Man whose death sparked Brixton riot `was robber'

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The Independent Online
A man who died in police custody last year had robbed a young couple in their beds at knifepoint hours earlier, an inquest heard yesterday.

On the opening day of the inquest into the death of Wayne Douglas, which caused riots in Brixton in south-west London last year, the couple told how they feared for their lives after he broke into their home and threatened them with a kitchen knife before making off with their cash cards.

Katharine Short, who was visibly distressed while giving evidence, told Southwark Crown Court how she had been woken in her Brixton flat in the early hours of Tuesday 5 December by a torchlight in her face.

The intruder, who she described as a black man wearing a black woolly hat, told her and her husband, Justin, to pull the bedcovers over their faces or risk being stabbed.

"He was waving [the knife] from side to side a couple of feet from my face...he said `What can you give me? What have you got?'" Mrs Short said.

"He said: `Give me your cash card numbers.' Justin gave him a duff number... I was absolutely terrified. I thought he was going to stab us."

Mrs Short, a primary teacher, added: "Although I was terrified and in fear of my life I would say that he had quite a friendly looking face," she said.

Shortly afterwards Douglas was arrested nearby carrying the stolen property. Mrs Short said she had been told later by police that the he had died.

Earlier, the coroner, Sir Montague Levine, had warned against any harassment of witnesses. "I'm mindful that emotions and feelings have been running extremely high concerning the demise of Wayne Douglas," he said.

Three members of the jury had been replaced after two said they had links with police and one said she "could not cope".

The jury heard that Douglas, who was 25, had been depressed at the still- born death of his first child two weeks previously.

His sister Lisa Douglas-Williams said that the unemployed postman, who had been living in a hostel, had wanted to "get away from everything" with his girlfriend Nadine - a hope she said was unrealistic given his finances.

The court was told that Ms Douglas-Williams saw a report at 10.30pm on the day of the robbery saying that a man had died at Brixton police station.

"I phoned and asked if he was in custody and they said no straightaway," she said.

She was eventually told to call the Scotland Yard press bureau and at 4pm the following day she was called by a police inspector who told her that the dead man was her brother and about the burglary.

When she went to identify the body, she found the post-mortem had already taken place. A further post-mortem has since taken place at the family's request.

The inquest continues.