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by Jenni Davidson
12 November 2019
Public inquiry to be held into the death of Sheku Bayoh

Scottish Government flickr

Public inquiry to be held into the death of Sheku Bayoh

A public inquiry will be held into the death of Sheku Bayoh, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has announced.

The public inquiry will examine the circumstances leading up to and following the death of 31-year-old Bayoh, who died in custody after being restrained by police in a Kirkcaldy street in 2015.

The announcement comes the day after the Crown Office confirmed no prosecutions would be brought over his death.

The Crown Office said the decision not to prosecute had been taken after a “thorough review” of all the available evidence.

All deaths in police custody are subject to a fatal accident inquiry to examine the circumstances leading to the death, but a public inquiry has a wider remit.

The public enquiry will be able to examine not just the circumstances before Beyoh’s death but also the aftermath, and it will consider whether race played a part.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Yousaf told MSPs that in this case the Lord Advocate considered that a FAI “would not allow all the issues which require to be investigated to be addressed”.

The Justice Secretary said: “The First Minister and I met with Mr Bayoh’s family today to express our deepest condolences and assure them of our commitment to establishing the facts surrounding this tragic incident.

“They are right to expect a full public examination of the circumstances of Mr Bayoh’s death and I stated my determination to put in place a process to deliver that. 

“Today I can confirm that I will establish a statutory public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the circumstances leading up to and following Mr Bayoh’s death.

“All deaths in police custody are subject to a mandatory fatal accident inquiry (FAI) under the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Act 2016.

“The responsibility for establishing the FAI sits with the procurator fiscal, under the direction of the Lord Advocate.

“FAIs examine the cause of death and consider steps to prevent other deaths in similar circumstances.

“In this case, the Lord Advocate considers the remit of a FAI would not allow all the issues which require to be investigated to be addressed. 

“FAIs can examine circumstances and factors leading up to a death, but not what follows after, and in this case the Lord Advocate has identified questions, raising issues of public interest and importance about the early stages of the post-incident management of the investigation that an FAI simply could not examine.

“That being the case, it is imperative that the circumstances leading up to Mr Bayoh’s death and the events that followed, including whether race played a part, are examined in full and in public.”

The announcement was welcomed by opposition parties.

Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson James Kelly said: “This is a welcome step in the right direction, and one that Mr Bayoh’s family has campaigned tirelessly for since his death four years ago.

“It is important that the Scottish justice system is fair and robust, and that the circumstances of all deaths in police custody are thoroughly examined.

 “Nobody is above the law.

 “This case highlights concerns about the lack of transparency around Lord Advocate decisions in the non-prosecution and granting immunity to police and prison officers.

 “This public inquiry should also examine recent cases and review the protocol for Lord Advocate decisions on non-prosecution.

 “I would like to again offer Sheku Bayoh’s family my condolences, and I hope this public inquiry will bring them closer to the answers they have been searching for.”

Scottish Greens justice spokesperson John Finnie called for the inquiry to have the power to call witnesses.

He said: “I welcome this inquiry, but it is vital it is able to get the full picture from all involved, so that the family impacted by this tragedy can get some answers.

“That means it must be able to compel witnesses to attend, including prominent players such as the former chief constable Sir Stephen House.”

Liberal Democrats justice spokesperson Liam McArthur commented: “A public inquiry is welcome for clarity around this tragedy to be achieved.

“However, it is undeniably ludicrous that it has taken four years for that to be realised.

“This is yet another case that clearly shows Scotland’s system for deaths investigations is broken.”

The process of appointing the chair of the inquiry will begin shortly, Humza Yousaf said, while parliament will be updated early next year on the inquiry’s terms of reference.

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