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Deaths in British custody spark outrage over police brutality

Published time: November 06, 2010 03:02
Edited time: November 06, 2010 08:07

In Britain, one person is said to die of contact with police every week as relatives of the victims have taken to the streets to bring attention to the alarming number of deaths in police custody.

­Sean Rigg-David, mentally ill, was restrained by four police officers and bundled into a van, and in the five minutes it took to get to the police station, had stopped breathing.  He died a short time later.

Two years on, his death has not been investigated. And the results of investigations are often unsatisfactory. During last year’s G20 riots, police knocked down Ian Tomlinson, who later died.  No conviction was brought against the officer responsible.

The vast majority of people killed in police custody belong to a class of have-nots – the marginalized, often from tough inner-city areas. More than half had previously been involved with the mental health services. But despite more than 400 deaths in or directly following police custody in the last 10 years, no policeman has ever been convicted of murder or manslaughter.

On average, one person per week dies as a result of contact with the police, according to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. And that’s not even counting deaths in prison, immigration centers and mental institutions.

“Police officers don’t just commit minor crime, but they commit the crime of manslaughter, and that is the main reason why people are here today and asking people to do something about it. If there are human right abuses in Iran we are complaining, or in China we complain, but human right abuses in Britain and it seems to be silence,” says Ken Ferrow, activist of the United Families and Friends Campaign.

That’s worth shouting about, these people say.  But this protest fell on deaf ears.  The police at Downing Street refused to take their petition – and they had to leave it tied to the railings.

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