Lawyer claims Sheku Bayoh’s race was key in his death

STUC St Andrew's Day March & Rally against Racism, led by the family of Sheku Bayoh. Pic: John Devlin.
STUC St Andrew's Day March & Rally against Racism, led by the family of Sheku Bayoh. Pic: John Devlin.
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The family of a man who died in police custody says he would not have been treated the same way had he been white.

Trainee gas engineer Sheku Bayoh, 31, died in May 2015 after being restrained by officers responding to a call about a man with a knife in Kirkcaldy, Fife. A weapon was later found nearby.

Last year it emerged no prosecutions were to be brought in relation to the incident following an investigation by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, which was passed to the Crown Office.

Aamer Anwar, the solicitor representing the Bayoh family, said race had been the “elephant in the room” throughout.

He said: “Sheku’s family believe his behaviour was totally out of character. He was under the influence of drugs and his family believe whilst police have the right to defend themselves, any use of force has to be at all times lawful, reasonable and proportionate.

“The family subsequently learned Sheku was not carrying a weapon at the time the police arrived, he did not use a knife on the police, nor was one ever found upon him.

“Despite an attempt to smear Sheku after his death through ‘police source leaks’ to the media, he did not attack police officers with a knife or a ‘machete’. The family also now know Sheku did not attack the police first, but that he was attacked by them not once, but several times even though he had not acted violently. It was following this that a police officer was injured.”

Writing in the Scottish Left Review, Mr Anwar said the family had called on justice secretary Humza Yousaf to order a judge-led public inquiry.

He said: “The question of race has always been the elephant in the room. Sheku’s family do not feel he would have been treated in such a manner had he been white.

“Whilst it is often fashionable to talk of ‘black lives matter’ in the USA or London, this happened on our streets in Scotland.

“Nobody should be allowed to evade accountability or frustrate the investigation process and Sheku’s family will not rest until they have the truth.”

A BBC documentary that aired last month claimed to have discovered new evidence about the case, including CCTV which the broadcaster said “cast doubt” on some of the officers’ accounts of the events that led to the death of the father-of-two.

Mr Anwar said the family was preparing to seek a review of the decision not to bring prosecutions, but said he expected the police officers “will simply walk away”.

Mr Bayoh’s cause of death was initially recorded as being “unascertained” pending a full post mortem examination.

His formal death certificate later revealed the presence of ecstasy and a so-called legal high known as flakka, a “zombie” drug, in his blood stream.

The updated description of his cause of death, which emerged in December 2016, was been described as a “significant development”.

But Mr Anwar, speaking at the time, said there was nothing significant about the toxicology report and that police officers are trained to deal with “vulnerable individuals” and that any force used “must always be legitimate and proportionate”.