Police tried to hide use of force, black man's inquest told

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The Independent Online

Eight police officers involved in restraining a mentally ill man when he suffered a fatal collapse in hospital were accused yesterday of conspiring to cover up an inappropriate use of force.

Jurors at an inquest into the death of Roger Sylvester, 30, from Tottenham, north London, heard claims that police agreed to deny falsely that a banned method of restraint was used to subdue him.

Mr Sylvester, who was black, stopped breathing and fell into a coma at the emergency psychiatric unit at St Ann's Hospital in Haringey, after he had been held on the floor for 20 minutes by police, the inquest was told. He died seven days later.

Police took Mr Sylvester to the hospital after an incident outside his house. He was an administration worker who battled against manic depression and drug problems.

Lawyers for Mr Sylvester said there was evidence from a doctor at the unit that he was held for at least part of the time on his stomach while handcuffed, a position known to increase the risk of suffocation.

The hearing at St Pancras coroner's court was told that the eight constables held a four-hour meeting attended by a union representative after the incident on 11 January 1999.

Ian Macdonald QC, for the Sylvester family, suggested that the group was "panicking" and worried about possible disciplinary and legal action.

He said: "You had been dealing with a black man who you knew was quite likely to die.

"You police officers had been restraining [Mr Sylvester] on the ground for something like 20 minutes and he had collapsed ... You decided to put your heads together to make sure that you got your story right."

The officers deny using inappropriate force. The inquest continues.