The original Police Scotland statement on the death of Sheku Bayoh spoke of a’’tragic set of circumstances.’’
Five weeks on, the quest for answers continues to drive his grieving family and fuels a growing campaign. The circumstances remain unexplained.
Bayoh died while under arrest in Hayfield.
What happened during the incident, and how the family were treated by police in the hours immediately afterwards sit at the heart of an investigation by the new Police Investigations & Reviews Commissioner (PIRC).
Sheku’s funeral procession today drew around 200 people and a significant media presence to record the symbolic stop outside Kirkcaldy police station.
Around half a dozen officers plus three motorbike outriders were present - together with a member of the communications team to co-ordinate the media - for the gathering. Other than the mourners in the procession, many wearing the light blue campaign t-shirts bearing the message ‘justice for Sheku’, around 20 locals looked on.
There was a brief address from Aamer Anwar, the human rights lawyer who is representing the Bayoh family, plus a two minute period of silence which ended with a brief chant of ‘‘we want justice.’’
The sobs of his family could be heard above the clicking and whirring of the camera lenses which surrounded them.
The procession then made its way to Kirkcaldy Islamic Mosque and then Dysart Cemetery.
The press conference formed part of an afternoon and evening organised to celebrate Sheku’s life.
It was standing room only at Templehall Community Centre as Mr Amwar spoke in detail about the incident which led to the death of the 31-year old Kirkcaldy man.
The lawyer was joined on the platform by family members, including Sheku’s mum, Aminita, his brother-in-law Ade Johnson, and partner Collette Bell, plus Claire Baker MSP.
In his address, Mr Amwar outlined the last minutes and hours of Sheku’s life as officers responded to 999 falls saying he was in the street with a knife.
He spoke of nine officers attending - plus two CID - and how they used leg restraints, handcuffs, batons and CS spray.
‘‘There is great deal of speculation about what happened, said Mr Amwar. ‘‘While some have given a version for their benefit, the family have kept an open mind. ‘‘The family have never asked for anything unreasonable - they simply ask for answers from that morning.’’
Mr Amwar said Sheku received CPR at the scene and was still in restraints when he arrived at the Victoria Hospital - ‘‘doctors demanded they were removed’’ - where he was pronounced dead at 9.04 a.m.
But he claimed his family was given five different versions of events and not told he was dead until later on.
‘‘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. Thee negative imagery has been deliberately used to portray a man, a dangerous man. None of this has been helpful. It has compounded the agony of the family. They feel they are being deliberately provoked.’’
Mr Amwar spoke in detail about how family members were dealt with by officers trying to piece together the investigation picture at which one of their colleagues was injured, and who has yet to return to duty.
He said they spoke to his partner, Collette, to build up a picture of him, treated her home as part of a crime scene and she was not informed of his death until 11.00 a.m. at the police station.
There were audible deep groans around the hall, and one man said ‘Jesus Christ’ as Mr Amwar said ‘‘‘CID told her he was dead - they said he was found in the street and a member of the public phoned for man ambulance.’’
He said the Bayoh family, distressed and angry, demanded a senior officer come and speak to them.
Chief Superintendent Garry McEwan went to their home and confirmed what had happened.
‘‘Police Scotland gave the family five different versions of events,’’ said Mr Amwar. ‘‘This is a matter of grave concern. Sensitive handling is critical to gathering evience.’’
He also criticised Police Scotland for not suspending the officers involved in the incident - and for the way they were managed, claiming they were left together in a room at the St Brycedale station for two hours until a senior officer took charge.
He also wanted to know who briefed local politicians quoted in the immediate aftermath of what was initially portrayed as ‘‘a tragic set of circumstances’’ - and why the force told the family not to speak to the media only to then issue their own PR.
‘‘The family does not understand why the officers engaged with Sheku were not suspended immediately without prejudice. It is a matter of public concern that they remain on duty pending the outcome of the investigation. ‘‘Suspension does not prejudice.’’
He added: ‘‘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.’’
>> Chief Superintendent Garry McEwan said: “Police Scotland is aware that Sheku Bayoh’s funeral is to take place this Sunday (June 7) and I am personally liaising with the family regarding funeral arrangements. I would again like to take this opportunity to publicly offer my condolences to the family and we continue to offer support to them as required. Like the family, Police Scotland awaits the findings from the independent investigation being led by the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner.”