Douglas family denied inquest

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The family of Wayne Douglas, a burglary suspect whose death in police custody triggered a riot, failed in a High Court bid yesterday to win a fresh inquest.

A judge ruled that, even though the inquest jury had not been properly directed by the coroner when it returned an accidental death verdict, the same verdict would have been reach- ed if the directions had been given correctly.

The judge's decision was a blow to Lisa Douglas-Williams, sister of the dead man. She led the fight to quash the jury's eight to one majority verdict in December last year that the 25-year-old unemployed man died accidentally following his arrest by police in a late-night chase through the back streets of Brixton, south London.

Douglas was held face down with hands cuffed behind his back on four separate occasions on the night of his arrest for alleged aggravated burglary.

He was suspected of robbing a young couple at knifepoint in their home and was arrested after being cornered in a children's playground.

Douglas's death in December 1995 led to widespread riots in Brixton which caused damage costing more than pounds 1m.

Douglas's family accused coroner Sir Montague Levine of misdirecting the jury at Southwark, south London, and failing to give a proper explanation of the law, which could have led to a verdict of unlawful killing.

Lawyers argued such a verdict could have been returned on the basis that the police officers involved in the arrest were guilty of manslaughter through committing an unlawful act or through gross negligence.

Mr Justice Laws agreed the coroner's summing up had been "unclear" and the jury not properly directed as to a possible verdict of unlawful killing.

Rejecting the request for a fresh hearing, the judge said that, on analysis, "there was not in my judgment evidence upon which a properly directed jury could have found `unlawful act' man- slaughter. As regards gross negligence ... the evidence was at very best extremely tenuous."