Wayne Douglas

Wayne DouglasRiots follow custody death

Compiled from various sources
published: Natasha Thompson – December 2012
Updates listed at the foot of this item

On 5th December 1995 Wayne Douglas, 26, died whilst being held at Brixton Police Station on suspicion of burglary. Police say Wayne died after he had collapsed; a post-mortem later showed he had suffered from heart disease which lead to his death. A protest was promptly held outside the police station where Wayne had died, and which would later escalated into riots in the Brixton area.

In July 1997 Wayne’s family sought to quash the verdict of accidental death given after an inquest in December 1996. The jury found that Wayne had died of `left ventricular failure due to stress and exhaustion and positional asphyxia….following a chase and a series of restraints, in prone position, face down, as used in current police methods’.

On four occasions, Wayne had been held face down with his hands cuffed behind his back by officers. Despite the jury accepting his death was caused by police restraint, they found that the heart failure was an accident.

1995 Brixton Riots
1995: Riots break out in Brixton (click image for related article)

The lawyers acting for the family argued that the coroner made errors in summing up to the jury when instructing what they needed to find before coming to a verdict of unlawful killing reflecting gross negligence or manslaughter.

In July 1998, Wayne’s family were told that another inquest would not be held. The Court of Appeal upheld the initial ruling of accidental death as it was unlikely that the new inquest would reach any other verdict.

Lord Woolf, while accepting that there may have been ‘just enough sufficient evidence’ for unlawful manslaughter to be a possible verdict, he commented that the first inquest that was carried out in an exemplary manner. Woolf also said ‘…little more could be achieved by subjecting all concerned to the considerable expense and stress of a further inquest.’ He however denied the possibility of gross negligence.

The family said they had been ‘denied justice’. In particular Lisa Douglas Williams, Wayne’s Sister, said her family were particularly upset by Woolf’s comments on the expense of holding another inquest. She said, “A proper verdict on my brother’s death is far more important than money.”

Helen Shaw, Co-Director of Inquest, who supports families like Wayne’s, highlighted the need for the government to set up a commission of inquiry into the procedure for investigating deaths in police custody in light of the Douglas family having to take things a step further. Shaw commented, ‘A system which so often leads to judicial review is in dire need of reform so that those involved in such deaths are properly held to account and families are not put through such long and tortuous legal procedures in order to establish the truth about their loved ones death.’

Deputy Chairman, John Cartwright of the then police complaints body, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), in response to a call for an independent investigation into Wayne’s death responded by assuring a thorough and impartial inquiry, stating the PCA ‘jealously’ guards its independence.

The PCA has since been replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) which has similar criticism of lacking thorough, impartial and adequately independent investigation after complaints against the police. The IPCC’s impartiality has been called into question [2012] for a number of reasons, one being after Deborah Glass, the deputy chair of the IPCC, appeared to warn against treating officers as suspects but rather as witnesses.

In talks with a Panorama investigator for the ‘Who’s watching the Detectives?’ episode in November 2012, Glass warned treating officers as suspects ‘could cause the officers to withdraw co-operation… with the real possibility that in future incidents officers will be much more reluctant to co-operate with our investigations’.

She advised treating them any other way would cause ‘barriers to go up’.


Follow-up News:

Panorama: Who’s Watching the Detectives?
November 2012

Why? 1,000 deaths in police custody in the past 30 years
30 March 2001

New Wayne Douglas inquest ruled out
30 July 1998

1995: Riots break out in Brixton
13 December 1995

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