Another black death in custody
by Mikey Powell Campaign
Compiled from various sources – November 2005
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
Paul Coker, aged 32, died on 6th August 2005 in a cell at Plumstead police station, South east London, just two hours after being arrested for causing a breach of the peace. He was at the point of a new beginning. After a year in jail for burglary offences, he had a new job, a new flat, and things were looking positive for his future. Paul had won a compensation case against the Metropolitan Police six years ago and a second legal action against the Prison Service was pending.
His family was told that he had been restrained by police officers prior to his death, but an initial post mortem was inconclusive as to the cause of death. A second post mortem was ordered by the family, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) began an inquiry into his death.
Up to fifteen police officers called at the flat of Paul’s girlfriend, Lucy, following a disturbance. In an interview with the Guardian, Amy, Mr Coker’s sister said that his girlfriend Lucy had explained what happened when Paul was arrested, “She said she had told the police that they had settled their differences and was trying to get to him, but she was surrounded by officers.
“Paul and another group of officers were upstairs and she could hear him screaming, ‘You are killing me. You are killing me.’ She had never heard a man scream like that. “Then it all went quiet. A woman downstairs says that when he was carried out Paul was not struggling. Police were holding his arms and legs.”
Within the next two hours Paul Coker died in a cell on his own; there had not been enough time to get him to a hospital. What exactly occurred, and why 15 officers were involved in detaining one man, and why none of those officers have been suspended from duty are questions Mr Coker’s family are asking; questions which the IPCC, who are carrying out the investigation into his death, will have to provide answers for.
Concerns in this case were heightened as the incident and subsequent death happened near the same area where Stephen Lawrence was murdered, an area in which race relations with the police have not improved much since the teenager’s death.
The pressure group Inquest, which is working with the Coker family and their solicitors Deighton Guedella, believes that Paul’s death yet again raises concerns over restraint techniques and associated dangers as well as the level of care, checks and medical intervention so often inadequate in such tragic circumstances.
Paul’s mother, Patricia, has been upset that, though he died at 6.35am, Lucy was not told of the death till five hours later and the family was not informed until 3pm. She is is baffled as to what happened and why there was such a long delay in telling her. She said, “He was fit. He would go to the gym almost every day. He would take vitamins. He looked after himself. Strange things happened. “He died at 6.45am and yet I was not told until 3pm. His girlfriend was not informed until 11am. All she was told was that, “There was a bit of a struggle – Paul is dead.”
While at the moment only the officers who were present know what really happened; and why a domestic situation ended up with Mr Coker dying, his family believe that previous legal action he had taken against the police could have caused him to be ill-treated.
The United Families & Friends Campaign are disappointed that Essex Police had been appointed by the IPCC to investigate the death as this was the same force which investigated the Roger Sylvester case in which no officers were charged with his death. Spokesperson, Ken Fero, (pictured) said, “The fact of the matter is that the police are still investigating themselves.
Until we have independent investigators we’re going to face the same problems of gathering evidence and information that we have for the past 35 years.” He also said, “Two people die every week in police custody in Britain, but often little is heard about these incidents because it has now become so commonplace.”
Ten days after the death, a candlelit vigil was held outside the police station. The family remembered a ‘compassionate, thoughtful and kind-hearted’ Paul who had a distinctive sense of humour and loved playing with his nephews and nieces. ‘We were proud and honoured to have him as a son, brother and friend’, read the family’s statement.
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