Letter: Death in cell: officials had been warned

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The Independent Online
Sir: As those representing the family of Peter Austin, we write to express some of the concerns his death has highlighted.

During the seven-day inquest there were no fewer than seven legal teams representing Securicor (the company), Securicor (the employees), the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, the Police Federation (representing the individual police officers), the police doctor, the local authority and the Home Office. These were well resourced out of public or corporate funds. The family of Peter Austin, on the other hand, had to rely on voluntary help as legal aid is not available for inquests.

We discovered during the inquest that the Home Office had already had an internal inquiry and that none of the documents from this, or its conclusion, were to be made available to the family, the coroner or the jury. Other documents in the possession of the police were only disclosed during the inquest, there being no advance disclosure to the family.

Although the Home Office is obliged by statute to monitor and review the prisoner escort arrangements, we were shocked to see that the barrister representing the Home Office made no inquiry into the conduct of the seven Securicor officers who gave evidence. It was only through questions from the family's barrister that the gross inadequacies of training and care in this case were brought into the public domain.

It is imperative that the Government look into the issue of private security firms and their care of detained persons. The jury's verdict and the public interest demand this.


Co-director, Inquest


Christian Fisher solicitors

London N4