Black and Minority Ethnic Deaths
INQUEST’s casework has shown that a disproportionate number of those who die in all forms of detention or following contact with the police following the use of force or serious neglect are from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities. INQUEST is concerned that institutional racism has been a contributory factor.
BAME deaths in all forms of detention and following contact with the police are often among the most controversial as demonstrated this year by the finding of the Azelle Rodney Inquiry that unlawful force was used. Black deaths in custody must be seen in the context of the disproportionate overuse of prison for black people, the plight of immigration detainees, the treatment they receive and the overuse of control and restraint techniques and segregation. While the number of restraint related deaths are a small minority of the total numbers of deaths they have been the most controversial because of what they have revealed about the excessive use of force by functionaries of the state.
Over the past 20 years we have documented and drawn national and international attention to these patterns and the effect they have on community confidence in the investigation and inquest systems. Our work in this area has contributed to greater awareness of the issues and to reforms to the investigation and inquest systems. However there is still no independent investigation of deaths in psychiatric detention and the challenges faced by all families seeking funding for specialist legal representation at inquests also add to the serious inequality in the inquest system. The inquest is the only public forum where these deaths are examined they also serve an important function in the public interest. Yet there is no automatic right to non-means tested public funding for families.
At all inquests into deaths in custody the institutions of detention will be legally represented by experienced and well-qualified lawyers at unlimited public expense. This gives rise to a substantial inequality of arms between families and the state.
INQUEST has been involved in supporting the families in a high number of cases of black deaths in custody such as the restraint-related deaths of Roger Sylvester, Rocky Bennett and Sean Rigg and is continuing to monitor such deaths.
‘At the time of the tragedy, I had no idea of what to do or who to turn to. By luck, I found yourselves and contacted you, the rest as we say is history. On behalf of [my brother's] family, friends and myself I would just like to thank you so much for your professional support and advice during that difficult period and without that help, I do not think we would be where we are today.’
– Brother of a man who died in police custody