Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

News and other Busyness

Douglas Inquiry Doubts

Family of man who died in police custody free to challenge verdict

Squall 15, Summer 1997, pg. 6.

PRESSURE on the police to revise methods of restraining suspects mounted last month after the family of Wayne Douglas, whose death in custody triggered Brixton riots in 1995, were freed to challenge the verdict he died accidentally.

Mr Douglas’ sister, Lisa, maintains that the inquest jury, if properly directed, should have delivered a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’.

Permitting the challenge, the judge, Mr Justice Forbes, said it was arguable that Southwark coroner Sir Montague Levine hadn’t properly directed the jury on two possible forms of unlawful killing.

Such a verdict would have been possible if a ‘deliberate unlawful dangerous act’ had resulted in involuntary manslaughter, or if there had been gross negligence in the way 25-year- old Mr Douglas was treated during or after arrest.

The inquest jury said Mr Douglas had died from heart failure caused by positional asphyxia brought on by stress and exhaustion.

Following a chase Mr Douglas had been held face down, with hands cuffed behind his back, on four separate occasions. Mr Douglas had been arrested for aggravated burglary and officers claimed he had threatened them with a knife.

The solicitor for Mr Douglas’ family, Louise Christian, accused the Met of failing to implement seven recommendations made by coroner Sir Montague Levine at the December inquest, for improved training and research on methods of restraint. Sir Montague Levine had said he was ‘appalled’ that police training in restraint lasted only a few minutes.

Ms Christian said: ‘It was not just Wayne Douglas who died because of asphyxia following arrest. Other young men, in particular black men, are dying for the same reason.’

Ms Christian said: "[Levine’s] recommendations are not being implemented. After Wayne Douglas, there have been two more inquests involving deaths due to positional asphyxia. But still there is no implementation.”

It was the second time in a month official doubts were raised over coroners’ court hearings into the deaths of black men in South London.

In March Mr Justice Laws gave the family of Brian Douglas (no relation) permission to challenge another Southwark coroner’s court jury verdict of death by misadventure. Brian Douglas died in 1995 after a confrontation with two officers equipped with US-style batons. Both cases will now be subject to full judicial reviews, which could result in fresh inquests.

Meanwhile, the Police Complaints Authority is investigating the death at Harlesden police station, north London, of another black youth, Marlon Downes, 20, who was found hanging in his cell in March. His family say he had no history of depression.