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Public inquiry to be held into death of man in police custody

It will look to establish the role Sheku Bayoh’s race may have played in his death, Scotland’s Justice Secretary has said.

Mr Bayoh died in police custody in 2015 (Bayoh family/PA)
Mr Bayoh died in police custody in 2015 (Bayoh family/PA)

By Craig Paton, PA Scotland Political Reporter

A public inquiry has been announced into the death of a man in police custody.

Scotland’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf told MSPs it would look into the “circumstances leading up to and following” the death of Sheku Bayoh.

Mr Bayoh died after being restrained by police officers on a street in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in 2015.

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Humza Yousaf said how much Mr Bayoh’s race played a part in his treatment should be part of the inquiry (Jane Barlow/PA)

The inquiry will look to establish the role Mr Bayoh’s race may have played in his death, Mr Yousaf said.

Deaths in police custody in Scotland are subject to a mandatory fatal accident inquiry (FAI).

Mr Yousaf told Holyrood that Scotland’s Lord Advocate felt an FAI “would not allow all the issues which require to be investigated to be addressed”.

He said: “It is imperative that the circumstances leading up to Mr Bayoh’s death and the events that followed are examined in full and in public.”

Mr Bayoh’s family have repeatedly called for a public inquiry into his death.

Mr Yousaf, along with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, met relatives in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday before the announcement of the inquiry was made.

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Nicola Sturgeon offered her condolences to Mr Bayoh’s family (Danny Lawson/PA)

Afterwards, the First Minister said: “We have taken the decision that we will establish a full public inquiry under the Inquiries Act as an alternative to a fatal accident inquiry.

“Part of the reasoning for that is that a fatal accident inquiry would only be able to look at the circumstances leading up to the death of Sheku Bayoh, whereas a public inquiry will be able to look at what happened after his death as well.”

She added: “My message to his family today, as well as repeating my deep condolences for their loss and what they’ve suffered over these past few years, is that they have a right to the answers to the questions that they have and I hope that a full public inquiry can deliver those answers and also tell us if there are any lessons that require to be learned from what is undoubtedly a tragic case.”

Ms Sturgeon spoke as the Justice Secretary told Holyrood he was “confident a statutory public inquiry under the 2005 Act will provide the best means of establishing the circumstances leading to and following Mr Bayoh’s “tragic death”.

Mr Yousaf added: “For any independent scrutiny of this case to be rigorous and credible, it must address the question of whether or not Mr Bayoh’s race played a part in how the incident was approached and dealt with by the police.

“In saying that, I am not pre-judging the answer to that question – that will be for the inquiry, which will be independence of ministers.

“In order to do this effectively, the inquiry must be equipped with the necessary diversity of expertise and background to scrutinise the extent to which race was a factor in this case.”

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Members of Mr Bayoh’s family with lawyer Aamer Anwar (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Yousaf said he hopes to be able to make a statement on the chairman of the inquiry, along with the terms of reference for the inquiry, early in the new year.

A statement from Aamer Anwar, the lawyer representing the family, said: “It follows that the inquiry must identify each and every individual and  organisation who must bear responsibility and accountability for this tragedy and the mishandling of the aftermath.

“We also believe that the inquiry must focus on whether institutional racism, discrimination, inequality and cultural attitudes were responsible for what occurred – to what extent did the life of Sheku Bayoh not count, or could have counted more?

“These concerns are inescapable as far as many of the core participants are concerned.

“The family are deeply grateful to the Scottish Government for their announcement of a public inquiry.

“This is an important first step in holding power to account and establishing the truth, because without truth there can be no justice.”

Opposition parties at Holyrood welcomed the announcement of the public inquiry but asked Mr Yousaf about the decision by the Lord Advocate not to press charges against the police officers involved.

Labour’s James Kelly said: “It is shocking in modern Scotland the circumstances in which Mr Bayoh has lost his life and it is unacceptable nobody has been held legally responsible.”

He stressed while he “strongly supported” the public inquiry, there was concern in this case and other cases about the lack of transparency around the Lord Advocate’s decisions on non-prosecution and the granting of immunity for police officers and prison officers.

Mr Kelly demanded to know if the public inquiry would look at “recent cases and review the protocol the Lord Advocate follows when reaching a decision for non-prosecution or granting immunity”.

Green MSP John Finnie asked if the inquiry would have the power to compel witnesses to attend, “particularly perhaps former police officers, including ex-chief constable Stephen House”.

Mr Yousaf said he understood witnesses would be able to be compelled to come to the inquiry but he also stressed any decision about immunity from prosecution was a question for the Lord Advocate.

“It would absolutely unacceptable for the Justice Secretary to make a decision on who should receive immunity from prosecution,” he said.

He added while the inquiry would be focusing on what happened to Mr Bayoh there may be some issues “which may well be relevant to other cases that have gone by previously”.

PA

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