'Terrible screams' of man in custody

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The Independent Online

An inquest was told yesterday how a man heard "a terrible screaming like someone was being hurt" before seeing a man who later died in police custody being taken away in a police van.

Robert Howes, who was giving evidence on the second day of an inquest into the death of Shiji Lapite, 30, said he had looked out of the skylight in the roof of his flat after hearing a "terrible noise" shortly after midnight on 16 December 1994.

"It was like someone was in pain," he said of the screaming, which he estimated lasted two or three minutes and ended shortly before he saw a black man being carried into the back of a police van by "four to six" policemen. He said there was also a lot of "aggressive" shouting and swearing.

"The man was not struggling at all," he said. "It was as if he was laying on a board." He added that the man's head was being supported but he could not say if he was conscious.

Earlier, officers who had arrived at the scene to assist in the arrest of Mr Lapite in Clapton, east London, on suspicion of possession of drugs, said they thought that after they had overpowered him, Mr Lapite had "pretended" to be unconscious.

Constable Peter Baron, of Stoke Newington police, said Mr Lapite had made "no noise" and not moved at all from the time until he was placed in the police van - apart from to offer "passive resistance", by "not assisting us at all".

"I would say he was pretending not to be conscious," PC Baron told St Pancras coroner's court in London.

"So for all outward purposes the man was unconscious, but you're saying you thought that was put on," asked Ben Emmerson, counsel for Mr Lapite's family. "I believe so, yes," the officer replied.

The court heard that before the father-of-two - who was said to be carrying crack cocaine the size of a golf ball - was taken away, neither of the two officers in charge of the arrest had disclosed that Mr Lapite had been kicked hard in the head, twice.

The court heard that Mr Lapite had lapsed into unconsciousness in the back of the van and had immediately been taken to Homerton Hospital, east London.

One of the assisting officers, Constable Jonathan Ridley, was accused of "lying to assist his brother officers," after his notes and testimony contradicted the statement he made which stated that Mr Lapite had responded to conversation.

The inquest continues today.