A bittersweet taste of injustice for the Sylvester family
Compiled from various sources
originally published January 2005
Updates on this case are listed at the foot of this item
The family of Roger Sylvester have expressed their anger after an inquest verdict that he was unlawfully killed by police was overturned by a High Court judge. Roger Sylvester, 30, from Tottenham, north London, died in January 1999 after being arrested by officers and taken to a psychiatric hospital. He later collapsed after being held down by a number of officers for 20 minutes in a padded room at the hospital.
His family said they felt let down after a High Court judge replaced the previous verdict with an open verdict. Eight Metropolitan Police officers had challenged the original verdict. The judge said on Friday that the unlawful killing verdict had to be quashed to ensure justice for both the officers involved and for Mr Sylvester.
Mr Justice Collins said the way the coroner had summed up at the inquest in October 2003 had “confused” the jury. The judge said he would not order another inquest, and said no jury in any criminal case would be likely to convict any officer of manslaughter. The police officers that were involved in Roger’s arrest welcomed the reversal of what they had called an “irrational” ruling.
The officers were suspended following the unlawful killing verdict but have now been reinstated. Mr Sylvester’s brother Bernard Renwick said the family was now withdrawing from the legal process “with a bitter taste in our mouth”, after nearly six years of campaigning.
He said, “From day one we were told to expect openness, accountability and transparency. “We merely wanted truth and, where necessary, justice. Instead we have had obstacles, delays, anguish, smoke and mirrors and ‘just-ice’. Where is the justice?”
Mr Sylvester’s 70-year-old mother Sheila said: “Did Roger kill anybody?” The police officers who restrained Roger in a hospital room all claimed that he was lying on his side at the time of his death. But a previous inquest was told that nurses and medical staff at St Anne’s hospital in Tottenham, north London, saw Roger in a ‘prone’ face-down position.
After the decision was announced, Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Glen Smyth made a statement saying the officers involved had been subjected to “wholly unfair public vilification.” He also called for “fundamental reform” of the inquest system and accused pressure groups and MPs of attaching themselves to campaigns such as this to “promote their own interests”.
A previous inquest had heard that after his restraint, Roger was in a coma for seven days before being pronounced dead on 18th January, 1999. The inquest jury returned a verdict that he died from brain damage and cardiac arrest due to breathing difficulties caused by restraint. In reaching its verdict, the inquest jury concluded Mr Sylvester had been restrained for too long, in the wrong position, and was not given sufficient medical attention.
There was no justice for the Sylvester family at the Royal Courts of Justice Lawyers for the officers had argued that the inquest was wrongly allowed to be turned into a surrogate criminal trial, in which the police involved stood convicted of manslaughter. “There was no evidence to support the decision Mr Sylvester was killed unlawfully”, they maintained.
At the end of a three-day hearing Mr Justice Collins also said some of the reasons given by the previous 11-strong jury for their verdict were inconsistent with others. He went on to criticise the Metropolitan Police Commissioner for suspending two officers involved in detaining Mr Sylvester, but not in restraining him.
Victor Sylvester, cousin of Roger, said the family had been disappointed the coroner had not be there to defend himself. Speaking on the events in court he added, “We were a bit shocked, it happened quite quickly at the end of the case. “Everybody was a bit sad yesterday evening, but otherwise we have got lots of support.
Ken Fero, of the United Families & Friends Campaign (UFFC), said Mr Sylvester’s parents, Rupert and Sheila, were “distraught” at the judge’s remarks. “They are very disappointed with the position the judge has taken.”
Top cop says sorry to Sylvester family
27 September 2005
Arrest death officers reinstated
11 November 2004
Jury rules London police unlawfully killed black man
15 October 2003
Roger Sylvester Booklet
(early awareness raising publication)