Outcry as police officers linked to unlawful killing are reinstated

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The Independent Online

Seven police officers who were suspended after a black man died in their custody were reinstated by Scotland Yard yesterday against the advice of the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

The family of Roger Sylvester, who was found by an inquest jury to have been unlawfully killed after being arrested in London in 1999, reacted angrily to the decision.

The complaints commission had argued that the seven officers should remain suspended while the Crown Prosecution Service considered whether criminal charges should be brought against them and for a High Court judgment to be published. But Sir Ian Blair, the deputy commissioner, who takes over the Met in February, announced yesterday that the officers should return to work.

The case of Mr Sylvester, 30, a mentally ill man who died after going into a coma while being restrained by policemen at a psychiatric hospital in Haringey, north London, has been one of the most controversial deaths in police custody in recent years. An inquest jury decided in October last year that the policemen held Mr Sylvester in a restraint position for too long and that unreasonable force was used.

The officers said Mr Sylvester, who suffered from manic depression, had become violent. Seven of the officers involved have been suspended for the past year, while the eighth has moved to another police force.

The officers sought a judicial review, backed by the Met, and last week a High Court judge, Mr Justice Collins, indicated he would overturn the inquest verdict. He said that the summing up by the coroner was defective and some of the reasons given by the jury for their verdict were inconsistent. During the judicial review, counsel for the police argued that Mr Sylvester was "paranoid and extremely aggressive". The deceased man displayed "cannabis-induced delirium with manic features" and "extraordinary physical strength and endurance", the court heard.

Sir Ian said yesterday that he was lifting the suspensions "in the interests of the officers and the people of London" because it was only the unlawful-killing verdict which had led to their suspension from duty.

But Nicola Williams, of the complaints commission, said: "The decision to reinstate the officers is, in my opinion, premature. The Met consulted me before they took their decision. As a commissioner who practised as a barrister for 15 years, I advised them to wait a little longer for the actual judgment and also the decision of the CPS, who are reviewing the evidence as to whether or not criminal charges should be brought."

Mr Sylvester's brother, Bernard Renwick, added: "We are bitterly disappointed in learning that the officers involved in Roger's fatal restraint are no longer suspended. This decision has yet again caused deep anguish and distress to the whole of our family. Roger would not be dead if these police officers had not laid hands on him."