Theresa May to review deaths in police custody

Theresa May MP

The home secretary, Theresa May, has announced a review into deaths and serious injury in police custody as another family were told that a report into how their relative was left severely paralysed would be further delayed.

Julian Cole, 21, was left in a vegetative state after going to a nightclub in Bedford in May 2013, and now lives in a care home. His family have been waiting for a report from the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the police watchdog, into how the young athlete’s neck was broken in the street.

The Guardian has learned that the report detailing the findings of its investigation has again been delayed. It was due to be completed in May 2015, but the IPCC have now told the family that they cannot even estimate a date by which is will be finished, let alone seen by the family.

The news about continuing delays in the system came as the home secretary vowed in a speech to give families who claim to have suffered a better deal with the review placing the experience of families at its heart. It aims to reduce the chances of death in police custody and speed up the investigations of such incidents. May announced the investigation after hearing from families that the system was painfully slow and failing.

She said in her speech: “In my time as home secretary, I have been struck by the pain and suffering of families still looking for answers, who have encountered not compassion and redress from the authorities, but what they feel is evasiveness and obstruction.”
In Cole’s case, the catastrophic injuries he suffered, namely a hangman’s fracture caused by his neck being snapped back, came to light after his arrest by police.
The IPCC has declined to say if six officers questioned under criminal caution or two nightclub staff bear responsibility for the incident, or criminal charges may result.

Confirming the new delay, an IPCC spokesperson said the watchdog was currently finalising and quality-assuring the report.

Jules Carey, a solicitor for the Cole family, said: “Julian’s family welcome the home secretary’s acknowledgment of the pain and suffering they have endured in their search for answers, and they hope that this inquiry will rigorously examine obstruction by police forces as well as the ineptitude of the IPCC, which has so far taken more than two years to conclude its report on the incident.”

The review will look at several issues, including the restraint methods used by officers and the way such incidents are investigated, following sustained criticism of the IPCC from families like the Coles.
Ahead of May’s speech, the IPCC released new figures showing that deaths in police custody in 2014-15 increased to 17, from 11 the previous year. Ten were after restraint by officers and virtually all have links to drugs, alcohol or mental health issues.

May’s speech made clear that she would continue with her sweeping reforms of the police. She spoke in Brixton, a south London area hit by riots which the Tory home secretary said were “stark reminders of the importance of trust between the police and communities they serve – and the potentially devastating consequences if things go wrong”.

She said that when things went wrong, “police have responded with obstruction, neglect or cover-up” and the “damning perception, if not the reality, of the abuse of power”. May also signalled that she will never approve the use of water cannon, fearing it may damage police legitimacy and the principle of policing by consent.

Last week, despite London mayor Boris Johnson having bought three secondhand water cannon from Germany, the home secretary rejected their deployments on the British mainland , humiliating her Tory colleague. May said: “Our police have never and will never routinely carry guns or hide behind military style equipment … I was also acutely conscious of the potential impact of water cannon on perceptions of police legitimacy and the very principle of policing by consent.”

She said she would introduce new laws to stop police officers picking on ethnic minorities through stop and search powers if the abuses were not stopped. She warned of danger to law and order if search powers and the use of Tasers were abused: “When they are misapplied and innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason or Tasered inappropriately, it … does great damage to public confidence in the police.”

The home secretary is yet to confirm a chair for the deaths in custody inquiry, but said families would have a say. She has ordered several inquiries into alleged police wrongdoing, from corruption to abuses by undercover officers.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Vikram Dodd, for theguardian.com on Thursday 23rd July 2015 19.13 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010