Eight police suspended after custody death verdict

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The Independent Online

Eight Metropolitan Police officers have been suspended after an inquest jury ruled that six of them unlawfully killed a man who died after being restrained at a psychiatric hospital.

The suspension follows a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to reconsider whether criminal charges should brought over the case of Roger Sylvester, from Tottenham, north London.

The police association that represents the eight menis seeking a judicial review of the case, arguing that the jury at St Pancras coroner's court was misdirected.

Family and supporters spent more than four years campaigning on behalf of Mr Sylvester, who died in January 1999 after being taken in a police van to an emergency psychiatric unit in Haringey.

The council worker, who had a history of mental health problems, was held after being police received reports of a naked man banging on people's doors.

He stopped breathing and fell into a coma at St Anne's Hospital after six policemen held him on the floor for about 20 minutes, the inquest heard.

The jury decided that the six policemenheld Mr Sylvester in a restraint position for too long and that an unreasonable amount of force was used.

On Saturday all eight officers - two of whom have been promoted to sergeants since Mr Sylvester's death - were suspended from duty.

They are expected to remain suspended until the CPS has reconsidered whether criminal charges should be brought against them. An earlier reviewconcluded that no charges were necessary.

Mr Sylvester's supporters are considering taking a private prosecution and his relatives are expected to sue the Met for damages.

The police officersall deny using excessive force and the Metropolitan Police Federation condemned the decision to suspend them.

Glen Smyth, chairman of the federation said it was launching a legal challenge against the unlawful killing verdict. He said: "Our lawyers are going to apply for a judicial review of the coroner's inquest verdict on the basis that the coroner misdirected the jury."

On the suspensions he said: "We are disappointed that the Met has taken that step on the basis that there is no new ongoing inquiry as all the investigative work has been done."

Mr Smyth said the decision could lead to police officers refusing to restrain suspects for fear of legal action.

Mr Sylvester's brother, Bernard Renwick, said: "I am heartened by the decision [to suspend the eight officers] and that the Metropolitan Police are distancing themselves from the individual officers.

"We have been asking for four and half years that the officers be suspended and investigated properly."

Deborah Cole, co-director of the campaign group Inquest, which has supported the Sylvester family, said: "The decision to suspend is welcome but it is four and a half years too late.

"The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police must also take responsibility for the other factors that have emerged from the inquest. In particular, the systematic failings in terms of training and guidance for police officers which should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

"I would have hoped that alongside the suspensions there would have been an announcement of urgent action regarding these issues."