Further delays for Home Office review of deaths in custody and the treatment of victims’ families (Channel 4)

Further delays for Home Office review of deaths in custody and the treatment of victims’ families

 Senior Home Affairs Correspondent, Channel 4

A major Home Office review into deaths in custody has been delayed.

“I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families who are still looking for answers.”

The words of Theresa May, spoken when she was Home Secretary back in July 2015.

She was addressing an audience mainly of parents whose sons had died at the hands of police.

This week, many had been expecting the publication of a major review the now-Prime Minister had set up to tackle what she termed the evasiveness and obstruction which has confronted those families in their search for accountability.

But the review has been delayed. It was handed in at the start of the year. Now the Home Office do not intend to publish it for at least another two months.

So many of those who gave evidence to Dame Elish Angiolini’s inquiry were convinced to do so by Ms May’s words of intent.

Yet they’ve heard nothing since. One, the mother of Olaseni Lewis (pictured above and below) a 23-year-old graduate who suffered a restraint death in 2010, told me they have had no contact with current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.

“I would have thought she might have asked to meet us. Not heard anything,” she said.

By extraordinary timing, five of these death in custody cases arrive at some form of hearing over the next fortnight.

They are made up of three gross misconduct hearings against a total of 10 police officers from 3 different forces, a criminal trial of 3 police officers and an inquest.

They include two restraint deaths back in 2010 of men suffering mental health problems, a third who died in the caged rear of a police van after allegedly being bitten by a police dog then tasered, and another again involving someone detained under the Mental Health Act.

All bar one will be open to public scrutiny. The one involving the death of 23-year-old Olaseni Lewis, which has taken seven years to get to the point of holding Metropolitan Police officers to account, will be held behind closed doors.

It’s acknowledged at issue are allegations of ‘very serious failures’; that it is a high profile case; that there is great concern and low levels of confidence among BME communities about police treatment of mental health sufferers;  and there are grave matters here.

But not grave enough, it would seem, for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to allow proceedings to take place in public.

So If Theresa May’s review was part of her social justice mission, then there is a real risk it will be too late to have any real meaning.



Blame the Home Office if another black person dies in police custody (The Guardian)

Stafford Scott, The Guardian

Many families have sought to understand exactly why a loved one has died while in the custody of the police. The failure of the Home Office to release the long overdue report by Dame Elish Angiolini into such deaths is appalling.

According to the justice charity Inquest, since 1990 there have been 1,061 deaths in custody with barely a handful of prosecutions of any police officers involved. (I have supported a number of families in their quests to find answers). Needless to say there have also been no convictions of a police officer implicated in these deaths, even though several inquest juries have delivered verdicts of unlawful killing.

The still unpublished report, which the Guardian has seen, says that there is “evidence of disproportionate deaths of black and minority ethnic people in restraint-related deaths.” And according to a statement from Inquest: “Black people are disproportionately more likely to die following the use of force by police.”

Had the Angiolini report been published in the summer of 2016 – as promised by the then home secretary, Theresa May – and its recommendations acted upon, there is a possibility that lessons would have been learned that would have made deaths like that of Rashan Charles last July – while being apprehended by police – less likely: video footage shows the 20-year-old being wrestled heavily to the ground by a uniformed officer.

We will never know, sadly, but what we do know is that since May left the Home Office there has been a change in position. Rather than seeking to hold the police to account, the Home Office now appears to be giving ever more support to whatever the police wish to do, particularly with the black community. It was only last month that the home secretary, Amber Rudd, backed the Met police’s increase in stop-and-searches on young black youths.

For those of us who have been engaging with such issues for a long time, we know that this will not lead to less knife crime. More unnecessary stop-and-searches will only lead to a further loss of confidence in the police from the black community. The same goes for the failure to release the Angiolini report.

It really is no surprise that relationships between the police and black communities across the country are at an all-time low. Black people are at least four times more likely than white people to be stop-and-searched; twice as likely to be Tasered; twice as likely to be arrested and charged; more likely to be convicted and to receive longer custodial sentences. Black people are even more likely, especially black women, to have the “spit hood” used on them by police.

The home secretary should be holding the police to account instead of covering their backs by not releasing this critical report. Families who lost loved ones at the hands of the police may not have received what they considered to be justice through the courts, but they would want to know that there has at least been some institutional learning from their losses – that this won’t happen to anyone else again.

Rudd’s reluctance to give them that meagre sense of justice is truly baffling – and while she sits on this report, the likelihood that someone else will die in police custody increases. Should this happen then the blood trail will lead all the way up to the Home Office, and the home secretary herself.

 Stafford Scott was a co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign in 1985, and is now a consultant on racial equality and community engagement

It’s time for police to admit their mistakes (New Statesman)

Already this summer, four people have died after contact with the police. At least three of them were black men who died following police restraint. Last Saturday, 20-year-old Rashan Charles lost his life after being pinned to the floor of a convenience store, and restrained by an officer and another person in plain clothes.

These deaths aren’t included in the latest annual report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which covers the year ending 31 March 2017. But the deaths of Rashan, Edir Frederico da Costa, Darren Cumberbatch, and a 16-year-old boy, who died in a crash during a police pursuit, recall those who have lost their lives during or following police contact in the months preceding them: Mzee Mohammed, Dalian Atkinson, Mohammed Yassar Yaqub.

Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, there were 32 road traffic fatalities involving police, an increase from the previous year and the highest since 2008-09. In the same period, there were 55 fatalities from “apparent suicides following police custody”. Six people died from “police shootings”, the highest since 2007/08. Fourteen people died “in or following police custody”, and there were 124 “other deaths following police contact” independently investigated by the IPCC.

“Deaths in or following police custody” is not as high compared to other categories, however deaths that happen while a person is being arrested or taken into detention are some of the most controversial. That there was no reduction in the number who died in or following police custody, compared to the previous year, suggest past mistakes are being repeated and systemic failures persist.

Over half of the 14 deaths were of people with schizophrenia, depression or self-harming or suicidal tendencies. Similarly, two thirds of the 124 who died following other police contact had mental health issues.

The most common reason for this other type of police contact was related to the safety or wellbeing of those who lost their lives. Twenty-six people died from the police responding to their health, injuries, intoxication, or a “general” incident, while 23 people died from the police responding to a concern about their self-harm, risk of suicide, or mental state. Of these 23 people, 35 per cent were black and minority ethnic (BME).

The individual stories show an even more disturbing picture than the raw numbers. Officers often encounter people with mental health conditions, yet treat them as criminals. In the case of Mzee Mohammed, he remained in handcuffs even when he finally received medical care. The police should be called as a last resort to deal with someone having a mental health crisis, but in many cases of deaths in custody, evidence shows they take it upon themselves to intervene.

In 2014, Staffordshire police handcuffed and detained Darren Lyons, who had a history of mental illness and alcohol dependency, instead of getting him medical help. An inquest heard he died after being left half-naked on a cell floor, covered in his own faeces. Similarly in 2012, Thomas Orchard was left lying unresponsive, after being put in restraints and having an emergency response belt wrapped around his face.

Although the police do not have the expertise of mental health workers, they are trained in using force proportionately, reasonably and when necessary. Members of the public experiencing a mental health episode have complex needs and it can be hard to understand the condition they are suffering from to provide appropriate assistance. This is a challenge for police officers, however using force can exacerbate a situation and even lead to death. In 2016, Dalian Atkinson, at the time suffering a mental health crisis, died after being Tasered and physically restrained by West Mercia officers.

The charity Inquest reports that the majority of its police-related cases in recent years “have involved the death of vulnerable individuals in some form of mental health crisis”. Its analysis in November 2016 of deaths in police custody since 1990 suggested that the “use of force/restraint is more likely to be a feature of the circumstances of BME deaths in police custody” and “the proportion of BME deaths in custody where mental health-related issues are a feature is nearly two times greater than it is in white deaths in custody”.

Earlier this year, an inquest jury criticised the Metropolitan Police for excessive, unreasonable, unnecessary and disproportionate restraint on Olaseni Lewis, a 23-year-old black man, who died in 2010 at a psychiatric hospital.

Deborah Coles, director of Inquest, drew attention to the fact that the “evidence heard at this inquest begs the question of how racial stereotyping informed Seni’s brutal treatment”. Met officers, instead of attending to Seni’s welfare, left him once he was unresponsive after prolonged restraint, because they believed that he may have been “faking it”. This disregard of a black life recalls the institutionally racist death of Roger Sylvester in 1999.

Seni’s case was pivotal in leading to the independent review into deaths in police custody, conducted by Dame Elish Angiolini QC. The publication has been postponed, on many occasions. The delay follows a common experience bereaved families constantly have with the police, the IPCC and the Crown Prosecution Service in their struggle for justice.

Despite deaths related to Tasers, spit hoods and firearms, the police have recently called for increases in such equipment and weapons. The Police Federation say they are necessary to protect the protectors. But the protectors are not protecting everyone.

The figures and individual stories show that some officers are threats to vulnerable people, in particular those with mental health issues and from ethnic minorities. Forces have failed to implement recommendations, while the CPS has failed to prosecute unprofessional and abusive police officers. “The officers involved in the restraint have not been able or willing to offer any word of condolence or regret in their evidence,” Seni’s parents responded after the inquest into their son’s death.

To prevent more needless lost lives, the police must first take responsibility and admit their mistakes.

Carson Cole Arthur is policy and communications co-ordinator at the campaign group StopWatch. He is writing in a personal capacity

Father accuses authorities of delaying inquest into son Olaseni Lewis’s police restraint death at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham (Croydon Guardian)

The father of a graduate who died after being restrained by police at a psychiatric hospital has accused authorities of trying to delay an inquest into his son’s death.

Olaseni Lewis, 23, never regained consciousness after being pinned down to the floor by 11 officers when he became agitated in the care of staff at Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham on August 31, 2010.

The South Norwood IT graduate was rushed to Croydon University Hospital in a coma, but died four days later on September 3.

A senior coroner today criticised agencies involved in an inquest into his death as “disgraceful” and said they had been “disrespectful to the court and the family”.

Since his death, Mr Lewis’s family have endured more than five years of legal struggles to discover the truth about his death, including a successful High Court battle to overturn the findings of the original police inquiry.

Croydon Guardian: Loving son: Seni and his mother Ajibola

Olaseni Lewis with his mother Abijola

Last September it emerged that Devon and Cornwall Police had opened a fresh investigation into Mr Lewis’s death on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), to determine if the Metropolitan Police Service and the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) should be charged with corporate manslaughter and gross negligence.

However, his family are concerned the police probe will delay a full inquest into his death.

And at a pre-inquest hearing today, the detective leading the investigation admitted the file would not be handed over to the CPS until late next month.

Following the proceedings at Croydon Coroner’s Court, Conrad Lewis said the agencies under investigation were “definitely” trying derail the inquest into his son’s death.

He added: “It’s a process that has been drawn out and it has effects on us every day – especially when people are trying to delay the issue.”

Earlier, in court, senior coroner Selena Lynch said she was “incredulous” at how slowly enquiries were progressing.

During a ten-minute grilling of a lawyer representing SLAM over issues surrounding the disclosure of documents, Ms Lynch said: “The attention to this [case] from the agencies involved has been disgraceful. It has been disrespectful to the court and the family.”

A start date for the full inquest, which is expected to last 10 weeks, has been provisionally set for January 2017 depending on the outcome of the current police investigation.

Mr Lewis, who was known as Seni, was admitted to Bethlem Royal Hospital on August 31, 2010 after two days of uncharacteristically odd and agitated behaviour following a night out with friends.

Hours later, at about 9.30pm, police were called to the hospital after staff reported Mr Lewis “causing a disturbance”.

At least 11 officers arrived and restrained the 23-year-old. During the struggle Mr Lewis “became passive” and “seriously unwell”, according to police, and an ambulance was called to take him to Croydon University Hospital.

On September 3 scans revealed the Kingston University graduate had suffered brain stem death. His life support was switched off the following day.

Following his death, his mother Abijola Lewis said: “We don’t know exactly what happened. We do know they called the police and he ended up in hospital.”

An inquiry carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission in 2011 ruled the officers involved should not face criminal charges related to Mr Lewis’s death.

But the case was reopened in August 2013 after a successful High Court challenge by Mr Lewis’s family led to the original verdict being quashed.

In May last year the CPS revealed it would not be seeking prosecutions of the individual officers involved in Mr Lewis’s death.

At today’s hearing, Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Cavin, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said he expected the findings of the force’s investigation into possible corporate manslaughter and gross negligence to be handed over to the CPS by the end of May.

He added: “We were conscious of the desires of Mr and Mrs Lewis to ensure the speed of the investigation, and we have been in contact with them throughout.”

But the Lewis family’s counsel Dexter Dias expressed his doubts the new investigation would result in any prosecutions and stressed the importance of the long-delayed inquest.

He said: “What [Mr Lewis’s family] don’t want is for people to be rushed, and what they won’t want is for people not to be ready. But they don’t want it to be kicked into the long grass.”

Andrew Marshall, counsel for the Health and Safety Executive, said the regulator would not itself rule out seeking prosecution over Mr Lewis’s death until the end of the inquest.

Seni Lewis death: IPCC taken to court over report

Original Article can be seen at BBC London News

The family of a man who died days after being restrained by police have asked judges to review the police watchdog’s report on his death.

Olaseni Lewis, known as Seni, died in 2010 after he collapsed during a prolonged restraint by the police.

His parents want the High Court to quash the initial report.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission said it needed to begin a new investigation, but the Metropolitan Police said that was unlawful.

‘Wrongs were done’

Seni, a 23-year-old IT graduate from Kingston University, died after being taken to hospital when his behaviour became uncharacteristically odd and agitated.

He was restrained three times – first by hospital staff and then by 11 police officers – for 45 minutes before his collapse.

He never regained consciousness and died three days later.

The IPCC ruled in its original report, before it had full access to all the evidence, that no police officer was at fault.

It now says a criminal act may have happened and has told the family to take legal action so that it can reinvestigate.

Mr Lewis with friend

His parents, Ajibola and Conrad Lewis, said: “We feel that by going to the High Court it’s been acknowledged that wrongs were done and they’re going to correct them.

“The IPCC has apologised and said they want to do things right and they want to do another investigation and investigate the police under caution.”

IPCC commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: “We take the concerns raised by Mr Lewis’s family seriously and our focus has not shifted from providing them with answers to what happened to their son.

“We have reopened our investigation and have determined that there is an indication that officers may have committed criminal offences and, or, behaved in a manner which would justify disciplinary proceedings.”

She said the IPCC would not contest their claim and that it would pay their costs.

The Met Police said: “We have always expressed our desire to assist the family in understanding the circumstances of Mr Lewis’s death in any way possible and will continue to co-operate with the IPCC.

“The commissioner is adopting a neutral stance [to the judicial review].”

Met blocks quizzing of officers in probe over restraint death

Original Article can be found at: Evening Standard

08 May 2013

Scotland Yard is refusing to allow officers to be questioned under caution over the death of a university student who was forcibly restrained by police at a psychiatric hospital, a watchdog claimed today.

University graduate Olaseni Lewis, 23, collapsed and slipped into a coma after he was held down by up to 11 police officers at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham in August 2010.

He was put on a life-support machine and died four days later.

Now a police watchdog has accused the Metropolitan Police of refusing to co-operate with a two-and-a-half year inquiry into the death.

In a strongly worded statement the Independent Police Complaints Commission revealed that it had “directed” the Met to “re-refer” the incident to them as a “recordable conduct matter”.

A spokeswoman said: “That would allow the IPCC to interview the officers under criminal caution. The Met has refused to do so.”

The watchdog said the move came after it had reviewed its initial inquiry following concerns from the family.

However, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Patricia Gallan, head of the Met’s professional standards, said the force had received legal advice that it would be “unlawful”  to refer the matter back to the IPCC. She said: “We are very disappointed that the IPCC has suggested that the Met is now refusing to cooperate with them. This is not the case.”

Mr Lewis, who was studying for a masters degree in business at Kingston University, became unwell after a night out with friends in August 2010.

His family became  concerned about his behaviour and he voluntarily admitted himself to the psychiatric hospital. Within hours Mr Lewis became agitated and staff first tried to restrain him before calling for police help.  Olaseni’s mother, Ajibola, told the Standard: “Why they can’t just allow for the officers to be questioned we just don’t know.”

A CPS spokesperson said: “After careful consideration of all the evidence the CPS will advise the IPCC, including on whether any charges should or should not be brought.”

Met Police attacked for failing mentally ill

Original Article can be found at: Evening Standard

10 May 2013

compiled from various sources

Scotland Yard was criticised today for a series of failings in dealing with vulnerable people with mental illness.

An independent report found “failures in systems, misjudgments or errors by individuals” and “discrimination” by officers that led to the deaths of people with mental health problems.

The study by Lord Adebowale, chief executive of the charity Turning Point, identified 50 people with a mental health issue who had died after contact with the Met in the five years up to 2012.

The majority of deaths were suicides but five involved people who had been physically restrained by police officers.

The independent commission was launched last year at the request of the Met Commissioner after a spate of deaths in custody involving people with a mental health illness, in particular the case of musician Sean Rigg.

The commission, whose members include senior health professionals, a chief constable and a senior lawyer, made 28 recommendations for improving the way police deal with mental health issues.

In the hard-hitting report published today the panel highlights the scale of the problem in London, with figures showing an estimated 15 to 25 per cent of all incidents dealt with by police were linked to mental health.

This equates to 1,626 calls to police every day.

Officers estimated that 20 per cent of their time was involved in dealing with mental health issues.

The study found there were “examples of good professional conduct where police officers were prompt, compassionate and patient” but shortcomings were due to failures in “systems and procedures” as well as the behaviour of individual officers.

The panel declared there were shortcomings in policies, training programmes, leadership and operational processes.

In particular, the report highlights the failure of the Met’s 999 call-handling centre in dealing effectively with mental health calls, a lack of mental health awareness among staff and officers, lack of training in suicide prevention for frontline officers, a “disproportionate” use of force and restraint and poor communication between police and the NHS. The study also criticises the Met’s internal culture, discriminatory attitudes, poor record keeping and a failure to communicate with families.

It says some people with mental health issues complained they were treated like criminals by the police.

The study says disproportionate use of force by police was the most disturbing finding. There were several cases involving black people where it was questionable whether there was a need for the level of force used.

The inquiry found a disproportionate percentage of people from black or ethnic minority communities died where police had been “to some degree, at fault”.

Lord Adebowale said today: “This report is tough reading for the Met. It is tough because people have died.

“I started this piece of work thinking that mental health is not a police problem but I have come to realise that it should be at the core of policing. One in four Britons suffer from mental health challenges at some point.

“The one thing the police have to do is to take this seriously. The commissioner needs to send a message throughout the force that this is not a peripheral issue.”

He added: “Race is an issue but I am not calling the police racists. However, we found evidence of racist attitudes in one case and we found a disproportionate number of Afro-Carribean young men were being subjected to forcible restraint.”

The recommendations include better mental health awareness training and training in the use of restraint of people with a mental illness. The study praised transport police for setting up a “strategic suicide prevention team”.

Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said he broadly accepted the Commission’s findings.

He said : “Lord Adebowale’s report provides powerful evidence of the challenges that mental health issues present to the Metropolitan Police.

“It sets out clearly the frequency with which our officers are asked to support people at times of mental health crisis.

“I set up this Commission to help us improve the way we deal with these challenges. We now have an opportunity to make significant progress.”

Time is right for change, say families

The families of two young men who died after being restrained by police gave a cautious welcome to Lord Adebowale’s report but urged the Met to turn words into action.

Sean Rigg, 40, died from a cardiac arrest at Brixton police station in 2008, while IT graduate Olaseni Lewis, 23, died in 2010 after collapsing during prolonged restraint by police at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham.

Today their relatives said the report was a step in the right direction.

Many of its key criticisms, such as the police’s lack of mental health awareness and training, were “obvious” and had been flagged up by earlier, similar reports, they said.

But they also agreed that in light of the spotlight shone on the Met, and police forces in general, because of the phone-hacking and Jimmy Savile child abuse scandals and the Hillsborough report, and with Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s apparent keenness to bring about change, the time could be different.

Marcia Rigg-Samuel, from Mitcham, who is Mr Rigg’s sister, said: “I think it is a report that is definitely highlighting the fundamental and systemic failures within mental health and policing and as such we welcome the report. I am just hoping that the Metropolitan Police implements the report’s recommendations because if they do there will be change and deaths in custody of people with mental health issues will be reduced.”

Mr Lewis’s mother Ajibola Lewis, from South Norwood, added: “I hope that Bernard Hogan-Howe is serious and that he means to do something about this problem and that the report is not just a talking shop.

“One feels that he wants to make changes, but I’m not holding my breath. There have been reports before, which like this one stated obvious failings within the police, and those have been shelved.”

Nick Hodgson

Call for full enquiry into death of Croydon man after hospital restraint

Original Article can be found at: This is Croydon Today

Feburary 2013

compiled from various sources

published: This is Croydon Today – March 2013

A PROMINENT figure in Croydon’s black community has called for a full public inquiry into the death of Olaseni Lewis.

Nero Ughwujabo, chief executive of the Croydon Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Forum, believes the Department for Health, as well as the police, have serious questions to answer.

More than two years on from the South Norwood man’s death in September 2010, his family are still pushing for answers.

Now Mr Ughwujabo has said that a full public inquiry, initiated by the Department of Health, should be launched if the victim’s family are to be satisfied that Mr Lewis’ needs were properly taken care of.

He said: “It’s clear that in this particular case, there are issues of failure in the processes that have been followed.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the [Independent Police Complaints Commission] to investigate the matter. It’s not a policing matter. [That’s] like asking the Met to investigate the Met.

“I think it’s important for the Department of Health to investigate the matter.”

Prior to his death, Mr Lewis visited Croydon University Hospital after noticing changes in his behaviour, alternating between “calm and agitated phases”.

He was transferred to the psychiatric ward of Bethlem Royal Hospital, where his parents and best friend, Omari, left him for the night.

Later, Mr Lewis’s mother received a call from Omari, informing her of an “incident” at the hospital.

After being told that her son had been taken to Croydon University Hospital, she found him on stabilisers and life-support.

It was later confirmed his death was caused by a brain stem injury which obstructed the flow of oxygen to his brain.

Mr Ughwujabo said the case suggests the NHS’s action plan, “Delivering Race Equality (DRE) in Mental Health Care”, which began in 2005 in a bid to improve the quality of care received by BME patients, had “not gone far enough.”

“These incidents are still happening. We don’t see evidence that race equality is actually embedded in mental health services provided by the NHS,” he added.

“We know that black people are significantly more likely to be physically restrained or medicated, instead of being supported with other therapies.”

A statement from Bethlem Royal Hospital in response to his comments read: “We are determined to continue working with the police to learn lessons.”

A Department of Health spokesperson cited the IPCC investigation and said it would not be carrying out an inquiry of its own, when pressed by the Advertiser.

The IPCC, which previously ruled the officers involved has no case to answer over the incident, is also reviewing its probe.

Sister Kemi Lewis, 34, who co-runs the Olaseni Lewis Campaign for Change and Justice alongside her parents, said her family’s Christian faith has strengthened them since Olaseni’s death.

She said: “[We’re] hopeful that we will get some sort of justice and we’ll find out what the truth is. We want change and it needs to be from the top. We don’t want other families to go through this.

“This is not the kind of thing that you would wish on your worst enemy, at all.”

Mr Lewis’ mother Ajibola previously told us how her son was a ‘gentle giant’ with a ‘zest for life’.

She recalled: “He had a real sense of adventure and fun. He was a lovely, friendly person and wasn’t afraid of new things.”

Read more: http://www.thisiscroydontoday.co.uk/enquiry-death-Croydon-man-hospital-restraint/story-18286728-detail/story.html#ixzz2MZAtAUCM
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South Norwood man held face-down by police for 40 minutes at psychiatric hospital dies four days later

Original Article can be found at: This is Croydon Today

Feburary 2013

compiled from various sources

published: This is Croydon Today – Feb 2013

OLASENI Lewis was much-loved by friends and family, had high ambitions to study abroad and a bright future ahead of him. But his life was cut brutally short after dying in intensive care following a fatal police restraint. Nearly two and a half years and two postponed inquests later, David Churchill speaks to a family still battling for answers and justice…

NEXT month, instead of celebrating their son’s 26th birthday, Olaseni Lewis’s parents were destined for an inquest court room to hear the events surrounding his unexplained death.

Olaseni, 23, a successful IT graduate from Kingston University, was pinned face down on the floor by 11 police officers for 40 minutes in a hospital seclusion room, never to regain consciousness, despite having no history of mental or physical illness.

Earlier that day, he had visited Croydon University Hospital with his family to seek professional help after he had begun behaving strangely, alternating between “calm and agitated phases”.

The hospital then sent him for observation in a “section 136 suite” at Maudsley Hospital, a psychiatric facility in south London, where it was decided he required a few days for assessment, treatment and rest.

However, due to his South Norwood address, he was transferred to Bethlem Royal Hospital in Beckenham, where he admitted himself voluntarily.

Having helped him settle for the night, his father and mother, Conrad and Ajibola, and his best friend, Omari Faria, left him to fall asleep at about 8pm.

But less than four hours later, he was on his death bed wired to a life support machine after being restrained by police.

Ajibola, 63, recalled the moment she left her son at Bethlem for the night on August 31, 2010. She said: “He was fine. He was saying, ‘should I have a bath or get to sleep?’ He was talking about what he might eat and then he said he would go to sleep. He was just fine when we left him.

“I wanted to sleep in the car park of the hospital that night, in the car, because I couldn’t bear to leave him, but my family convinced me to come home.”

But around two hours later, she received a phone call from Omari, telling her of an “incident”.

She said: “I came home to bed and Omari calls to say, ‘have the hospital been in touch? There has been an incident’.

“So I phoned up about 10pm and they said that I should go to Mayday [Croydon University Hospital] where he has been taken.

“So we got to Mayday about midnight and they were stabilising him and then he was put on life support.”

Four days later, brain stem death – caused after oxygen to the brain is obstructed – was confirmed and his life support machine switched off.

But nearly two and a half years later, not one of the 11 officers has been interviewed under caution, which is the procedure that should take place if there is a “possibility” any crime or wrong-doing took place.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), which conducted the investigation into the police, has offered the family no explanations, while both the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the CPS have provided little information.

The family’s lawyer Raju Bhatt, who specialises in neglect of police duty and was appointed to the Hillsborough disaster panel by the Home Office, said officers should “no doubt” have been interviewed under caution and branded the IPCC probe “fundamentally flawed”.

He said: “What we know is, there was a very long restraint in the face-down position and we know that the post mortem has revealed the restraint to be at the heart of the mechanism leading to the death.

“It doesn’t take a super detective to see that there may be issues to consider here.

“There is failure that is a shocking abdication of responsibility. We are placing the burden on this family to raise questions we should be raising on their behalf through the CPS and IPCC.”

Mr Bhatt also does not believe any police officers will be prosecuted and suggested the continual postponement of Olaseni’s inquest is a delaying tactic.

He added: “Time is of the essence in terms of the investigation. Investigative manuals talk about the golden hours.

“In these first few hours the evidence is there and with every hour, let alone every week, month, year, the evidence is dissipated. It is inconceivable they would take this long if they were going to prosecute.

“When you see a performance like this from the authorities, you are left with no option to conclude that what you’re seeing is an exercise explaining away what has happened.”

Although accounts are scant, the family understands that Olaseni, who had become restless, was restrained three times – once by hospital staff and twice by police after being called by nurses.

Bethlem Hospital protocol states police are only to be called in “exceptional” circumstances, but the hospital has refused to say whether there was anything exceptional in Olaseni’s case.

The family said the hospital told them police handcuffed the 23-year-old and led him down some stairs to a seclusion room where he was held, face down on the floor, by 11 officers for at least 40 minutes in two struggles.

He was then said to have been left on his own in the room where he lay motionless before being taken to Croydon University Hospital.

Ajibola, a former lawyer, said: “We are devastated, disappointed and completely disillusioned by the whole thing.

“We want police to be held to account and a thorough, transparent investigation with the police questioned under caution.

“You feel as if you’re victimised over and over again. You’re a victim already, but you’re being victimised again by an investigation that hasn’t been adequate and by the constant delaying.”

Conrad, an IT consultant, said he was concerned the police were investigating themselves, adding: “Here we have one of the highest bodies [IPCC] that is to be respected and should be responsible but they have not fought for our purpose.

“I have sleepless nights. This is what we go through with the delay of the IPCC and the CPS.

“We feel torn to pieces by the whole thing, the handling of the issue and the loss of our son. We just want justice. We can’t put closure to it until we get that.

“I’m not looking for revenge, I’m just looking for justice. There is no compensation enough for the death of my son, but what I would like is to see things being done properly, so no other family has to suffer the same fight we are going through.

“Regardless of what he did, he didn’t deserve to die.”

Ajibola and Conrad spoke fondly of a son who ‘stuck up for people being bullied’ at school, a student who was ‘self-motivated’ and ‘focused on his work’ and who had ambitions to study for a PhD after completing his masters in IT at Kingston University.

He was a ‘gentle giant’ with a zest for adventure and was much-loved by his friends, family and sisters Kemi and Lara.

Mother Ajibola said: “He had a real sense of adventure and fun. He was a lovely, friendly, a lovely person and wasn’t afraid of new things.

“He wanted to study for a PhD in America, which he would have done, we’re sure. He studied IT at Kingston and he loved his computers and was always focused on his work.”

The 63-year-old told how she once received a call from Olaseni’s former head teacher at Archbishop Tenison’s C of E School, informing her he had stuck up for a fellow pupil being bullied at school by older students. “That’s the kind of person he was, always looking out for others,” she said.

She added that on one family holiday in Florida, her son had attempted to reach Cuba by jet ski after going too far out to sea and having to be hauled back.

Conrad said: “He was an achiever. I did IT and he followed me into that.

“He was self-motivated and very successful. Whatever he’d have done he would have been good at it.

“We were very proud of him with what he achieved and the way he was with others. He is missed by the whole family.

“He was a gentle giant and we are never going to forget him.”

Olaseni’s inquest has been postponed for the second time in eight months after CPS received fresh information from the Health and Safety Executive.

A spokesman confirmed the new material was received at the end of January and needs to be considered fully before an inquest takes place in case they decide to prosecute anyone over the death.

The spokesman said: “We continue to carefully review all the evidence in relation to the tragic death of Olaseni Lewis.

“Further material has since come to light, which we are currently considering.

“We understand that the postponement of the inquest is distressing for the friends and family of Olaseni and we are seeking to progress this case as swiftly as possible.”

It is necessary that an inquest does not take place while potential criminal proceedings are considered, as it could later prejudice any trial.

However, the Lewis family’s lawyer, Raju Bhatt, does not believe the CPS’s stalling is a sign they will prosecute. He said: “It is inconceivable they would take this long if they were going to prosecute.”

Scotland Yard said because the case had been referred to the IPCC it could not comment.

A Bethlem Royal Hospital spokesman said a full internal investigation had been carried out after the restraint that led to Olaseni Lewis’s death, ending in a review which has seen practices changed and more meetings between clinicians and police introduced.

The hospital spokesman said: “We are very sorry that this tragic incident occurred and we have offered our sincere condolences to the family of Olaseni Lewis.

“We met the Lewis family to ensure that they had input into our internal investigation and we have shared our conclusions with them.

“We will fully share our investigation’s conclusions with the inquest to be held.

“Following our investigation we instituted meetings with senior police officers in our local boroughs, to review our respective operational policies and how they impact on people with mental health problems, and we have since agreed a joint protocol with them.

“We also meet regularly liaison officers at borough level.

“This autumn we will be launching a new training package with the police and London Ambulance Service that specifically addresses the issues of managing people when they are acutely unwell.”

The IPCC is seeking legal advice in the wake of Olaseni’s death following police restraint, its commissioner, Rachel Cerfontyne, has told the Advertiser.

She said: “The IPCC is taking the concerns of Mr Lewis’s family very seriously and we are reviewing our investigation, including seeking the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service and other legal expert opinion to determine whether there is more we can and should be doing.

“We continue to consult with Mr Lewis’s family to keep them abreast of any developments and we recognise the family’s frustration that they have had to wait for answers as to what happened. Our focus remains on providing them with the most thorough possible investigation.”

Read more: http://www.thisiscroydontoday.co.uk/South-Norwood-man-held-face-police-40-minutes/story-18155589-detail/story.html#ixzz2MZA4ltps
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4WardEver Campaign – Brain death after ‘violent’ police restraint

Original Article can be found at: 4WardEver Campaign

October 2010

compiled from various sources

published: 4WardEver UK – October 2010

Olaseni Lewis, known to his family as Seni, was a young black man aged 23 years, engaged in post-graduate Masters studies in IT and Business Management. He had no prior history of mental illness or any untoward behaviour until the evening of Sunday 29 August 2010 when his family and friends noticed that he was behaving strangely, between calm and agitated phases.

They sought professional help, resulting eventually in his admission as a vulnerable voluntary patient at the Bethlem Royal Hospital early in the evening of Tuesday 31 August 2010.

The hospital called the police in order to restrain Mr Olaseni, who they say had become violent, within hours of his family leaving. But after a seven-police restraint at the hospital his airway became blocked and Lewis collapsed and slipped into a coma.

Nurses at the hospital were said to have been “horrified” at the behaviour of the police and later logged their action on the hospital records as “violent restraint”. Highlighting the fact that while the police being called to restrain a patient is common practice, the staff themselves deemed the actions of the police to be excessive.

Olaseni was taken by ambulance to Mayday Hospital where brain stem death was confirmed following tests on 3 and 4 September 2010.

Seni’s family and friends are determined to ensure that all the circumstances of his tragic death are brought under proper scrutiny so that they can obtain the answers that they need from those responsible for the fatal restraint and those to whom their loved one had been entrusted.

A post-mortem examination into the cause of the Olaseni’s death is believed to have been inconclusive. Police sources said officers had been called to deal with a violent patient. He collapsed and officers gave first aid and attempted to revive him. No officers were suspended or placed on restricted duties as a result of the incident

Olaseni is understood to have been detained under the Mental Health Act.

Deborah Coles, co-director of INQUEST, which is working with the family and their lawyer said: “This is a deeply disturbing death and it is vital both for the family and the public that there is a rigorous, far-reaching investigation into the fatal restraint of a vulnerable black man in need of care and protection.

“INQUEST has worked on far too many cases where dangerous restraint has resulted in the deaths of vulnerable people, a disproportionate number of whom are from black and minority ethnic communities”.

The family and friends of Seni Lewis were grateful for all the very many messages of support and condolence that they have received in the wake of his untimely death.