The story of the black community in Britain struggling to get inquests into deaths of its young men at the hands of the police isn’t a new one.
“The problem with you is you will always be a nigger.” This was a London Metropolitan Police officer’s frank assessment of Mauro Demetrio, a young man arrested in the city’s east end in the aftermath of last August’s riots.
As the US wrestles with the implications of the Trayvon Martin shooting, Britain continues to deal with the fallout from the worst civil unrest seen in England since the Brixton riots thirty years ago and race-relations remain firmly at the top of the agenda.
Friendly London ‘Bobbies’ giving directions on street corners are a tourist board myth if you happen to live in an ethnically diverse neighbourhood like Lewisham or Tottenham where poverty, unemployment and crime are high.
Nearly 20 years after the murder of Stephen Lawrence and the wilfully botched investigation of his death, it’s painfully clear that institutional racism within the corrupt Metropolitan Police force is as much of a canker as it ever was.
The problem, however, seems to be spreading and it would certainly be prudent to pay closer attention to the conduct and attitudes of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who are also clearly failing in their duty to administer impartial justice to a community where belief in the integrity of this state’s government or any of its agencies is straining credulity to breaking point.
The case of Mauro Demetrio is illustrative not only of racism within the police (we always knew that) but also within the CPS, whose job it is to decide when to press charges and mount criminal prosecutions.
This case highlights the extent to which CPS are prepared to back up the kind of appalling behaviour that can be heard in this recording; made by the young man in question during his arrest for a crime he steadfastly maintains he did not commit.
Demetrio, on arrival at the police station after being arrested, made every effort to voice his grievances but these fell on deaf ears. (Luckily for Demetrio, cunning isn’t something that the Met could ever be accused of, otherwise, the damning recording on his phone would have been wiped in the custody suite and this would have been just another workaday tale of bigotry in the uniform of the crown.)
Certainly, when the young man took his grievance to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), they took him seriously enough to refer the case to the CPS in January of this year. The CPS initially decided against pursuing the matter any further.
And there the matter might have rested had the young man not lawyered up and threatened to have the decision examined under judicial review. That would have seen the case being taken all the way to the High Court with Demetrio’s recording adduced as evidence; not a very edifying prospect for our ‘Peeler’ friends.
The Demetrio case is one of ten which have come before the IPCC in recent months with allegations of racism being levelled against 20 serving officers. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe tried to polish this turd by telling the media that “Whilst any use of racist language is abhorrent, what is reassuring for me is that in the ten cases that have been referred to the IPCC, six involve other officers who have stood up and raised concerns, showing that we are an organisation that will not stand for any racist behaviour.”
So while racism in the Met is hardly ‘hold the front page’ stuff, perhaps the real institutional racism story here is that the CPS appears have colluded with the Met to bury this case. And they might well have succeeded if the young man in question had not had the presence of mind to record the exchange, and the courage to follow through.
But Demetrio wasn’t the only ghost of August 2011 that came back to haunt to the Met courtesy of the IPCC.
It would appear that efforts to have a public coroner’s inquest into the killing which sparked the riots in the first place is now being frustrated by the police, our friends in the CPS and the Home Office, hiding behind the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).
Mark Duggan, whose shooting by police in Tottenham on 4 August (and the subsequent handling of what is increasingly looking like an unlawful shooting and police cover-up), sparked riots across England last summer. One would have thought that transparency in conducting an inquiry into his death would be of paramount concern.
But apparently not; the British establishment seems overly keen to kick the whole affair into the long grass. We are being told that sensitive material relating to police decision-making may have to be withheld from the coroner. (Just so you know: RIPA can be invoked by government officials specified in the Act on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.)
Sadly, the story of the black community in Britain struggling to get inquests into deaths of its young men at the hands of the police isn’t a new one either. This was made abundantly clear to me when I recently attended a meeting in London branch of rail union RMT meeting on racism, police and the state.
Rousing exhortations from Birmingham Six and Guildford Four members Paddy Hill and Gerry Conlon aside, this meeting really belonged to the campaigning black women who were fighting for justice for their brothers killed by the police.
Hearing Janet Alder recount the way her brother Christopher died in police custody and how badly the case was handled by everyone, was truly harrowing.
Christopher, a trainee computer programmer and former British Army paratrooper, choked to death while in police custody at Queen’s Gardens Police Station, Kingston upon Hull, in April 1998. A decade ago, a coroner’s jury decided Mr Alder was unlawfully killed and misconduct and manslaughter charges were later brought against five Humberside Police officers but they were all acquitted in 2002.
In 2006, an IPCC report said four of the officers present in the custody suite when Mr Alder died were guilty of the “most serious neglect of duty”. Christopher’s case took a grotesque turn when it was discovered in November 2011 that Christopher’s body was not the one returned to the Alder family for burial in 2000. They had buried instead 77-year old Grace Kamara as the result of a mix-up in a Hull mortuary.
A public vigil was held earlier this month outside the police station to mark the 14th was anniversary of Christopher’s death. “I’d like people to remember Christopher, to remember what happened, because only by remembering what’s happened can you change things and have this not happen again to anybody else,” said his sister Janet.
The case of Sean Rigg who died in police custody in Brixton, recounted by his sister Sam Rigg-David was no less affecting. On 21 August 2008, the 40-year old musician, who had long struggled with mental illness, became disturbed after suffering a breakdown. Staff at his hostel made six 999 (UK version of 911) calls from around 5pm, seeking to have Sean taken to a place of safety; calls which the police refused to attend.
Sean was in a disturbed state by the time he left the hostel at 7pm. He was only approached by the police after a member of the public raised the alarm. Sean was restrained, handcuffed and arrested for a public order offence and alleged assault on a police officer. He was carrying his passport in his pocket at the time.
The van taking Sean Rigg to Brixton police station arrived at 7.30pm but he collapsed before being transferred to the station. At no point did anyone flag up the fact that he was suffering from a mental illness, nor was he identified as a previous detainee under the Mental Health Act. A police surgeon and an ambulance attended, but by 9.24pm, Sean was pronounced dead at King’s College Hospital. At no point since his death has the information the Rigg family has received from either the police or the IPCC been satisfactory and they continue in their efforts to have the irregularities around Sean’s case investigated with transparency.
But to conclude our little round-up of recent institutional racist goings on, I thought I might give you the bones of a recent workaday instance of police and CPS collusion in action. You won’t see it reported in the papers and I am only at liberty to give you the germane detail of an incident which is still sub judice.
Let’s just say that a young black male, who is the victim of an escalating series of assaults which culminate in an attack that is tantamount to attempted murder, is arrested by the police for his part in this incident and charged with violent disorder and possession of an offensive weapon. Notwithstanding the fact that CCTV clearly shows the young man acting in self-defence, the prosecution still sought this young man’s further detention pending trial.
But here’s where the case gets interesting, the reason this youth has been targeted and attacked by the gang is because he gave evidence in court against a gang member. So this young man, who took the courageous position of testifying against a violent hood, is the victim of constant attacks, receives no police protection and then when he acts in desperate self defence, finds himself being arrested by the same police who couldn’t (wouldn’t?) protect him in the first place.
But the police are being ably assisted in this disingenuousness. Was there any mention by the CPS that this young man had been a crucial witness to the trial of a dangerous criminal? Of course not, because the culture of securing convictions, especially in high profile areas like knife crime, getting a result take precedence over trifling issues like, oh I don’t know, telling the truth?
“Racism hasn’t gone away in the Met or the CPS, I just think it’s become subtle, you see it in the way that they are stopping and searching and charging individuals,” the young man’s lawyer told the Rusty Wire Service.
On Tuesday the Met police commissioner, Bernard Hogan-Howe, urged all 48,000 staff in the force to report inappropriate behaviour. He said: “I will not stand for any racism or racists in the Met.” Perhaps Keir Starmer, head boy over at the CPS, should be delivering a similar homily.
The IPCC referred Demetrio’s case to the Crown Prosecution Service in January after concluding that MacFarlane, Harrington and the other officer may have committed criminal offences.
The CPS initially decided not to bring criminal charges against any of the officers. Last week prosecutors agreed to formally review that decision after Demetrio’s lawyer, Michael Oswald, of Bhatt Murphy solicitors, threatened legal action.
—Photo Jayanth Vincent/Flickr