Justice For Ibrahima Sey!
Ibrahima Sey, a 29 year old Gambian asylum seeker, was killed by police in Ilford police station in March 1996. He was forced to the ground in the station yard and handcuffed with his hands behind his back, and then sprayed in the face from close range with CS gas. The case is now back in the public eye because a month-long inquest in the Walthamstow coroner's court ended recently with a verdict of unlawful killing.
Ibrahima, who was mentally ill, had been arrested following a domestic dispute. His family explained his mental condition to the police, and they agreed that a friend could accompany him to the station. He did not resist arrest and was not handcuffed, but when they reached the police station his friend, Mr. Ndimbalan, was not allowed into the custody area with him. At that point Ibrahima became alarmed and agitated, and pleaded for his friend to be let in with him.
Mr. Ndimbalan has described how Ibrahima Sey was treated and how he called out "See what they are doing to me". After this brutal treatment he went limp and was carried inside the police station, his friend still being kept outside.
The police held him face down on the floor, still handcuffed behind his back, for 15 minutes. This position is well known to be a likely cause of suffocation. Two officers kept their feet on his legs during this time. When he went totally limp and stopped breathing an ambulance was called. He was dead by the time the ambulance reached the hospital.
A campaign and a demonstration were organised in the area, but once again the officers involved remain on duty. None of them have been disciplined or prosecuted. Initially the police - and the police surgeon - put out stories that Ibrahima had a heart disease and/or suffered 'a sudden death' linked to his mental condition. The first story had to be withdrawn and the second has been derided by medical experts.
The unlawful killing verdict is a vindication of the campaigning work of the Ibrahima Sey Memorial Campaign and Inquest, a group that organises legal support in deaths in custody, but by itself it does not guarantee justice. This is the third time in the last couple of years that a coroner's court has reached an unlawful killing in cases involving death in police custody. In the other two the victims, Richard O'Brien in south London and Shiji Lapite in Hackney, had also been suffocated. Despite these verdicts the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) refused to recommend any disciplinary action against the officers involved, and the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute them.
The verdicts in these cases has drawn public attention to the scandal of racist police brutality, and shown that some legal authorities are worried about the police getting too far out of hand. However, even though in July they were forced to admit they had made mistakes in their decisions not to prosecute the police responsible for the deaths of Richard O'Brien and Shiji Lapite, the CPS have still taken no action. They have still done nothing following the Ibrahima Sey inquest either, and it is even possible they will challenge the verdict.
No wonder Raj Bhatt, the solicitor for Ibrahima Sey's and Shiji Lapite's families told the Movement for Justice that he was "Cynical" about the likely responses of the CPS and the police.
The use of CS gas has provoked particular alarm in this case. Ibrahima Sey was killed just two weeks after the spray was introduced 'for testing' in Britain - just as Brian Douglas was killed by police in Lambeth using the new US-style side-handled truncheons just a few weeks after they were introduced by the Metropolitan Police.
Dr. Price, the coroner called for the police to review the use of CS gas - and in fact one Scottish police force immediately suspended CS gas trials following his comments. A spokesperson for Inquest, a, said "What possible justification can there be for the use of CS spray on a terrified mentally ill man, handcuffed and restrained and already under a form of restraint acknowledged by all to be potentially fatal". The Ibrahima Sey Memorial Campaign and the Newham Monitoring Project have launched a National Campaign Against CS Spray.
Since the inquest, however, Labour's Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has supported the continued use of CS spray, despite the Ibrahima Sey verdict! These remarks, in a speech to senior police officers, were his first public reference to a death in police custody.
Straw's comments can only encourage the racist thugs in uniform to believe that they will continue to get away with murder under New Labour.
The more tooled up the police are the more dangerous they are, so we must demand the immediate withdrawal of CS gas and side-handled truncheons, but even without these weapons the police have repeatedly shown how brutal and dangerous they are to black, Asian and Irish people. Not having CS gas, the police used sticky tape to suffocate Joy Gardner. We have to demand that all the officers responsible for these and the many other deaths at the hands of the police are prosecuted and jailed.
The police think that with people like Jack Straw behind them they don't need to worry too much about a few embarrassing cases. Thorough legal work is vitally important, but we will only get justice in cases like Ibrahima Sey's if we make that part of a militant struggle against police racism, harassment and brutality that really challenges the authority of the police, the courts and the government.