Churches call for justice following unlawful killing
Leaders of the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice (CCRJ) have expressed real hopes that the inquest jury's verdict of unlawful killing on Friday 3 October in the case of Roger Sylvester will be followed by the enforcement of clear sanctions, that would send a message that those with the awesome responsibility for holding people in custody have a moral and legal responsibility to protect life.
The verdict followed four weeks of evidence put before Coroner Dr Andrew Reid at St Pancras Coroner's Court.
The Revd Arlington Trotman, Secretary of CCRJ, a commission of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, said: "We maintain that the increasing number of unlawful killing verdicts in Coroners' Courts, the high value Christians place on all human life, and the worrying circumstances surrounding the highly suspicious deaths of black and minority ethnic people in custody, demand that there is a full and frank public inquiry to consider all the issues pertaining when such a tragedy occurs."
"The need to prevent these killings is now urgent, and a new fully 'independent' police complaints authority must be expected to take genuine steps to ensure that justice is done, and is seen to be done."
Deborah Coles, Co Director of INQUEST said: "The jury has decided that police officers used dangerous, excessive and unlawful force restraining Roger Sylvester, a vulnerable and mentally ill young man in the prone or three-quarters prone position for some 15 to 20 minutes until he stopped breathing on 11 January 1999."
"We now expect them to be prosecuted for manslaughter. The same thing could happen tomorrow on the streets of London because the Metropolitan Police have failed to learn the lessons from previous deaths and incorporate good practice from other agencies."
Pat White, Acting Moderator of CCRJ said: "Commissioners of CTBI member Churches have long been concerned about a number of unlawful killing verdicts with no one ever being charged, and we hope the outcome of this case will lead to prosecutions."
"We are pleased with this outcome, and remember the Sylvester family and all those families who have undergone such tragedies and are still awaiting justice in their cases."
Mr Trotman continued: "Families have to endure inexpressible misery and agony waiting to find out how and why their loved ones died. This must be taken much more seriously by police and other authorities, as it is the responsibility of custody personnel to treat black and minority ethnic people in their care, with due dignity and respect."
Eight Metropolitan police officers have been suspended following the verdict. The police association that represents the eight is seeking a judicial review of the case, arguing that the jury at St Pancras coroner's court was misdirected.