Man held by police 'unlawfully killed'

Arrest death: Inquest jury told of 31 injuries to victim's body
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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

An Irishman who died shortly after he pleaded with five policeman, who had pinned him to the ground, to release him, saying "I can't breathe, you win, you win", was unlawfully killed, an inquest jury ruled yesterday.

Campaigners immediately called for the Metropolitan Police officers involved to be prosecuted and criticised the Crown Prosecution Service for failing to take any action.

The inquest heard claims that Richard O'Brien, 37, a 19-and-a-half stone market trader from Dulwich, south London, was pushed and racially abused while being arrested on Easter Monday last year.

The police said that he was drunk and disorderly outside the English Martyrs Club in Walworth. His family said he was waiting for a taxi.

He fell to the ground with five police officers who held him there with his face to the pavement while one of them, Constable Richard Ilett, knelt on his back.

The jury heard that his 14-year-old son, also called Richard, was slapped and arrested by another officer after pleading with them to check on his father, who had shouted: "Let me up, let me up, I can't breathe. You win."

A police officer is said to have replied: "We always win."

Pathologist Dr Vesna Djurovic said that Mr O'Brien had 31 sites of injury on his body, including cuts and bruising to his face, a dislodged tooth and fractured ribs.

He had pinpoint bleeding suggestive of haemorrhaging after blood vessels on his face burst.

Dr Djurovic gave the cause of death as "postural asphyxia following a struggle against restraint."

After being held on the ground, Mr O'Brien was carried to a police van by six officers. He was then said to have been half-pushed and half-dragged into the vehicle.

His wife, Alison, who was already seated in the van with their son Richard, recalled an officer shouting: "We can't get the big fat Paddy in," before another grabbed him by the hair or head.

PC Ilett insisted that Mr O'Brien had been drunk and struggled violently on arrest.

He said that he had not seen any of the 31 injuries Mr O'Brien sustained and said he had shown nothing but concern for him.

Patrick O'Connor, counsel representing the family, held up a photograph of Mr O'Brien showing his bloodstained and battered face and asked the officer: "Does this show your concern?"

Police officers tried in vain to resuscitate Mr O'Brien after he was taken out of the van at Walworth police station.

Sir Montague Levine, the Southwark coroner, said the case had shown an "appalling lack of instruction" in the training of police officers in restraint techniques.

He went on to recommend the regular retraining of officers and improved education in methods of monitoring individuals involved in restraint.

His widow, Alison O'Brien, said after the verdict: "I'm delighted. The truth has finally got out now and after 18 months someone actually believes our story."

Deborah Coles, of the pressure group Inquest, added: "We are going to campaign to make sure these officers are brought to account for their conduct. This should never have gone to an inquest but should have been a criminal trial from the start."

In a statement yesterday, Scotland Yard said: "The Metropolitan Police Service deeply regrets the death of Mr O'Brien and the distress caused to his family."

Scotland Yard is sending a new report on the death to the Director of Public Prosecutions for reconsideration of whether criminal proceedings should take place.