Night of joy that turned to terror

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The Independent Online
Shiji Lapite had plenty of cause to celebrate on 15 December 1994, writes Jojo Moyes. The Nigerian father-of-two who had lived in Britain uneventfully for three years had that day been given leave to stay, pending consideration of his claim for asylum.

He was last seen shortly before midnight after popping in to his favourite restaurant in north-east London, where he bought drinks for his friends.

Ten minutes later, according to police reports, Lapite had become "the most violent man I have ever come across"; a man whose extreme strength and aggressiveness, they said, suggested the use of crack cocaine. He had also grown three inches, to 6ft 1, instead of the 5ft 10 recorded by a Home Office pathologist.

"The police tried to paint a picture of him as a violent, drug-crazed drunk who was out of control and that was a tactic which really backfired on them," said Ken Fero, a family friend yesterday.

"They used that when they described Joy Gardner. They were even using the same words: 'the most violent woman I've ever come across'."

His friends and family say he was a "deeply religious" man. They are at a loss to explain the 41g of crack cocaine which was apparently placed by a tree by Lapite shortly before his arrest.

"He didn't take drugs," says Nigel Lewis, with whom Lapite had been staying shortly before his death.

Lapite sustained 45 injuries during his arrest. One witness described how he had heard "terrible screams, like someone was being hurt", before he saw Lapite being carried into a police van.

According to the arresting officers, from Stoke Newington police station, Lapite, had "pretended to be unconscious". When the officers realised that Lapite's condition had deteriorated, he was taken to nearby Homerton Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

"We still feel there's a lot more that needs to be revealed about what happened and what's happening in Stoke Newington in general," said Mr Fero.