Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

19.  Memorandum from Mr Tony Ashley

  I write with regard to the "call for evidence" in respect of an Inquiry into Human Rights and Deaths in custody. I am the brother of James Ashley who was killed by armed Sussex police on 15 January 1998.

  I believe that the United Kingdom should be doing more to meet its obligations under Article 2 of the European convention on human rights especially when the law fails to provide adequate safeguards against wrongdoing by the Police or other public servants by its reliance on outdated and archaic statutes such as "misfeasance".

  In our case five officers were originally charged with criminal charges—one was charged with Murder/Manslaughter and four others with "misfeasance in public office". The trial took over three years to get to court, all the while we were warned not to comment as it could prejudice proceedings, yet Sussex police were allowed to blacken my brothers' character despite not having found a shred of evidence which pointed to James having committed any offence to justify the armed raid on his flat in the first place.

  A coroner's inquest was put into abeyance whilst criminal charges were pending. Prior to the trial we attended a committal at Bow Street before a magistrate during which we endured two weeks of legal argument put forward by numerous Barristers for the defence—extensively funded by the Police Federation. When the case finally reached the Old Bailey we had to endure further seemingly endless legal arguments by the defence before we had even heard any evidence.

  My primary objection is that the trial Judge—the inappropriately named Justice Rafferty—split the trial in two between a Murder trial—and a second trial centering on the misfeasance aspect. Somewhat conveniently once the trials were split the Judge placed a ban on the press from reporting the trial evidence under the argument that publicity could adversely affect the second trial. I believe this legal manoeuvre obstructed real justice and did not allow for any genuine public scrutiny of the serious misbehaviour undertaken by the officers involved.

  The next thing we knew, the judge threw out the case before the defendant in the Murder case—PC Sherwood had even provided testimony, thus robbing us of any chance to hear an explanation of the events from those principally involved and therefore any sense of emotional closure. The fact that a jury were prevented from deliberating on the evidence by the cynical actions of the judge exacerbated the growing sense of injustice. The second trial also collapsed because the Judge decided to rule that there had been "Corporate Failure" on behalf of Sussex Police rather than wilful misconduct by individuals. As far as we were concerned this was a completely unsatisfactory outcome and a mockery of justice.

  I believe that the failure of both the criminal cases to actually determine responsibility, other than by vague notions of "corporate failure", led to the eventual watering down of disciplinary action taken by Sussex Police against those involved. What also then materialised was the farcical situation whereby the former Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse actually promoted two of the officers involved. Similarly the Deputy Assistant Chief Constable, Mark Jordan, was somehow allowed to retire on the grounds of ill health. Jordan—who apparently now lectures on human rights—thus avoided disciplinary action. This is despite promises by the present government to end this disgraceful practice of serving officers being allowed to retire prematurely without censure.

  All avenues of legal redress having dwindled, the family made concerted representations to the Home Secretary on the basis that a full public inquiry was called for in this case. After deliberation by the Minister John Denham, we were informed that an inquiry would not be the best way forward for the following reasons:

    (1)  Pending disciplinary action would be halted if a public inquiry was granted.

    (2)  The Coroners Inquest was due to resume.

    (3)  The Sussex Police Authority would be formally requested to prepare a report on the events of the killing and how it had responded to its obligations in the aftermath. We were also promised access to the (Wilding report) written by Kent Police and the (Hoddinott) report into the state of the Sussex Police force which had been prepared by Hampshire Police.

  In reality, disciplinary procedures against the remaining officers were gradually downgraded and sidelined once the initial bad publicity against Sussex had subsided. The Sussex coroner refused to re-open the inquest stating that it would amount to a re-trial and finally, Sussex Police Authority, who "owned" the Kent and Hampshire reports refused to release them publicly. Instead, they produced a report supposedly specifically for the family which was little more than a rehash of what the Judge had said at the aborted trials.

  In summary then, our attempts to gain justice have been thwarted at every turn by the authorities, British Law fails to provide any modern or contemporary statute to counter wrongdoing by the police. Misfeasance cannot be deemed appropriate in the circumstances of this case and there certainly needs to be a new and serious appraisal of the law in this regard. Not only are police officers overly protected by judges but civil proceedings initiated by the victims families are completely out of the question due to the cost—victims families simply do not have the required funds to challenge legal decisions, the financial strains placed on victims relatives fighting for justice simply make matters worse, especially when faced with the "money no object" emphasis of the Police Federation or unsympathetic elements of the criminal justice system.

10 September 2003

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