Black people 7 times more likely than White people to die during or following police restraint in England and Wales, say INQUEST

Last month, charity INQUEST published a report titled “I can’t breathe: Race, death and British policing”. The report is the outcome of an investigation undertaken by INQUEST into the processes, procedures and evidence base of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the coronial system, in order to examine how accountability for racism is delivered.

INQUEST concluded that:

“The system of accountability for racism and racial discrimination in deaths of Black people following police contact is not fit for purpose. The police watchdog, inquests and the Crown Prosecution Service have historically failed - and continue to fail - to scrutinise the role that racial stereotyping might have played in these deaths, especially where excessive force is used. The result is that officers are not held accountable; there is no systemic learning and change and more deaths of Black people occur in similar circumstances.”

Amongst the findings of the report were that:

  • Black people are 7 times more likely than White people to die following the use of restraint in police custody or following contact;
  • Black people die at twice the rate of White people in or following police custody;
  • The role of racism in these deaths is not substantially scrutinised;
  • Officers are not held accountable and there is no systemic change or learning – for example, INQUEST found that no death of a Black person following police custody or contact had led to officers being disciplined for racism, at a conduct or criminal level.

This stands in stark contrast to assertions previously made by Government that ethnicity does not impact the likelihood of death during or following police custody.

In terms of specific failings of the IOPC, these included in cases which involved the death of a Black person where police force was used:

  • There have been no findings of misconduct or gross misconduct for discrimination on the grounds of race;
  • No police officer was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a racially aggravated offence;
  • The investigatory process dragged on for years.

INQUEST further commented that:

“The IOPC has not publicly accepted that institutional racism exists and therefore fails to robustly investigate racism. The IOPC’s scrutiny of racism is too often a “tick-box” exercise. It does not look for patterns of actions and conduct in a substantial manner to evidence indirect discrimination, only seeking proof by way of the use of overt discriminatory language”.

In terms of the Inquest process, INQUEST concluded that:

  • The inquest system is failing to scrutinize the role that racism might have played in the death of a Black person following contact with the police;
  • Race is almost always not within the scope of issues to be considered at the inquest, meaning relevant evidence is not heard and tested on this issue, and racial discrimination in policing and how to address it are not included in Prevention of Future Death Reports.

The full report can be found here and the executive summary here.

The report draws attention to the urgent need to address racism in policing, which is now long overdue. It is untenable and indefensible for the Government to continue to deny the disparities evidenced in the report, and for the IOPC, CPS and Inquest system to continue to fail to provide an effective system of accountability for racial discrimination within policing.

Saunders Law represents the bereaved in Inquests involving the deaths of persons following use of force by the police and civil claims against the police arising from those deaths. Contact us for more information.


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