Sheku Bayoh, who died while under police restraint, was being treated as a terrorist threat, says a leading human rights lawyer.
At a press conference to launch a family-led campaign for a full independent inquiry into Sheku’s death, Aamer Anwar claimed the Sierra Leone national had been held down by five officers, one of whom weighed 25 stones.
Although post mortem results are so far inconclusive, evidence points to positional asphyxiation as a possible cause of death.
Sheku Bayoh (31) a trainee gas engineer, left home around 7.00 a.m. on Sunday May 3 and walked half a mile down Hayfield Road.
According to Mr Anwar police responded to an alert following calls from members of the public that “ a black man was walking down the street brandishing a large knife.”
A minimum of nine officers and two CID officers attended the scene and used CS spray and batons to detain Sheku.
Mr Anwar said: “The family now know as fact that when police arrived Sheku was carrying no knife, never threatened them with a knife, nor was one ever found on him.”
He added: “We understand that three male police officers and one female officer arrived in two separate vans. Within 45 seconds Sheku Bayoh was face down on the pavement never to get up again.
“The family want to ask whether Sheku would have died if he had not met the police. They now believe the answer to their question is no.”
Within days of Bayoh’s death, the federation’s lawyer Peter Watson claimed Bayoh had chased “a petite female police officer” and subjected her to an “unprovoked attack by a very large man who punched, kicked and stamped on her.
“The officer believed she was about to be murdered and I can say that but for the intervention of the other officers that was the likely outcome.”
Mr Anwar said the PIRC had since confirmed the officer went to Victoria Hospital at the same time as Sheku Bayoh and was discharged following a check up shortly afterwards.
She immediately rejoined eight colleagues and a federation official at Kirkcaldy police station, where they refused to discuss the case with a senior officer, Mr Anwar stated.
He criticised the “toothless” PIRC investigation for taking 32 days to obtain statements from the officers involved and called for a government review of its powers.
He said: “Sheku’s family know his behaviour that morning was completely out of character but they also know he had no previous history of violence.”
Nor was Sheku a man of large “dangerous” build as claimed, he said.
“The family of Sheku Bayoh want the Chief Constable Stephen House to explain why his police officers believed Sheku was a terrorist threat and whether that had any role to play in his subsequent treatment,” said Mr Anwar.
“The Bayoh’s requested this information because they received information through the community that one of the officers was over 6ft 4 inches and huge. He wasn’t 12 stone 10 pounds like Sheku - he wasn’t 15 stones, he wasn’t 20 stones but was in fact 25 stones.”
“Add the combined weight of five other officers on top of or around Sheku, do the maths before anyone talks about Sheku being big.”
The family has hired foremost pathologist Dr Nat Cary - who dealt with the Hillsborough case - to determine the cause of Sheku’s death.
Mr Anwar said “Positional asphyxiation is suspected and being investigated as petechial haemorrhages were present in the eyes which are an important sign of asphyxiation.”
Brian Docherty, chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said speculation surrounding the case was “not helpful” and was incredulous a 25-stone officer had been involved.
“It’s news to us. We would be keen to find out where that information came from,” he said.
“The longer the PIRC takes the more people are getting anxious. Like the Bayoh family we are keen to hear the enquiry’s findings - until then we keep our peace.
“It’s not easy.”
The PIRC confirmed it had gathered evidence, taken statements from witnesses, recovered productions and “continues to investigate complex lines of enquiry.”
An appeal for drivers of nine vehicles identified on CCTV at the time of the incident had produced an “encouraging response.”
A spokesman added:“We fully empathise with the deceased’s family at this very difficult time and their need for answers in relation to the circumstances surrounding the death of Sheku Bayoh.
“Our investigators are carrying out an extensive enquiry, which has many different facets that require to be thoroughly investigated.
“For that reason, it is only right that such serious matters are given careful consideration and the Lord Advocate is aware of progress made by the enquiry.
“A report on the PIRC’s findings will be submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) in due course.”
MSP Claire Baker said: “I fully back the family of Sheku in their calls for an urgent Scottish Government review.
She added: “I’ve already called for a review of PIRC powers and believe that we must now have a comprehensive look at how these cases are investigated.”