Police on manslaughter charges over death in custody

THREE POLICE officers are to be prosecuted for the manslaughter of an Irishman who died after he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

The decision to press charges against the Metropolitan Police officers is an astonishing about-turn by Crown prosecutors who originally decided that there was not sufficient evidence. The Director of Public Prosecutions, Dame Barbara Mills, only sanctioned her officials to re-examine three deaths in police custody cases last July because she was forced to by the courts.

A statement by the Crown Prosecution Service last night admitted "errors were made". The announcement reinforces long-held criticisms of the way in which police cases are dealt with by the CPS.

The three policemen, aged 27, 31, and 33, are charged with the manslaughter of Richard O'Brien, 37, who died in Walworth, south London, in April 1994. They are due to appear at Bow Street magistrates' court on 8 April

An inquest jury ruled in November 1995 that Mr O'Brien had been unlawfully killed. The police told the inquest that Mr O'Brien, a 19-and-a-half stone market trader from Dulwich, south London was drunk and disorderly.

He allegedly fell to the ground with five police officers. He was later carried to a police van. He lost consciousness while at a police station and was pronounced dead on arrival at King's College Hospital.

The pathologist, Dr Vesna Djurovic, said Mr O'Brien had 31 sites of injury on his body, including cuts and bruising to his face, a dislodged tooth and fractured ribs. Dr Djurovic gave the cause of death as "postural asphyxia following a struggle against restraint."

In October 1996, the CPS decided there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution. For nearly four years his widow, Alison, has fought for a prosecution of the police officers involved in arresting Mr O'Brien.

Following judicial reviews in the Divisional Court in July 1997, the DPP was forced to reconsider three deaths in custody cases.

The CPS said yesterday: "The CPS accepts errors were made in the original [O'Brien] decision-making process and have today written to lawyers acting for the family."