Leslie Thomas

Leslie ThomasJustice: “A Voice For The Dead”

posted by: 4WardEver UK
published: 14th May 2014
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Leslie Thomas has worked on a prodigious number of high-profile cases of deaths in custody during his 25-year career as a human rights barrister. But there is one that affected him more than most. “Christopher Alder was the black paratrooper who died on camera, captured on CCTV, in [a] Hull police station. I think it was the first time I actually shed tears, when I saw the inhumanity of man towards man,” he recalls.

“You see as clear as day Christopher on the police station floor grunting and groaning and struggling for breath. He [was] exposed from the waist down, with police officers literally stepping over him. You actually hear his last breath before the police officers bother to look at him. That’s when they panic. That was a turning point for me. I had not seen anything as shocking as that at that time.”

In August 2000, Alder’s death was declared unlawful by the coroner’s court. Thomas did not think he would ever again witness such blatant police brutality, but last year he represented the family of Sean Rigg who had a cardiac arrest and died in Brixton police station in August 2008 after being pinned down and restrained. An independent inquiry, led by criminologist Silvia Casale, last week castigated an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) investigation into how Rigg was treated by police.

“It is a damning indictment of the way the police watchdog has failed in its investigation of the deaths in police custody,” Thomas says. “[It] has shown just how poor too many IPCC investigations have been,” and, he adds, why reform is necessary.

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The lawyer who speaks for the voiceless
Leslie Thomas, a barrister who has spent the past 20 years fighting for families whose loved ones have died while in police custody has been recognised for his work.

Thomas, of Garden Court Chambers, was named Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group following strong performances at high-profile inquests in 2012 including the death of Sean Rigg, who died following restraint at Brixton police station in 2008.

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The outcome of the inquest into the death of Mark Duggan, which sparked the London riots in August 2011, will be watched by the whole world, a leading lawyer has predicted.

Leslie Thomas, who graduated from Kingston University in 1988, was speaking after returning to his alma mater to be named an Honorary Doctor of Laws. He is representing the Duggan family at the inquiry into the shooting by police officers on 4 August two years ago. The incident was a catalyst for rioting across London which spread to other parts of England and pictures of the city – due to host the Olympic Games just one year later – in flames were beamed around the world.

Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards 2012
Garden Court Chambers scooped two awards, with Leslie Thomas winning Legal Aid Barrister and Shu Shin Luh winning the award for Young Legal Aid Barrister.

Video: Life at the Bar – Leslie Thomas >

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