Father of two dies of asphyxiation in police van
by Mikey Powell Campaign
originally published 18th August 2004
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
Two police officers from Stoke Newington police station north London arrested 34 year old Shiji Lapite early on 16th December 1994, after he left a club in east London. They claimed that he was carrying £4,000 of crack cocaine, which he left by a tree when he realised he was being followed.
During a struggle, one officer applied a neck hold and the other kicked Mr Lapite in the head. Half an hour later he was dead from suspected asphyxiation.
The two officers were subsequently suspended. Stoke Newington police issued a statement alleging that as Mr Lapite was acting suspiciously, an attempt was made to arrest him and a struggle ensued during which Lapite was injured. He collapsed and died after being placed in a police van.
The police version of events was vigorously contested by Lapite’s family who say that bruises and marks on his body were consistent with a beating. Following Shiji’s death, more than 200 people demonstrated outside Stoke Newington police station.
In the controversial film, Injustice, we see Shiji’s wife crying out, “They beat him to death. They killed him. Why should they kill him? Why? Why? Why?”
An Inquest heard how Lapite died from asphyxiation when his voice box was crushed by a ‘neck hold’ in the back of the police van.
The verdict was given on 25th January after evidence from, among others, a trainer from Hendon Police College who said that kicking Lapite in the head was an acceptable method of restraint.
The Inquest coroner referred the case to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to consider possible manslaughter charges to be brought against the police, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) refused to prosecute, saying there was insufficient evidence “to provide a realistic prospect of conviction in respect of any criminal offence by any police officer.”
During the Inquest it is claimed that the policed tarred Shiji’s personality by presenting him as a drug dealer, this allegation soon filtered through the national press coverage of the case. So Shiji Lapite was no longer described as a father of two or an asylum seeker. In the public eye he became a drug dealer after an undercover officer claimed he found crack cocaine at the incident.
One officer told the Inquest that Shiji was “the biggest, strongest most violent black man” he’d ever seen. In fact, he was five foot ten and of average build. PC McCullum admitted kicking him twice in the head as hard as he could, and said he was using reasonable force to subdue a violent prisoner.
The coroner told the jury they could only deliver a verdict of unlawful killing if they were satisfied that the criminal offence of manslaughter had been committed.
The unanimous verdict was unlawful killing, which is rare in death-in-custody cases, yet, astonishingly, the CPS ruled that there was insufficient evidence to charge the officers with manslaughter. During the Inquest proceedings the US-based Human Rights Watch stated in a report that “police brutality in Britain and mishandling of racist violence is a serious human rights concern.”
Report on the death in custody of Shiji Lapite (PDF file – off-site)
No action over death in custody
4 June 1998
When police have a stranglehold on the truth
30 July 1995