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Downing Street hears call for end of custody deaths

by Lester Holloway

OVER THREE hundred protestors marched on Westminster today to demand a public inquiry into deaths in custody.

Familes of death in custody victims march on Downing Street
Greiving families march on Downing Street, led by Brenda Weinberg (holding flowers)

And in a poignant moment dozens of grieving families saw wreaths laid at the gates of Downing Street in memory of their loved-ones. Poet Benjamin Zephaniah, cousin of death in custody victim Mikey Powell, joined demonstrators as they marched from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street.

He said: “We want an approach which says the death of a black person is treated the same as the death of a policeman.

“We are not asking for anything special. All we're asking for is a basic level of justice. We want justice by, as Malcolm X said, by any means necessary.”

Benjamin Zephaniah: Justice by any means necessary
Benjamin Zephaniah: Justice by any means necessary

Powell, 38,  died in September last year after being struck by a police car and, according to witnesses, beaten with batons outside a family home in Lozells, Birmingham.

In the sixth annual march organised by the United Families and Friends Campaign an estimated 30 families, including young children of custody death victims, marched in silence along Whitehall.

Family representatives delivered a letter to Tony Blair calling for a public inquiry and better care of the bodies of the deceased. A role call of the dead was read out, with each name acknowledged by the crowd.

Rupert and Sheila Sylvester: parents of Roger Sylvester
Rupert and Sheila Sylvester: parents of Roger Sylvester

Asked how she was feeling, Sheila Sylvester, mother of Roger Sylvester, 30, said: “I'm feeling angry right now. My health has deteriorated quite badly and I'm on anti-depression tablets. I'm always weeping. There is no justice.”

Roger Sylvester died in January 1999 after being arrested outside his home in Tottenham, north London, and then restrained by eight cops. This Wednesday the cops implicted in his death go back to court in an attempt to overturn an unlawful killing inquest verdict.

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Milena Buyum, national coordinator of the National Assembly Against Racism, said: “Those responsible for deaths and injuries in custody should not be able to escape justice, which unfortunately many have.

“There is already enough compelling evidence that the system has not delivered justice for death in custody victims or their families. Sufficient evidence for the government to act on specific demands for officers to be suspended immediately and for cases to be properly investigated.”

Sieta Lambrias with a banner dedicated to her brother Mikey Powell
Sieta Lambrias with a banner dedicated to her brother Mikey Powell

Tippa Naphtali, cousin of Mikey Powell, said: “This is an epidemic in society.” Powell's sister Sieta Lambrias commented: “Mikey left behind three lovely boys. “We're now here with other families asking 'why, why, why?' We hoped Mikey would be the last death in custody, but there have been a hundred since. We have to make some noise.”

Deborah Coles, of campaign group Inquest, said: “Every year there are new families. It is a reminder that this is continuing to happen, and a reminder to government of the systemic failings that have denied families justice. A public inquiry is necessary to learn the lessons about how the criminal justice system can be made transparent and accountable.”

Ernest Bennett: father of Derek Bennett
Ernest Bennett: father of Derek Bennett

This Thursday, while the Sylvester family are at the High Court, the family of Derek Bennett attend the Inner London Coroners Court in Borough for a first hearing of the inquest into Bennett's fatal shooting in Brixton, south London, in July 2001 by a police marksman.

The main inquest hearings begin the following Monday, 8 November. The inquest is expected to hear that Bennett did not point his gun-shaped lighter at officers, but was shot four times in the back.

Peter Douglas, brother of Brian Douglas, and Rupert Sylvester, father of Roger Sylvester
Peter Douglas, brother of Brian Douglas, and Rupert Sylvester, father of Roger Sylvester

Yesterday an inquest delivered an unlawful killing verdict in the case of Irishman Harry Stanley, 46, who was shot dead in September 2001 after leaving a Hackney pub carrying a table leg which officers assumed as a sawn-off shotgun.

David Jordan, father of Andrew Jordan, 27, said cops who were found guilty of causing deaths in custody should be “locked up and the key thrown away.” Andrew Jordan died last October after at least ten officers entered his house in Erith, south-east London. A post mortem has failed to find a cause of death, but assualt is being alleged.

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