The family of a black man who died in police custody in Scotland say they ‘may never win justice’ because officers have been offered ‘immunity’ by the public inquiry into his death.
In a public statement issued on behalf of the relatives of Sheku Bayoh and reported by the Press Association, solicitor Aamer Anwar said that ‘undertakings’ sought by the police officers that no evidence given to the inquiry by an officer would be used against them in criminal proceedings represented ‘a convoluted form of immunity’.
Lord Bracadale, who is leading the inquiry, is to request undertakings from the Solicitor General and Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland. He stressed the ‘limited nature of the undertakings’ but acknowledged that ‘the exercise of the right against self-incrimination would be likely to have ‘a profound effect on my ability to reach the truth of what happened’.
Anwar said: ‘This inquiry owes its existence to the struggle fought by Sheku’s loved ones and they believe the request for undertakings is an insult to the oath taken by police officers to uphold the law and an attempt to escape scrutiny.’
Sheku Bayoh had been restrained by police officers in May 2015 in Kirkcaldy, Fife and never regained consciousness. He was found to have suffered 23 injuries, including a cracked rib and head wounds. Bayoh died of positional asphyxia after being held down by several officers; however, the Scottish Police Federation has emphasised the possible role of recreational drugs.
The inquiry into Bayoh’s death is considering the extent to which Bayoh’s arrest and subsequent death were affected by his race. Chair of the inquiry, Lord Bracadale stated that the inquiry into Bayoh’s death would require ‘access to full evidence from crucial witnesses’ if it was to form complete findings. Scottish law allows police officers to refuse to answer a question if telling the truth would incriminate them.
The family of Sheku Bayoh has expressed that they are ‘bitterly disappointed’ and believe that racial discrimination played a key role in his death. Aamer Anwar said: ‘Kadie Johnson, Sheku’s sister, has no doubt that the way he or her family were treated by the police and the justice system would not have happened had Sheku been white.’