No charges over police van death

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The Independent Online

Crime Correspondent

No officers are to be charged over the death of a black man who died in the back of a police van after being arrested in London, the Crown Prosecution Service announced yesterday.

A post-mortem examination report for the family found extensive bruising and abrasions to the head and face of Shiji Lapite, 30, who died from asphyxia. The cause of death was said to be consistent with the use of a neck lock or stranglehold of such force that it crushed his voice box. The report said cocaine may - or may not - have played role in his death. There were two other post-mortem examinations, but their findings have not been published.

The incident has since become the focus of a campaign to establish the truth about police neckholds.

The CPS said it would not bring any charges because there was insufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of convicting any police officer.

The decision was greeted with outrage by Mr Lapite's relatives and friends and lawyer.

He was arrested by two plainclothed police officers from Stoke Newington station after leaving a restaurant in Clapton, east London, last December. Police said he was acting suspiciously and there was a struggle as they attempted to arrest him. Within minutes he was dead in the back of a police van.

He left behind a wife, a three-week-old son and a daughter aged two. Mr Lapite, a Nigerian who has lived in the United Kingdom for three years, had never been in trouble with the police. Following his death two officers were suspended. Scotland Yard said last night they would remain suspended until after the forthcoming inquest.

Raju Bhatt, the family's lawyer, said yesterday that Mr Lapite's wife, Olamide, and relatives remained determined to ensure "justice was done".

Mr Bhatt added: "Experience has shown that the authorities, be it the CPS, Police Complaints Authority, or the Metropolitan Police, do not appear to have the ability to exercise their powers to ensure that justice is seen to be done."