Still Fighting For Justice

On behalf of the Family and the RSJC I thank you all for being here at our Public meeting this evening.

I think we all would agree there is something shameful about a system where people are unlawfully killed at the hands of our protectors where the victim committed no crime and the perpetrators remain free.

Our case fit the pattern of the many hundreds before it and sadly many more to come but the Authorities are unwilling to prosecute police officers for deaths in their custody. They  will go through the motions giving false hopes to victims families, putting them through a lengthy process of grief, knowing that criminal charges against officers will not happen even when Inquest juries returns verdicts of unlawful killing. 

How could there be justice in a system designed to protect officers of the crown and not one to deliver justice for those victims who die in sometimes harrowing circumstances.   

The Inquest Verdict
The Jury at the end of the Inquisition into the death of Roger Sylvester returned a unanimous verdict of Unlawful Killing  at St Pancras Coroners Court on  3rd October 2003. It was proved beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence and facts presented in court that Roger was killed unlawfully.

The verdict was welcomed by the family his friends and supporters but come with mixed feelings. It underlined our concerns and long held views on Rogers death and we feel vindicated. On the other hand  there is sadness among us knowing that no verdict will bring Roger back.

Since the verdict we’ve been asking why it is that these officers remain free. Surely there are implications for the criminal justice system because to anyone following and listening in court and Given the conclusions reached by the inquest jury on the evidence they heard and the directions they received, one is entitled to expect these people to be behind bars.

What we learnt at the inquest
At the inquest we learned that the Police Federation were involved in the offset, they turned up even before the Police Complaints Authority to make sure the officers got their storey straight. That they all follow the same line, reading from the same page as they sit together to fashion their storey.  Instead of distancing themselves from rogue officers the FED supported them throughout the process.

But their lies were exposed in evidence they gave on the stand which was filled with contradictions as they tried to extricate themselves. There were stark differences of accounts between the police and independent witnesses of what happened in the initial stages of the incident outside Roger's home. Whilst witnesses saw Roger limped as he was being carried to the van the officers stated he was struggling violently throughout. It was never made clear what happened in the van but we can draw our own conclusions.

In an attempt to justify the prolonged restraint on the hospital floor.  Officers gave evidence that Roger was a dangerous and violent man and that he was such so powerful man that at one stage he lifted them 18 inches off the floor while forcibly being restrained from what was generally considered an anatomically impossible position.

He was laying in the prone or semi-prone position throughout, handcuffed and naked and fighting for life. At no time did any officer seek to or considered placing him in a recovery position - apparently it was not in their training manual. They claimed it was never an option and it never crossed their minds to sit him up, stand him up or alter his position. They wanted total submission from him as he struggled to survive against the unjustifiable restraint. The jury determined the restraint was a dangerous act and an act of excessive force was used on Roger contrary to their training.

We also learned that during the investigation the Essex Police’s investigation team did their best to put words into witnesses mouths when collecting statements as they attempted to do with family member to confuse the real issues and portray the case in a manner that suits them.

It's also clear from what we heard the police brought violence to a non violent situation in the unwarranted treatment Roger was subjected to.  Throughout his ordeal they were the ones applying more force than was necessary,  they were the ones brutalising him as he was handcuffed and naked on the floor, overwhelmed and no where to go.

It was clear during the hearing that the officers were in breach of their training but lessons have not been heeded because we have families here today who have lost their loved ones in similar circumstances and are now going through the similar problems as we have. We feel strongly that Roger and the hundreds more victims need not have died if those lessons were learned.

It seems to us that as the authorities show indifference to deaths in custody and as we know there is no accountability, the police appear to have a licence to kill.

What the jury was not told
The verdict also comes despite certain matters being withheld from the jurors under coroners rules such as:-

 

Challenging the verdict:
We feel that the officers, their Counsel and the MET should have accepted the unanimous verdict, accept accountability and their failings and move on to effect change in this shameful system but no, they chose to Judicial Review the Verdict as is their right to.  So once more we are in a legal battle to have the verdict upheld.

We now have the 8 with the support of the Commissioner who we feel should distance himself from killers in his force challenging the verdict. What was the point then of having a jury at the inquest when a single judge is being asked to quash the verdict and replace it with another that is acceptable to the authorities.

Our legal team believes the Challenge is very weak as we have very good arguments but the prospect of going through a lengthy legal process once more is daunting with financial and emotional constraints on the family.  But we are a supportive family who firmly believe in the course of action taken and are determined to see matters through.    

MPA funding the challenge
At a full meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority Thursday 25th March 2004 the decision taken at an earlier private committee meeting to fund the officers legal costs incurred as part of their judicial review of the 'unlawful killing verdict in the Roger Sylvester inquest was quashed.

After a two and a half hour discussion at which the Sylvester family INQUEST and other interested parties were present, the MPA voted 15-4 to only fund the police officers legal costs if they are granted the right to fund the Sylvester family also. Legal advice is currently being sought to see if the MPA are able to do this.

This was a victory of sorts. It means the Metropolitan Police Authority will not Fund Police Officers Unless they fund the Sylvester Family.

According to the MPA's legal advisor, unlawful killing was an unexpected verdict, introduced towards the end of the inquest by the coroner. He also advised the committee that the medical experts did not agree. He seems to have suggested to the committee that since a judge gave permission to challenge the verdict they had a strong case.  What the legal advisor choose to ignore is that after four weeks of evidence an inquest jury decided unanimously that officers using dangerous and unlawful force had unlawfully killed Roger.

One of the major problems in cases like ours is ‘families being on an equal footing’ with the authorities and other parties, there isn’t a level playing field. So Irrespective of whether or not these officers legal costs are met by the MPA we still face the legal might of lawyers representing the Police Commissioner and individual officers.

We also discovered for the first time that the MPA paid the legal fees of the eight for the inquest itself.  It was assumed that their powerful union was footing the bill. This matter was kept very quiet and it was a surprise to learn that public funds were used to fund their case.  In a number meetings with Toby Harris (Chair of the MPA) none of this was revealed to the family.

 

St Ann’s Health Trust (Crime of omission)
Individual members of staff form St Anns Hospital Trust have been supportive to us. But from a legal standpoint they sought to distance themselves from blame or culpability.  In fact the Trust’s initial internal reports appeared to be praising the actions of the officers on that fateful night.

It was clear from evidence given in court that certain members of staff stood back and observed dangerous behavior as the officers forcibly restrained Roger on the hospital floor. Either they didn’t recognize it or simply ignored it.  However we acknowledge those members who did not succumb to pressure during the investigation and was brave enough to give their account at the inquest.

It is also unclear what the Trust are now doing, what change of practices and procedures are in place to prevent incidents like this ever happening again.

 

Independent Police Complaints Commission.
There is a new body in place created to replace the now defunct Police Complaints Authority but it seems nothing much has changed. The current structure/procedures in place will not prevent what happened to Roger happening to anyone else. All they have done is changed their name and moved into plush offices. Although the Authorities now show a wiliness to charge Police officers it is still only for minor charges. The Police will still be  investigating Police. The Police Federation representative will still be able to get to a scene before members of the IPCC and opportunity for evidence to go missing still present. I’m afraid this tinkering of the system will not pass the Roger Sylvester test.

 

Conclusion
Thank you all once more for your support in whatever capacity for helping us through this arduous process, to bring about a successful outcome at the Inquest and your continued support to fight on.

I say well done to all family and campaign members involved in the struggle (too many to mention, you know who you are). I am proud of you and what we have achieved so far but the fight goes on, I know we are ready, we are strong and we have the Lord on our side to see justice is done for Roger.

Our thoughts go out to the victims family members present and to the families of all those unsung victims, those with little or no voice to raise the profile of the cases. Those like us who still wait for justice, whose lives are on hold.  We the RSJC will do all we can to work with victims families and other organizations to try and bring about change. With your continued support and sustained interest we hope that Rogers death and other deaths in custody will not have been in vain.