Probe to reexamine restraint death
Tuesday 3rd September 2013, 4:20PM BST.
Investigators should look again at possible criminal charges against police involved in restraining an IT graduate who later died, his family’s solicitor has said.
High Court judges have ruled that police watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) must hold a new probe into how Olaseni Lewis died.
The 23-year-old, known as Seni, was put under restraint at psychiatric hospital Bethlem Royal Hospital on August 31 2010, but collapsed within 18 hours of being brought there.
Mr Lewis never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead four days later. A total of 11 officers were involved in the restraint at different times.
Today the family’s solicitor Raju Bhatt said the question of criminal charges should be re-examined as part of the new inquiry.
He said: “This outcome is a full vindication of the insistence of Seni’s family that the IPCC should be compelled to do the right thing by Seni.
“They look now to the IPCC to do what should have been done three years ago, at the outset upon Seni’s death, so that there is at long last a proper and effective investigation, with the benefit of rigorous questioning of the relevant officers under caution, leading to a fresh consideration of the question as to whether criminal proceedings should be brought against any officer in relation to Seni’s death.”
His mother Ajibola Lewis said the family feels as if they have been failed three times.
“We are relieved that the way has finally been cleared for a proper investigation into Seni’s death, even if it comes three years late,” she said.
“We have had to tread a long and tortuous path to get here, which would have been altogether unnecessary if the IPCC and the Metropolitan Police Service had been willing to fulfil their responsibilities under the law.
“As it is, we find that we have been failed and victimised thrice over: first, by the manner in which Seni was taken from us; second, by the IPCC in their inability or unwillingness to do their job until forced by us to do so; and third, by the Metropolitan Police in their reluctance to help the IPCC do that job until compelled to do so by the High Court.
“We hope that both the IPCC and the Met will now allow light to shine upon the truth about Seni’s death.”
The IPCC, which has pledged to hold “a robust and thorough re-investigation”, said it has written to Scotland Yard in the wake of the High Court ruling, which was made on August 23.
IPCC deputy chairwoman Rachel Cerfontyne said: “We welcome the ruling by the High Court to quash the findings of our original investigation which takes us a step closer to providing the answers Mr Lewis’ family has patiently waited three years for.
“The IPCC previously directed the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) to record this incident as a conduct matter but they refused to do so unless the findings of the original investigation were quashed.
“The decision by the High Court, on 23 August 2013, means the force must now record the matter which will allow the IPCC to investigate whether any disciplinary or criminal offences were committed by those officers involved in restraining Mr Lewis.
“We have written to the Metropolitan Police Service drawing their attention to the High Court ruling and now expect them to expeditiously record the conduct matters so that we can proceed with our investigation.
“This has been a very long and protracted process in which we have explored all avenues available to us. We are determined to conduct a robust and thorough re-investigation as it is what is demanded to finally understand what happened to Seni Lewis.”
Campaign group Inquest said that the original IPCC investigation had not questioned the officers involved in interview, and had treated them as witnesses rather than the subject of an inquiry.
Mr Lewis’s family applied for a judicial review of the investigation, which led to the High Court ruling.
Deborah Coles, co-director of Inquest said: “This is obviously welcome news for Seni’s family who have been battling tirelessly for a decent and thorough investigation into how Seni came to his death. It is beyond comprehension that this family is back to square one, three years after he died.
“That the IPCC supported this judicial review is welcome recognition of its own significant failings in the approach and conduct of an investigation.
“It is vital that the new investigation is conducted rigorously and robustly and that any wrongdoing is identified and dealt with appropriately. We can only hope that the IPCC has learned from this whole sorry experience so that no other family will ever have to go through this again.”