Justice4Rashan – An alternative verdict

By Toyin Agbetu | Wed 20 June 2018

Police outside Coroners

Toyin Agbetu explores the failings of the Rashan Charles inquest and offers an alternative narrative on the verdict.

Greetings, I apologise in advance if this feels overly emotional and lacking subtlety, it is what it is, nevertheless, I will try my best to remain objective and logical despite the circumstances. For those of you that have been wondering where are the recent Grenfell MediaWatch videos, well for the past three weeks I have been at the Rashan Charles Inquest. When it comes to Grenfell, the brilliant GMW team have been working behind the scenes continuing the work but most of my own attention has been focused on trying to support the family of the young 20 year old who lost his life in custody almost a year ago on 22 July 2017.

After many days of deliberation, the verdict came back today and the Jury decided that Rashan’s death was an accident, blah, blah, blah… Now let me explain for those of you who are unsure about how an inquest works. When life is taken in controversial circumstances the government calls for an inquest but despite the presence of a jury it is not like a regular trial. The jury cannot return a verdict of guilty or not guilty, they can’t apportion blame. In this instance they can only comment on how someone died, whether they believe the loss of life was unlawful, negligent, accidental etc. They can also chose to give what’s called a narrative if they don’t want to give a simple short form answer. In Rashan’s case they opted for a narrative, whilst still ruling it an accident.

Now the police will be cheering this outcome explaining that an impartial jury of his peers reached a good conclusion. But even on this you need to consider that one juror dropped out early, meaning there were ten people instead of eleven present to deliberate the facts, that a father with a son who is currently serving in the police was allowed to be a juror despite protestations by Jude Bunting, the family’s lawyer and that there were no African men or women present on the jury. There was also no taking into account the systematic failures of the police in this case or historically. I say this as it’s important to note that John Beggs, the QC representing the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police is acting on behalf of Cressida Dick, the woman in charge and responsible for the death of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005. If this jury had set a precedent of unlawful killing then the ramification would have been huge, as such, the forces challenging the Charles family extend all the way to the very top of the Metropolitan Police. As well as this, it was made clear to the jury that a finding of positional asphyxia was off the table. Anyway, the jury presented a narrative that started: “Rashan's death was an accident, which occurred by virtue of deliberate human actions on the part of Rashan, the police officer who chased him and a civilian bystander, which unexpectedly and inadvertently led to the death of Rashan."

This narrative makes it look like Rashan tried to kill himself and that the police had only interacted with Rashan to save his life. This is patently untrue. The Met have already announced on its website that “a Met officer referred to in court as BX47 was justified in the use of force to handcuff Mr Charles and bring him to the floor. Whilst they found BX47 subsequently did not follow protocol in responding to problems with Mr Charles' breathing…”

However, it was not all good news for the police. Do you remember when last year, the police lied and allowed the coroner, Mary Hassell to give “a provisional finding on Wednesday that [Rashan] Charles had died in at the hospital on 22 July” Well the Jury agreed that this was untrue and stated that Rashan died in the Yours Locally store on Kingsland High Road. This exposing of police lies probably won’t be widely reported.

This despite the fact that Simon Laurence, the Met’s borough commander for Hackney at the time said - “A man, who was in the car, was pursued on foot before entering a shop where he was seen to be trying to swallow an object. He was then taken ill. He was taken to hospital by the London ambulance service where, sadly, he died later that morning."

Getting away with murder team - PC Matt, Coronor Mary Hassell, Neil Saunders, John Beggs QC and Cressida dick

Inquest process a farce

But other than that, the inquest process was clearly ‘a farce’ to quote the words of Rashan’s great uncle, Rod Charles. Over the past three weeks, I’ve watched as the heavily coached officers told blatant lies and the coroner, who is very intelligent, ignored and let them get away with it. There was one bizarre moment when a senior officer after having been told that the officers involved eg. ‘BX47’, were assigned codenames because of a ludicrous argument that there were some possible threats on their lives by members of Black Lives Matter, he then, went on to talk about ‘[PC] Matt’.

The level of force used by PC Matt a highly trained, specialist Territorial Support Group (TSG) officer was not justified. I believe he lost his temper after failing to catch Rashan on the streets. Now we can’t see what occurred on the chase because the officer apparently failed to switch on his body camera, but when he caught up with Rashan in the shop, he again failed to utter a single word to try and de-escalate the situation. To me it was clear that this was because he was hyped with adrenalin, frustrated and wanted to assert his manhood. Instead of seeking to calm the situation down, when Rashan entered the shop, BX47 saw the opportunity to strike (remember Rashan was NOT threatening anyone). At this point, Agent 47 ignored his extensive training and assaulted Rashan with a total disregard for human life. In fact, instead of calling for an ambulance when Rashan lay dying he radioed for more backup.

‘Witness 1’, the so-called bystander was apparently a member of the public who took over when ‘47’ panicked, and boy did he panic. Not only did the two of them continue placing undue pressure on Rashans face, legs, and body, whilst placing the dying young man in handcuffs, but they started pretending Rashan was ‘biting’ and conscious, shouting at him in an act designed for the benefit of other witnesses when they knew he was already leaving this mortal plane. Again this is more info that the public will never see as the footage and audio came from footage from body-worn cameras of another officer not put into public domain.

And this nonsense that they were looking to help Rashan after he fell ill is an insult to our intelligence. It is clear that when they conducted a mouth search on him, when they sucked the package out of Rashan’s stomach they weren’t seeking to resuscitate him and save his life, they were looking for evidence to justify and cover up what they had done (I include so-called ‘witness 1’ in this conspiracy).

But why do I agree with the branding of the inquest process as a farce? We’ll let me explain, we did not get off to a good start. The police presence around the coroner's court was ridiculous, the officer and so-called ‘witness1’ were granted anonymity for the trial meaning we (the public and press) had to sit behind a black sheet for the first week whilst they gave evidence. A letter of protestation by the press was read out but the coroner chose to dismiss it suggesting the acoustics of the room were good enough for us to hear what was going. Justice in this instance, was clearly not meant to be seen or done in this case.

But things got progressively worse. I won’t bore you with the details as there is a good account available on the opendemocracy.net/shinealight website but in summary, there was a catalogue of lies, errors and omissions that made justice impossible from the start. From the footage of a body-worn police camera being ‘accidently’ deleted to the coroner instructing the jury several times ‘I’m not telling you what to say but…’ accident, accident, accident… oh and you can’t return unlawful killing, or use the word neglect in your narrative as I do not believe “a reasonable jury could see this”. It’s a pity coroners aren’t forced to watch ‘John Judge Deed’ and juries - ‘12 Angry Men’ before embarking on this road.

The police used every dirty trick in the book, not only did they unsuccessfully try to link Rashan to a knife they had found, or a shooting attempt that had nothing to do with him, but they also tried to associate him with the long stream of violent crime in the area that occurred after his death. In the jury’s eyes, Rashan who admittedly was not always a boy scout, but certainly not deserving to be killed after coming into contact with police was made out to be Tony Montana in Scarface. (And no, I don’t want to hear anything about why don’t we just focus on young people killing other young people at this time, that’s a separate, but related issue. One witness, Dr Tahalani explained in a statement that Rashan had a “stress-related problem”. This subsequently led to Rashan once being on bail after being caught smoking cannabis to deal with it.)

During the inquest, the devils advocates for the police did their best to make sure that the focus was on anything but those few critical minutes where the same encounter with another officer would have resulted in an arrest and a ‘no further action’ (remember Rashan was not doing anything wrong). It often made me sick to see the police advocates laughing and joking with each other and occasionally the coroner as if this was just another case, another paycheck. I actually started the process hopefully thinking that the coroner was doing her best not to be biased, that it was the police I had to watch out for, sadly by the end, even before the verdict I could see my optimism was ill placed.

Anyway, the jury deliberated over two days. But sadly, despite asking questions that suggested they might come to an independent ruling such as in the historic Sean Rigg inquest, they ultimately decided to follow the coroner’s instructions and ignore the evidence (video and otherwise). I am still so angry and cannot believe what I have just witnessed even though I knew this was the likely result. The problem is that jury’s do not realise they have the power to follow their conscious and divert from the coroners directions if they think the evidence fits. Sadly we are so used to obeying authority without question we often commit acts enabling the status quo to maintain it privilege based on a system of injustice and inequality.

Just imagine how you would feel if a public official killed one of your family members and the state preventing you from knowing the name of the people involved and even having a day in court with them. How can any society claim to believe in the sanctity of life if it doesn’t extend that belief to all - especially those coming from the most vulnerable communities in society. With the growth of Afriphobia and attacks on immigrants across Europe, the US leaving the UN Human Rights body and the UK invoking Brexit to leave the EU and ‘escape’ the jurisdiction of the ECHR I worry about the future. The only positive I can take from the past few weeks is in being blessed to observe the superb way the family represented itself and witness the fantastic support of others who have felt the same pain. Their resilience and integrity remain inspiring. This family deserves justice so they can have peace, as does Rashan and all the countless other lives that have been taken whilst in custody or by the malignant actions of the state.

There is so much more to say but I’ll leave it there, the struggle continues.


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Toyin Agbetu is a community educator, artist-activist-anthropologist, independent film maker and Pan African community worker of Yoruba heritage, Ogun spirit. He was born in Hackney, London UK

Tribute to Rashan

External Links
Opendemocracy.net/shinealight - Rashan Charles Inquest
Rashan Charles death an accident, jury rules as family brand inquest a farce
The Guardian - Rashan Charles death after police chase was accident, jury finds

Ligali is not responsible for the content of third party sites

Why the Met’s Cressida Dick can’t be trusted where ‘Black Lives Matter’
Police and IPCC caught in cover up conspiracy over Sean Rigg

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