

 24/09/2017

Dear Family & Friends, Once again we, Seni’s family want to thank the many family & friends who keep asking us what is happening next as we negotiate the various legal steps in our quest for “justice “.  It is a long, slow journey. After the successful conclusion of a 14 week Inquest in May, the media tried to have the Metropolitan Police disciplinary hearing held in public, but The IPCC ruled that the hearing was to be held in private and the decision to be given in public.

The first week of the 4, was spent by the 6 police officers trying to get the hearing set aside as an Abuse of Process… but God stepped in (because even our lawyers were astounded!) that it was ruled that the hearing should go ahead . A member of the family tries to be there every day with our Solicitors (but we do not have a part to play … we just listen ). Our local MP Steve Reed is introducing a Private Members Bill on November 3rd called for short “Seni’s  Law “. It is in the process of being drafted but we will be sending out a link in order that family & friends can support it . We are still waiting for the publication of the Angelini Report which Theresa May commissioned after she asked to meet us.

We, as a family are staying strong and know that our Faith in God is carrying us through this all . We thank everyone for their prayers,support & encouragement as we move forward. God Bless. – Aji Lewis, Seni’s Mum

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Sunday 3/9/17 Dear Family & Friends , Today marks the 7th anniversary of the Passing-on of our beloved son Olaseni. Please pray for his family as we continue the struggle for justice. This year we were able to conclude a successful inquest on his behalf… but the journey for justice continues as we now fight for a Public Disciplinary Hearing against the 5 police officers who restrained Seni until he died. – Aji Lewis (Seni’s Mum)


 

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Jury condemns police restraint of young black man in mental health hospital whilst medical staff looked on.

Before the Senior Coroner for the South London Area, Ms Selena Lynch South Croydon Coroner’s Court 6 February – 9 May 2017

An inquest jury has today unanimously condemned police and healthcare staff actions in relation to the death of 23-year-old Olaseni Lewis, who died as a result of prolonged restraint by MPS officers at Bethlem Royal Hospital (part of the South London and Maudsley “SLAM” Mental Health Trust) on 31 August 2010. Following 29 days of evidence, the jury’s highly critical narrative made a number of damning criticisms, including:

• Multiple failures at multiple levels within Bethlem Royal Hospital meant that the hospital staff had to call upon the assistance of the police when Seni became unwell.
• The force used by the police officers over two successive periods of prolonged restraint of Seni – including the use of mechanical restraints – was excessive, unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate, and contributed to Seni’s death.
• The failure on the part of the hospital staff and the police officers alike to provide basic life support when Seni collapsed under restraint also contributed to his death.

According to an independent psychiatric expert witness, Professor Peckitt, clinical evidence suggested Seni was “terrified”, that he was “paranoid and scared rigid at the thought of restraint”.  He commented that being struck would have made things a lot worse: “We never, ever, ever hit patients”.

Since Seni’s death in 2010, INQUEST’s casework and monitoring statistics have identified a further 27 deaths in custody where police restraint was a feature. Deborah Coles, director of INQUEST said: “This jury have reached the most damning conclusions on the collective failures of police and mental health services. This was a most horrific death.  Eleven police officers were involved in holding down a terrified young man until his complete collapse, legs and hands bound in limb restraints, while mental health staff stood by. Officers knew the dangers of this restraint but chose to go against clear, unequivocal training. Evidence heard at this inquest begs the question of how racial stereotyping informed Seni’s brutal treatment.

INQUEST’s casework and monitoring reveals that a disproportionate number of people with mental health issues and/or from BAME communities die following the use of force. That these deaths continue illustrates systemic problems in the processes for holding police to account at an individual and corporate level. Despite a plethora of recommendations arising from investigations, inquests and reviews there has been a failure of leadership to implement change in culture, approach and training.

We call in the strongest possible terms for the Metropolitan Police Service, the Home Office and Department of Health to publicly respond to the shocking evidence that has come out of this inquest”.

Seni’s parents, Aji and Conrad Lewis, said in response to today’s conclusion: “When Seni became ill, we turned to the state in our desperation: we took him to hospital which we thought was the best place for him.  We shall always bear the cross of knowing that, instead of the help and care he needed, Seni met with his death.  Now, after almost seven years of struggle to get here, the last three months have allowed us to hear for ourselves about what happened to Seni.  We have heard about the failures at multiple levels amongst the management and staff at Bethlem Royal Hospital: instead of looking after him, they called the police to deal with him.  And we have heard about the brute force with which the police held Seni in a prolonged restraint which they knew to be dangerous: a restraint that was maintained until Seni was dead for all intents and purposes. In light of the evidence we have heard, we consider that the prolonged restraint that resulted in Seni’s death was not and cannot be justified, and we now look to the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider the case, so that the officers involved in the restraint may be brought to answer for their actions before a criminal court.  This is necessary, not just in the interests of justice for Seni, but also in the public interest, so that the police are seen to be accountable to the rule of law. 

The officers involved in the restraint have not been able or willing to offer any word of condolence or regret in their evidence, in the same way that none has been forthcoming from any of their managers or superiors in the Metropolitan Police over these years.  That lack of simple human decency is telling, and the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, has an opportunity to put it right.  We call on her to meet with us, so that we may help her to take responsibility for Seni’s death, to understand the lessons that need to be learnt, so that other families need not go through what we have had to endure.

As a family, we couldn’t have got through the last seven years without our Christian faith, the support of our family, friends and legal team, and the unending strength we have gained from the team and other families at INQUEST and the United Families and Friends Campaign.”

Raju Bhatt, the solicitor for Seni’s family, said: “Seni’s case has revealed a mental health service and a legal system which appear unfit for purpose in the eyes of his family. They have been failed repeatedly over the years since his death in 2010: first by those responsible for the hospital at which he was restrained to death; then by the officers involved in that prolonged restraint and their managers at the Metropolitan Police; then by those at the IPCC who seemed incapable of fulfilling their responsibility to investigate the death; and, above all, by a process which allowed almost seven years to pass before this inquest could take place, the first occasion on which there has been any semblance of proper scrutiny in respect of the circumstances of the death.  That scrutiny has served only to confirm that Seni’s death was entirely avoidable, if only lessons had been learnt from the many deaths in similar circumstances in the past.  It is time that those responsible within our police service say for once and for all: no more!”

INQUEST has been working with the family of Seni Lewis since his death in September 2010. The family is represented by INQUEST Lawyers Group members Raju Bhatt and Sophie Naftalin of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, Karon Monaghan QC of Matrix Chambers and Alex Gask of Doughty Street Chambers.

To arrange an interview with the family or Deborah Coles (INQUEST director) or for photographs of Seni, contact Gill Goodby and Lucy McKay at INQUEST 0207 263 1111 gillgoodby@inquest.org.uk (07814 693 613) and lucymckay@inquest.org.uk

For an interview with Raju Bhatt, solicitor for the family, please call Bhatt Murphy solicitors on 020 7729 1115. The Lewis Family have produced a chronology of transcript quotes from throughout the 37 days of evidence heard at this inquest. A copy can be found here. They have a family campaign website where more information is available: www.justiceforseni.com The Record of Inquest with the full narrative conclusion is available for download here (PDF).