DPP wrong on police death charge

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills, yesterday conceded in a landmark case that she had been wrong to rule out a manslaughter charge against two police officers after a man died in their custody.

The Police Complaints Authority likewise accepted in the High Court that its decision not to recommend that the Metropolitan Police bring disciplinary charges against the officers, Constables Paul Wright and Andrew McCallum, was "flawed and should be quashed."

The unprecedented concessions were made at the opening of four linked judicial reviews of Crown Prosecution Service decisions not to prosecute officers for death or serious injury, and mean that Mrs Mills and the authority must now re-consider whether to take action over the death of Nigerian-born Shiji Lapite during an incident in Stoke Newington, north London, in December 1994.

The legal challenge, the first of its kind, has also revealed how the Metropolitan Police strenuously resisted the authority's initial inclination to recommend that the officers be charged with disciplinary offences, and persuaded it to change its mind.

Olamide Jones, Mr Lapite's widow, said: "I am pleased with the decision today, but the fight is not over yet. I hope the police authorities will not continue to protect those responsible for my husband's death and that the CPS will take this opportunity to prosecute the officers involved."

Mr Lapite's case and a parallel challenge involving Irish-born Richard O'Brien, which is continuing, were both launched in the wake of unanimous inquest jury verdicts that they had been unlawfully killed.

A CPS statement said that Mrs Mills, who had approved a decision by Robert Munday , a Principal Crown Prosecutor, not to prosecute, had decided to invite the court to quash the original decision in the light of material submitted by Mrs Jones' lawyers. In yet another significant concession, it added: "The CPS has accepted that there may have been a weakness in the decision making process and has therefore asked a senior lawyer from the north of England to re-review this case."

Pathologists' reports revealed that Mr Lapite had suffered 36 to 45 separate injuries during the incident with the two officers. At the inquest, PC Wright admitted applying a neck-hold that fractured his larynx, causing him to die of suffocation. PC McCallum admitted kicking Mr Lapite twice on the head, as hard as he could. The officers claimed that Mr Lapite had attempted to strangle PC Wright.

When the case reached the CPS, it insisted that the constriction of Mr Lapite's neck might have been caused unintentionally by PC Wright's arm having become accidentally entangled in Mr Lapite's clothing, forming a ligature.

Ben Emmerson, counsel for Mrs Jones, told the court yesterday that Mrs Mills accepted in a recent letter that pathological evidence could not support such a theory. She also accepted that a legal mistake had been made, relating to the elements of the offence of "unlawful act" manslaughter.

The seeds of the separate challenge against the Police Complaints Authority's decision were sown after Commander Ian Quinn, of the Metro- politan Police's Complaints Investigation Bureau, submitted a detailed response to the supervising member, Molly Meacher, opposing the bringing of charges. On the basis of the points he made, which included a material error involving the transposition of two pathologists' names, Mrs Meacher sought an opinion from counsel and then changed her mind.