Family demand public inquiry into death in custody

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The Independent Online

An investigation into the death of a black man who died after he was restrained by eight police officers has found that a page from one of the detectives' notebooks has been ripped out.

An investigation into the death of a black man who died after he was restrained by eight police officers has found that a page from one of the detectives' notebooks has been ripped out.

Relatives of Roger Sylvester, who collapsed after being detained by Metropolitan Police officers in January last year, yesterday called for a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death. The family's complaint about the handling of the matter follows the disclosure that there have been three separate police investigations into the case.

Mr Sylvester, 30, was handcuffed and put in the back of a police van after he was reported to be naked and causing a disturbance outside his home in Tottenham, north London, on the night of 11 January.

He was taken, still naked, to a hospital in north London. He collapsed and went into a coma while police officers were restraining him in a hospital room when the doctor was absent, an inquest was later told. He was placed on a life-support machine and died a week later.

In the most recent development detectives from Essex police, called in to investigate the case, set up an additional inquiry after they found a page was missing from a notebook belonging to one of the officers involved in the restraint - a breach of police rules that in the most severe circumstances can lead to criminal charges.

A forensic test revealed the indentations on the paper beneath the missing page. The results are understood to show that the page did not contain information about the death, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has decided that no criminal charges should be brought against the officers. However, they may face disciplinary action.

Lawyers representing the Sylvester family have written to the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) expressing their concern over the matter.

Detectives from Essex police, overseen by the independent PCA, were originally called in to carry out an inquiry into the actions of the eight officers, and into a second investigation into complaints by the family about the work of Scotland Yard's internal complaints section, CIB.

The CPS has already decided that no criminal charges should be brought against members of the CIB team, who may still be subject to disciplinary action.

The CPS is still examining a report by Essex police into the actions of the eight officers, but a decision is not expected until September at the earliest.

The affair is seen as an important test case of how the police treat black people while in custody. Bernard Renwick, Roger's older brother, said: "For the last 19 months it's been pain and perpetual anguish because we don't know how or why he died. We have not been able to mourn him. Our lives have been on hold. The complaints process is seriously flawed. It cannot be right to have the police investigating the police," said Mr Renwick.

"Roger was fit and healthy and looking forward to his life. The end result of his encounter with the police is that he ended up dead. The family will be handing in a letter to the Home Secretary voicing their dissatisfaction with the investigation process into Roger's death and demand a full, open and independent inquiry is held."

He admitted that his brother, who worked as an administration officer for a drop-in mental health centre, had suffered from mental health problems but said he had been well for 18 months before his death.

Mr Renwick said that he had no confidence in the Essex police inquiry or the likely outcome from the CPS.

The family, who are backed by the campaign group Inquest, are expected to take out a private prosecution or bring civil action against the police if no criminal charges are brought by the CPS.

Helen Shaw, co-director of Inquest, said: "An independent inquiry would go some way to ensure proper scrutiny of this tragic death and the wider issues it raises."

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