ROGER SYLVESTER SPEECH (NAAR) February 26th 2000

My name is Victor Sylvester and I am from the Roger Sylvester Justice Campaign.

The Roger Sylvester Justice Campaign was set-up by his family following his death.

I would like to begin by thanking National Assembly Against Racism for inviting me to speak at this meeting today.

Roger‘s story is not unfamiliar; the background is as follows:

In January, Roger was restrained on his doorstep by eight police officers from Tottenham Police Station. We were told the police had responded to a 999 call from a neighbour, reporting there was a man who seemed to have no clothes on outside Roger’s flat.

He was carried into a police van, naked, his body limp and sagging and taken to St Ann's Hospital. He collapsed at St Ann's while still being restrained by police officers that were alone with him at the time. He was put on a life support system after sustaining serious injuries. Roger never regained consciousness and seven days later was pronounced dead.

We may never know why he was naked, but we do know that:

1.  He had telephoned a friend to complain that the police had been following him less than an hour before.

2.  There was a police operation in the immediate vicinity that night.

3.  He had spoken to a neighbour less than 30 minutes before and was his usual cheery self.

Roger died in suspicious circumstances his death is yet another example of a young healthy black man dying after collapsing following an "encounter" with the police.

There is compelling statistical evidence that black people are over represented in police custody deaths. This is particularly true of the Metropolitan Police.  We have no confidence that the Metropolitan Police has learnt any lessons from these appalling deaths and in none of them have those responsible been brought to account.

The MET has the highest incident of deaths in custody and a disproportional high number of these victims are black. For us this is a measure of their performance.

Macpherson
The Macpherson inquiry did not cover Deaths in custody in any depth as it was outside the inquiry’s remit.
   The Roger Sylvester Justice campaign demands an independent open Public enquiry into all deaths in custody, as this is the only way that the specific issues related to deaths in custody can be truly aired.

For example the report did not deal with the over use of CS gas (Ibriham Sey), batons (Brian Douglas) and dangerous restraining techniques (Lapite).

The Home Secretary needs to hear the testimonies of all the families of all those who have died in custody.

Police have to be accountable to the communities they serve that means they should not in any circumstances evade prosecution for deaths in the community.

We need convictions, we need to name and shame them.

Complaints (58)
However, the report recommended that serious complaints against the police be independently investigated. At a meeting last year with families who have lost their loved ones in custody the Home Secretary, stated legislation would be brought in to change the current procedure, but not in the life of this parliament.

KPM were appointed to look into this we’re concerned that they are financial consultants. Does this mean that any new system will be driven by financial concerns and not in the interest of social justice.

So, in the meantime, we have to make do with the shortcomings and unjust process of the police investigating the police.

We have no confidence in the police investigating the police and our experience of the investigation into Roger’s death has only served to reinforce that view. These investigations are not independent and are flawed by built in bias.

The investigation has been about the victim. It has focussed on Roger’s character, not on what happened on that fatal night.

Disclosure (42)
In October 1999 the report for the investigation was completed by Essex Police It was supported by seven volumes of statements, documents and exhibits, including videos and photographs.

As yet we’ve seen no documentation. The disclosure precision they have introduced is far from adequate.  It also makes the assumption there will never be any disciplinary action when someone dies in custody. Unsurprisingly documents are not disclosed if it is in their interest to do so.

It’s not good enough to address the recommendations partially

If the CPS decide not to prosecute, then the inquest will be our only opportunity to receive information about his death.  However an inquest is not a court.  Its remit is not to administer justice but to establish the medical cause of death.

Is Roger’s Death Racist?
An institution where as a black man I am four times more likely to die in custody is a racist institution.

An institution, which says mainly young black men commit street robberies, is a racist institution.

An institution, which could not be bothered too seriously, investigate the deaths of black men who die when they are killed by racist thugs. Stephen Lawrence, Michael Menson, Ricky Reel.

Is a racist institution?

An institution, which condones stopping me because I drive a flashy car, is a racist institution.

An institution where eight claims of race discrimination by employees were lodged against them in the last year namely the Crown Prosecution service. Is a racist institution?

Where does institutional racism begin and end?

We all deserve fair and just policing.

Mayor
The London Mayor will have responsibility for the Met and some say that this will provide an opportunity for more openness and accountability.  Openness and accountability must not be sound bites; we have no confidence that things will change unless radical measures are taken.

I throw down the gauntlet to:

Susan Kramer

Steve Norris

Frank Dobson

To hold a debate on Policing in London.

Policing remains high on our agenda we have votes in the mayoral election so candidates need to address policing along with concerns about transport and the like.  We call on mayoral candidates to listen to Campaign groups like ours who are keen to see the creation of a fairer justice system. We have a massive stake in this, as all to often we pay the price of not having such a system with our lives.

We believe that Roger’s death was not an act of God but was the result of the actions of 8 individuals. We know our quest for justice will not be easy but our love for Roger means our fight will carry on.

 

Victor Sylvester