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SACC calls for public inquiry into Sheku Bayoh's death

SACC Press Release, 2 October 2018

SACC shares the distress of Sheku Bayoh's family at rumours that no charges will be brought against police officers involved in the events that led to Sheku's death in Kirkcaldy on 3 May 2015. The family will be meeting with the Lord Advocate on Wednesday to hear his decision formally. We support the family's request that people show their solidarity and their support for justice and transparency by joining a peaceful rally outside the Crown Office in Chambers Street, Edinburgh from 10am on Wednesday.

The treatment that the family have received from the police and from Scotland's legal system has been shameful. They were misled by police from the outset, and say that after Sheku died they were given five different versions of events in seven hours. At least some of the information they were given appears to have involved deliberate lies. Sheku's partner Collette had her home take over by police for no apparent reason. The family have seen police attempt to smear Sheku, both publicly and through off-the-record briefings to journalists. They have watched from the sidelines as the investigation into Sheku's death was bungled, in the first place by allowing the officers involved to meet together immediately after the incident, and then through the failure of PIRC - the supposedly independent body that investigates complaints against police in Scotland - to conduct timely interviews of those officers.

Three years and five months have passed since Sheku died. It should not take that long to investigate an incident that unfolded over a few minutes and involved only a handful of people, all of them effortlessly identifiable from the start of the investigation. Justice delayed is justice denied.

The report passed to the Lord Advocate by PIRC has not been made public. But on the basis of the facts that have so far come to light, we think there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes were committed by officers who restrained Sheku and/or by officers involved in subsequent actions related to the case. The legality of those officers' actions needs to be tested in front of a jury in a criminal court.

The state and its servants cannot kill with impunity. Even if the police officers can walk away from their actions, the state cannot. Sheku's family and the people of Scotland need justice. SACC does not believe that the investigations so far, coupled with the Fatal Accident Inquiry that will automatically follow, are capable of meeting the Scottish Government's domestic and international obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Now, more than ever, there needs to be a public inquiry to determine what happened to Sheku, to determine whether his killing was lawful, to consider whether any other crimes may have been committed, and to investigate and draw conclusions about all the other aspects of the case, including the role played by police training and guidelines, the decisions taken by senior officers and the part that racism may have played in shaping police actions.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"Suppose that some members of the public approached a man who they thought had been acting oddly. Suppose that within seconds of engaging with the man they had knocked him to the ground and that the man rapidly lost consciousness and then died. Suppose those members of the public said they had been acting in self-defence, or in the defence of one or another of their group. Can anyone believe that those members of the public wouldn't find themselves before a jury? Police have duties and powers not shared by the public, but they have no more right than anyone else to use potentially lethal force where not absolutely necessary.

Whether or not the officers involved in Sheku's death stand trial, there needs to be a public inquiry to establish the full facts about Sheku's death and the subsequent botched investigation. But if there are no prosecutions, a public inquiry becomes an inescapable obligation to Sheku's family, to the Scottish people and to the rule of law.

Too often, the Scottish Government acts as if it has an overriding duty to protect the institutional interests of the police. It  needs to remember its duties to the Scottish people and the law.

The Scottish Government can either wait and see whether they can be legally forced into holding a public inquiry, or it can do the right thing, right now."