Alton Manning

Alton ManningBlack inmate was killed by lethal neck-hold in prison

Originally published 4th May 2000
News updates listed at the foot of this item

Alton Manning, a 33-year-old Black man from Sparkbrook Birmingham, was a prisoner on remand, and was killed on 8th December 1995 after being assaulted by prison officers at the private prison HMP Blakenhurst. An Inquest, which originally opened on Monday 12th January 1998 and concluded on 25th March 1998, unanimously decided that Alton Manning was unlawfully killed.

“We are campaigning that our children and grandchildren can live in this country free from injustice” said the late Alberta Cameron (Mother of Alton Manning).

The Inquest verdict, by the all white jury, came after 3 hours of deliberation at Kidderminster Town Hall. The inquest heard that Alton had been held in a neck hold (which contravenes prison service regulations) as warders tried to restrain him after he refused to squat to a search which we believe was both illegal and degrading.

The post-mortem finding of bruising to the neck were consistent with the use of a neck-hold leading to death from asphyxia. Dr Helen Whitwell said he died of asphyxia due to pressure on his neck during restraint.

Two inmates who were witness to the incident testified that Alton was held in a neck lock across his throat as he was being carried away in a prone (horizontal) position. Yet all the prison officers denied that a neck hold was used and all could not explain the 8 separate bruises on Alton’s face.

The inquest was the first real opportunity for his family to discover the truth about his death. Evidence that emerged at this inquest established that Alton Manning died a brutal, inhuman and violent death by senior prison officers at HMP Blakenhurst. The inquest exposed a catalogue of lies by officers and management at the prison in an attempt to cover up their responsibility for his death.

The Inquest forced them to give an account of the incident and the shocking details that came out horrified not only the jury but also the family and its supporters. Immediately after the verdict was announced the prison service suspended seven of the prison officers connected with the death of Alton Manning.

The death raises very serious questions about the nature of force and restraint that prisoners are subjected to that demand an inquiry with a wider remit than the inquest. Only 3 times before have an inquest jury returned an unlawful killing verdict on a prisoner and this is the first time it has been reached on an inmate at a privately run prison.

However the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), David Calvert-Smith QC, for the second time denied justice by saying that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the prison officers.

The DPP announced in February 1999 his decision that there was insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute the officers involved. Following this the Campaign won the right to a judicial review, on 20th October 1999, for the failure of the DPP to prosecute any of the prison officers.

Last year the campaign won a landmark legal battle to see the prison officers involved being prosecuted. On 16th May 2000, Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice sitting with Justice Morison at the High Court in London overturned the Director of Public Prosecution’s (DPP) decision not to prosecute any of the officers involved in the ‘restraint’ of Alton Manning. Lord Bingham ruled that the decision of David Calvert-Smith QC not to bring manslaughter charges was flawed and must be reconsidered.

He said the conclusion not to prosecute “comes as something of a surprise” and key issues had not been addressed and resolved. This was a significant victory in the campaign to see that those responsible for the death of Alton Manning are brought to account. This ruling could result in the first prosecution for the death of a black man in custody.

The ruling established for the first time the principle that, where an inquest jury found a prisoner had been unlawfully killed, the ordinary expectation would naturally be that a prosecution would follow; if not the family would be expected to receive detailed reasons. This legal victory means that no one is above the law, even when they wear the uniform of a prison or police officer.

Unfortunately the DPP decided that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers involved. This is currently being challenged.

BRAMU highlighted in our submission to the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry that institutionalised racism is rife within the Criminal Justice System. Black deaths and brutality in prisons are serious and real phenomena and the families of the victims constantly receive no justice at all.

So far no one has been made accountable for the death of this healthy young black man. We must keep up the pressure in order to ensure justice for Alton Manning.

The struggle continues!


Follow-up News:

Manning Brother dies – a family destroyed
9 February 2005

Fight continues over prison death
25 January 2002

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