Judge clears way for new inquest into death that led to riots

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The Independent Online
There was renewed pressure on the police to revise their methods of restraining suspects yesterday after a judge opened the way for the family of Wayne Douglas, whose death in custody triggered the 1995 Brixton riots, to challenge an inquest verdict.

Mr Justice Forbes ruled that Lisa Douglas-Williams, the sister of the dead man, had an arguable case for a judicial review of the direction given by Southwark coroner Sir Montague Levine to the inquest jury, which brought in a verdict of accidental death.

The jury said Mr Douglas, a burglary suspect who officers said had threatened them with a knife, had died from heart failure caused by "positional asphyxia" brought on by stress and exhaustion after a chase and being held face down in the prone position.

A fresh inquest could be ordered if Ms Douglas-Williams succeeds in a full judicial review hearing in July. Giving the go-ahead for the challenge yesterday, the judge said it was arguable that Sir Montague had failed to give adequate or clear directions to the jury on two possible forms of unlawful killing.

Such a verdict would have been possible if a "deliberate, unlawful dangerous act" had resulted in "involuntary man- slaughter, or if there had been gross negligence in the way 25-year-old Mr Douglas had been treated during or after his arrest.

The family's solicitor, Louise Christian,welcomed the judge's decision, saying that he had given "considerable judicial support for the view taken by Mr Douglas's family. The verdict of accidental death was not a just one. There was no reason for Wayne Douglas to die in Brixton police station. He died because of the way in which the police restrained him, face down with his hands handcuffed behind his back, so that he was unable to breathe".

Ms Christian accused the Metropolitan Police of failing to implement seven recommendations made by the coroner at the conclusion of the inquest in December for improved police training and research on methods of restraint.

"The importance of this case is that it was not just Wayne Douglas who died because of positional asphyxia following an arrest," she said.

"Other young men, in particular black young men, are dying in custody for the same reason.

The Metropolitan force has issued an operational notice to be incorporated into police training from April but have declined to publicise its contents, insisting that it is "internal". Sir Montague had said he was "appalled" to learn that police training on restraint, especially face down, lasted only a few minutes. #

Ms Christian said: "His [Sir Montague Levine's] recommendations are not being implemented by the police.

"After Wayne Douglas, there have been two more inquests involving men whose deaths were due to positional asphyxia. But still there is no implementation."

Ms Christian also said that changes were needed in the inquest system to make it easier for the relatives of those who had died to challenge verdicts more effectively.

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