Lawyers at Sheku Bayoh inquiry upbraided for watching football

Counsel for family of man who died in police custody complain to chair after sounds of match interrupt hearing

The family of a man who died in police custody have complained that an inquiry into his death was interrupted by a football match being watched by lawyers involved in the tribunal.

The sound of the match caused a brief pause in proceedings on Wednesday afternoon during the inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh, who was killed while being restrained by six police officers in Kirkcaldy in May 2015. His family believe race played a part in his death.

Claire Mitchell KC, a lawyer for Bayoh’s family, raised the incident with the chair of the inquiry, Lord Bracadale, a retired appeal court judge. She said: “This sort of interruption is clearly not what we or indeed the family wished for.”

She added: “It sounded actually as if something was being listened to. The chair can make their own inquiries but it sounded like a football [match].”

Final Group D matches in the World Cup between Tunisia and France and Australia and Denmark were taking place at the time of the hearing.

Mitchell said: “I wonder if the chair can make a direction to ensure that all parties when they are in the inquiry are using their mobile phones, for reasons of communication between perhaps other people in their group, and for no other reason?”

Lord Bracadale replied: “I shall reflect on that submission, I have had representations in relation to a number of aspects of the activities of legal representatives.”

On Wednesday the inquiry heard that the primary motive of police officers dealing with an armed suspect should be containment rather than restraint.

Joanne Caffrey, an expert witness on the use of force and police custody, also suggested that the officers involved should have waited for a police dog to arrive before trying to restrain Bayoh.

Police officers Craig Walker and Alan Paton were first on the scene after reports from members of the public that Bayoh had been carrying a knife and attacking vehicles. They have told the inquiry that when they arrived, they deployed their CS sprays against Bayoh after he failed to listen to their instructions.

Caffrey told the inquiry: “The primary focus for dealing with any kind of bladed weapon is contain rather than restrain.”

She told Angela Grahame KC, the inquiry’s senior counsel: “To put a containment, you can’t contain someone in an open place with just two. If four or six turned up together, you have got a really good chance of containment.”

Last week the inquiry heard that a dog unit had been called but that it was going to take at least 20 minutes to arrive. Caffrey, a former police sergeant, said: “I think the reasonable officer would tell the staff to hang back because the safer option is the dog.”

She added: “At times as soon as suspects see the dog they’ll just go to their knees and put the hands up because they don’t want to deal with the dog. It stops all of that physical contact.”

Caffrey also agreed that the least forceful option must be attempted or considered by officers. She said: “It’s about trying to keep everything as calm as possible to try and minimise escalation of violence. It’s about trying to look at what is the lowest level of force that I can use.

“The moment you draw a baton or CS [spray] that is the use of force.”

The inquiry continues.


Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

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