Inquiry launched into migrant deaths

Police watchdog to examine apparent suicides of Afghan man Chinese woman
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Scotland Yard is being investigated by the police watchdog after two suspected illegal immigrants apparently committed suicide just hours after being questioned by officers.

The 18-year-old Afghan man and 35-year-old Chinese woman had been released without charge and told that no further action was being taken.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is to investigate the circumstances surrounding their deaths, within two weeks of each other earlier this year. Specifically the IPCC will look at whether it was adequately explained to them that no further action would be taken and whether interpreters were used.

Mohammed Iqbal Safi was born in Afghanistan but was living with his family in west London. He was arrested in the early hours of 30 October and taken to Fulham police station.

He was questioned for two hours on suspicion of "immigration offences" before being released. At about 11.50am that day, Mr Safi jumped into the Thames at Savoy Pier, near Waterloo Bridge. His body was pulled from the river at Southwark on 18 November and identified on 8 December. A post-mortem examination found that he had drowned.

Yesterday the IPCC announced it would be investigating the contact Mr Safi had with police before his death. IPCC Commissioner Rachel Cerfontyne said: "This is a very sad case where a family has lost a loved one and it is right that an independent investigation is undertaken to see if there was anything police could have done while Mr Safi was in custody to have avoided this outcome.

"Our investigators will therefore consider a number of factors. This includes if Mr Safi displayed any indications while in custody that he was at risk of self harm and whether his grasp of English should have warranted the use of specialist provision such as a translation service."

"His time in custody will also be compared to the relevant Met procedures concerning detention and release to ensure they were complied with."

Mr Safi's case is near-identical to that of Jianping Liu, who was arrested by Metropolitan Police officers at Heathrow's Terminal 1 in the early hours of 12 November.

Ms Liu was held on suspicion of over-staying her agreed period of residence in the UK. She was questioned for more than eight hours and released without charge after it was discovered that she did have permission to stay in the country. At 1pm, just three-and-a-half hours later, Ms Liu was seen falling from a bridge on the outer edges of the airport. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Deborah Coles of the legal charity Inquest, which has taken up the case, said that the two deaths raised "serious concerns" about "police failure to recognise the psychological trauma of people held in custody".

IPCC Commissioner Mike Franklin said: "One of the key things this investigation will look at is how officers interacted with Ms Liu, in particular the risk assessment and explanations provided on arrest and release."

Both incidents were referred to the IPCC by the Metropolitan Police's Directorate of Professional Standards. A Met Police spokeswoman said: "It would be inappropriate for us to comment further whilst there is an independent investigation being carried out by the IPCC."