Will we ever punish cops who kill?

Last night I saw a Crimewatch appeal for information regarding the murder of PC Keith Blakelock, a policeman who was murdered during riots on the Broadwater Farm estate in north London in 1985. Blakelock was assisting firefighters who were trying to put out a fire in a supermarket, which had been attacked in the riots, and was ambushed by several local black youths and stabbed repeatedly to death. It’s likely that the attackers were not ordinary rioters but were criminals (even before the murder) but nothing much was said about the circumstances behind the riots or about anyone killed by police over the years, never leading to a single conviction.

Only a couple of months ago, reported only in local newspapers (or newspaper websites), a black man was killed by police in a psychiatric hospital in south London. According to This is London (the London Evening Standard’s website), Olaseni Lewis, from South Norwood, was forcibly restrained by seven police officers and lapsed into a coma, dying four days later in hospital:

Police in Bromley were called by the hospital staff to help restrain him when he turned violent, a normal practice. However, nurses are said to have been “horrified” at the way the police acted when they arrived.

The Standard has been told several nurses who witnessed the incident later logged it as a “violent restraint”, meaning they thought inappropriate force was used.

A hospital source said: “Staff have been told not to say anything about what happened but everyone who saw it was very concerned. Because of the outrage in the hospital as to the way the police conducted themselves, there was a meeting [about the case].”

According to the Bromley Times, the victim was a master’s student at Kingston University with no history of mental health issues, and was admitted voluntarily when friends became concerned about his erratic behaviour. He had only been at the hospital a few days when the incident occurred which led to his death. Nobody has yet been suspended or put on restricted duties as result of this.

This is only the latest in a long line of incidents of people being killed while being restrained in dubious circumstances by the police, and black men and mental patients are disproportionately represented among them. On other occasions, such as that of David “Rocky” Bennett, the guilty parties have been medical staff rather than the police, and it speaks volumes that when an M.E. patient compares their treatment to that of a mental patient, it goes without saying that they mean they were treated like dirt.

The victims of police thuggery are not always Black, and not always mentally ill — consider the case of Ian Tomlinson who was killed by a policeman simply walking past a demonstration outside the Bank of England last year. Nobody faced prosecution for that; the CPS declined to prosecute on the basis of conflicting post-mortems, despite the fact that the post-mortem favourable to the police was conducted by Freddy Patel, later found guilty by the General Medical Council of making serious errors in other post-mortems and changing the recorded cause of a woman’s death to please her family.

A further regular feature of deaths at the hands of the police is the spread of misinformation by the police afterwards. It happened in the case of Jean-Charles de Menezes, who was alleged to be wearing a jacket with wires sticking out of it; it happened in the case of Roger Sylvester, who was said by the police to have been seen standing naked, banging on a neighbour’s door, something none of his neighbours could confirm, and it happened in the case of Ian Tomlinson, in which case the police said they could not attend to him after the attack because they were being pelted with bottles by a crowd, something disproved by CCTV footage.

It would not, of course, be any use putting out a Crimewatch appeal for information as to who killed any of these people; their identities are already known to their friends and colleagues in the police. However, if we are to be hunting down people who kill police more than two decades later as if they were Nazi war criminals, we ought at least to be bringing to book those in uniform who batter and choke people to death, who often get away with it when the action is much fresher in people’s memory and was caught on camera.

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