Sheku Bayoh would have been treated differently if he was white – sister

Kadi Johnson has given evidence to the inquiry into the death of the father-of-two.

Lucinda Cameron
Tuesday 31 January 2023 13:58 GMT
Sheku Bayoh died in May 2015. (Family handout/PA)
Sheku Bayoh died in May 2015. (Family handout/PA)

The sister of a man who died after being restrained by police has told an inquiry she believes he would have been treated differently by officers if he had been white.

Kadi Johnson said she believes her brother Sheku Bayoh was treated the way he was by officers “from the very first instant” because he was black.

She also said that she and her family began to feel “suspicious” after being given different versions of how her brother died.

Mr Bayoh, 31, died after he was restrained on the ground by six police officers in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in May 2015, and the inquiry is investigating the circumstances of his death and whether race was a factor.

Ms Johnson told the inquiry: “I feel if Sheku was white he would have been treated in a different way, and I’m saying this now with a lot of fear because I know I will get people coming for me for saying this, but that’s just how I feel.

“I feel if Sheku was white, the police had met him, they would have approached him in a different way.

“I feel they would have approached us as a family as well in a different way, so for me, because he was black, that’s why he was treated the way he was treated from the very first instant the police met him.”

Ms Johnson said when two police officers came to give her the news of her brother’s death on the afternoon of May 3, they initially said he was found lying on the road and died on the way to hospital, but they later returned and told her he had died following a “forceful arrest”.

She told the inquiry the family were “shocked” and upset when a third officer came to tell them that her brother, a father-of-two, had been seen carrying a blade and refusing to obey officers’ commands.

Ms Johnson said the officer told them her brother had punched a policewoman, other officers had got him on the ground and used spray, and he later died in hospital.

Angela Grahame KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, asked how Ms Johnson felt to be given changing information.

She replied: “We started to feel suspicious. We started to feel, are we really getting the full facts, are these true, is it the true story we are getting, is it made up or not? How can you come and tell me you have lost a loved one and you don’t know how to tell me how he died?”

Ms Johnson, a staff nurse, said she thinks they would have been treated differently had they been a white family living in Kirkcaldy.

She also said she was immediately concerned when, on their second visit to her home on May 3, officers said Mr Bayoh had been involved in a “forceful arrest” and became unconscious and died.

Asked whether the term “forceful” had definitely been used, she said: “I remember that very clearly because when they mentioned the word forceful I remember speaking to the officer who had the nursing background saying, forceful arrest that means Sheku must have been manhandled and during that time they might have obstructed his airways, something like that.

“There has been a few deaths in America that had happened during encounters with black people and the police and they had died as well, so our attention was, was that the same way Sheku was handled?”

Ms Johnson also told the inquiry she was “shocked and upset” when she was told her brother had punched a police officer.

She said: “That’s not the Sheku I know, that’s not the way he was raised, that’s not his character, so for him to do something like this was very surprising.”

The 45-year-old also told the inquiry that following Mr Bayoh’s death, she consented to identify his body but told authorities she wanted to wait for her mother to arrive the following day so she could come too.

She said the family were “really upset” to find out on Tuesday May 5 that the post-mortem examination had already been carried out, before they had an opportunity to identify him.

Ahead of Ms Johnson’s appearance before the inquiry, her family held a vigil outside the venue, Capital House in Edinburgh.

The family’s solicitor, Aamer Anwar, said at the vigil: “The family are in for the long haul and they are still fighting for justice.”

Trainee gas engineer Mr Bayoh was born in Sierra Leone and moved to the UK when he was 12. He moved to Scotland after living in London for five years.

The inquiry, before Lord Bracadale, continues on Wednesday.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in