The body of Sheku Bayoh was laid to rest by his grieving family on Sunday – but they have vowed they will not rest until his death is finally explained.
Five weeks on, the quest to determine the facts which led to the 31-year-old’s death in custody fuels a growing campaign and sits at the heart of an investigation by the new Police Investigations & Reviews Commissioner (PIRC).
Sheku’s funeral procession on Sunday drew around 200 people and a significant media presence, as well as half a dozen officers and three motorbike outriders.
As the procession symbolically stopped outside Kirkcaldy Police Station, the sobs of his family could be heard above the clicking and whirring of the camera lenses before it made its way to Kirkcaldy Islamic Mosque and then Dysart Cemetery.
Later, the family’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, addressed a packed-out audience at Templehall Community Centre, where he outlined the last minutes of Sheku’s life as officers responded to 999 calls saying he was in Hayfield Road with a knife.
He spoke of 11 officers attending and their use of leg restraints, handcuffs, batons and CS spray.
Mr Amwar said Sheku received CPR at the scene and was still in restraints when he arrived at the Victoria Hospital – where he was pronounced dead at 9.04 a.m.
“There are disturbing images of violence being portrayed by the police – of Sheku as a man of extraordinary strength and dangerous. That is an attempt to blame him for his own death,” said Mr Amwar.
“Sheku was 5-10, not six foot plus. He weighed 12st 10lbs. None of this has been helpful. It has compounded the agony of the family. They feel they are being deliberately provoked.”
There were audible deep groans in the room as he revealed Sheku’s partner, Collete, was not informed of his death until 11 a.m.
“CID told her he was dead – they said he was found in the street and a member of the public phoned for an ambulance,” he continued.
Mr Anwar spoke of how the family was given five different versions of events and stressed officers should have been suspended pending the outcome of an enquiry.
“The family will not rest until they have the truth. They want a robust investigation – an open, transparent inquiry. The word they have is ‘justice’ – but without the word ‘truth’ there can be no justice,” he said.
Bayoh family ‘saddened’ at government response
The Bayoh family welcomed concerns of police accountability raised by Claire Baker MSP at Parliament.
Her action came this week after Scottish justice secretary Michael Mathieson confirmed new rules to suspend PIRC’s powers to require police to give formal interviews and hand over notebooks if they could face a criminal case, or when directed by the Lord Advocate.
MSPs complained the rules ‘neutered’ the PIRC when its authority to compel officers to give interviews could be needed most.
At Sheku’s funeral, the family said they hoped the Government would seek cross-party support to resolve the legislative loophole and extend PIRC’s powers.
Aamer Anwar, the family’s lawyer, said they were saddened at the response of the Scottish Government to their concerns.
He commented: “It has been clear to the family since day one that PIRC do not have sufficient powers for investigations into serious incidents such as deaths in custody, hence they were forced to wait 32 days for police officers to comply.
“It is a matter of common sense: if PIRC have ‘sufficient powers’, then why were they unable to use them in the Bayoh case?”
He added: “PIRC have repeatedly advised the Bayoh family of their frustrations at their lack of powers. However, it is not for public servants such as PIRC to ask for changes in the law.
“The government should have the courage to accept there was a case to answer and to extend the PIRC’s powers in line with the English IPCC.
“It really does not make sense that the PIRC can only exercise its full range of powers when directed by the Chief Constable but not when directed by the Lord Advocate.”