Deborah Coles from INQUEST, the organisation which assists the families of those who die in custody, paid tribute to the families of those that die and the anti-racist campaigns which support families in their long fights for justice.
She also spoke about the history of INQUEST, which was established following the death of Blair Peach in 1979, and the long campaign by his family to find out how he died. That campaign, led by his partner Celia Stubbs, had now, thirty-one years after his death, been vindicated in the publication of an internal police investigation report which found that police officers from the Special Patrol Group were responsible for Blair’s death.
The day also marked the second anniversary of the death of Pauline Campbell. Ken Fero’s moving interview with her outside the Houses of Parliament was a fitting tribute to a mother who transformed herself into a determined and dogged campaigner on the issue of deaths of women in prison after her daughter died at Styal prison in January 2003.
Pauline was arrested on fourteen occasions while protesting outside prisons where young women died. In the film, Pauline talked about her motivation for campaigning and criticised her prosecutions for public order offences as ‘political trials’, commenting, ‘shame on the establishment for seeking to criminalise a mother who has lost her only child at the hands of the state’.
Bishop Jonathan Blake from campaign group When No-One’s Watching spoke about their work to have all officers dealing with the public fitted with body cameras, including police cars and vans.
A short film on the death of Ian Tomlinson by Pie ‘N’ Mash Films was shown as was a film on the campaign following the death of Habib Ullah in High Wycombe in July 2008. Zia Ullah, Habib’s cousin called on the ‘courts to recognise that that there are trained professional people committing murder’. He also called on families to ‘come together’ in solidarity over the deaths of loved ones.
The families of Paul Coker who died after being restrained by up to fifteen police officers at the flat of his girlfriend, and Sean Rigg whose tragic death rocked a community; also spoke movingly about the deaths of their loved ones, and their determination to hold the police and other authorities to account for the degrading and inhumane treatment of their loved ones.
Harmit Athwal from The Institute of Race Relations commented; ‘Some campaigners and the public at large often find the issue of deaths in custody a difficult one to address. People who die may have been serving sentences for criminal offences, may have been under arrest on suspicion of criminal offences or may have been suffering from mental health problems or been under the influence of drugs. ‘But what emerged so strongly from the gathering at Leicester, composed of both family members and legal fighters, was that despite whatever human frailties the deceased may have had, their human rights had not been preserved. The families felt violated on behalf of their loved ones. They carry on fighting so that others may not suffer the personal indignities that were imposed on their family members’.