Judge to quash finding that death in custody was unlawful

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The Independent Online

The family of a man who died in police custody were said to be "devastated" last night after a High Court judge indicated he would overturn an inquest verdict of unlawful killing.

Eight police officers were suspended following the inquest jury's verdict on the death of a mentally ill black man Roger Sylvester after he was arrested in Tottenham, north London, in January 1999.

At the end of a three-day hearing yesterday, Mr Justice Collins reserved his judgment, but indicated that he was going to uphold an appeal by the officers and quash the verdict.

The judge said the summing up by the coroner was defective and some of the reasons given by the 11-strong jury for their verdict in October last year were inconsistent with others.

This came as a bitter blow to the family of 30-year-old Mr Sylvester and their supporters. His family said the unlawful killing verdict had been "stolen" from them on a technicality. Deborah Coles, of the victims' group Inquest, said: "The family are absolutely devastated ... There was evidence there on which a jury could return an unlawful killing verdict but because of errors by the coroner and jury the judge is going to quash the verdict."

Lawyers for the officers argued that the inquest was wrongly allowed to be turned into a surrogate criminal trial and said the verdict was irrational and perverse.