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INQUEST Newsletter Nov/Dec 2017
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INQUEST end of year newsletter 2017

At INQUEST, we know that the festive period can be a particularly difficult time for people who have been bereaved. You and your loved ones will be in our thoughts over the festive period. We wish all of you a restful break.

In this end of year newsletter, we reflect on persistent issues identified by inquests in 2017, updates on the Grenfell Tower inquiry, a new crowdfunder to campaign for Hillsborough Law, and more. But first, we want to thank all those who have supported our work this year. In particular; funders who have made it all possible; the dedicated INQUEST lawyers who have fought hard for families, even in the most challenging circumstances; and most of all, the bereaved families whose strength and resilience in the face of injustice continues to humble and energise us.

The year will be long remembered for the tragic and appalling fire at Grenfell Tower six months ago, which threw hundreds of survivors and bereaved families into an ongoing battle for truth, justice and accountability. We are dedicated to continuing our work with families affected and the those who represent them during the investigation and inquiry processes.

This summer saw an unprecedented spike in the deaths of black men following the use of force by police, with the four men dying in just over four weeks. It has been the deadliest year for UK immigration detainees on record, with more deaths than in the last three years combined. High rates of deaths and self-harm in prison continue, with little effective action from authorities. And we are disturbed by a significant increase in case calls on deaths of those in mental health care.

However, the year for INQUEST has also been marked by a number of huge steps forward, as detailed in the last newsletter. There has been a groundswell of support for our work, most notably with the Angiolini Review, Bishop John James review on Hillsborough, the Bach Commission, and the Chief Coroner’s annual report joining the call for non-means tested legal funding for families following a state related death. We are prepared to seize the opportunity for change in the new year. Watch this space.
INQUEST has a brand new website

We are pleased to have launched a new website this year, which we are finalising in early 2017. We hope it will help everyone better access the information they need and we invite all those who use our website to help shape it by filling out a short feedback survey here.

One of our new features is our family blog section. This is a dedicated space for bereaved families and friends to share their experiences following the death of a loved one. You can check out the brilliant personal accounts of Tony Herbert and Aldyth Smith who have shared their powerful and moving stories. We invite all families we’ve worked with to consider contributing in whatever form suits you. If you’d like to, please contact our new family participation officer Ayesha, here.
Grenfell Tower Inquiry hearings begin
‘INQUEST is giving people who are challenged, an opportunity to regrow their wings.'  

- Feedback from a family member bereaved by deaths in Grenfell Tower 
The fire at Grenfell Tower six months ago was a shocking injustice, and the need for the Inquiry to get to the truth is of value to us all. INQUEST continues to work with bereaved people and survivors, assisting them with navigating the complex issues around the Inquiry. Prior to the initial procedural hearings on 11-12 December, we coordinated meetings with the Grenfell INQUEST lawyers group (representing those bereaved by the tragedy), issued a statement about the minimum steps the inquiry must take to gain the confidence and encourage participation of those affected, and spoke to the Guardian about the need to put bereaved families and survivors at the heart of the inquiry. Following the hearings, we wrote to the Prime Minister about these concerns.

We attended the Inquiry procedural hearings and were encouraged to hear both the Inquiry Chair and Counsel reiterate that the bereaved, survivors and residents are indeed at the heart of the Inquiry. In our proposed terms of reference previously submitted to the Inquiry, we called for the appointment of Inquiry panel members to reflect the diverse, cultural and religious make-up of the community affected. This will draw in the appropriate levels of expertise necessary to meet the needs of the Inquiry. We are continuing to call for this. Pledge your support for those affected on the Grenfell United page here.
Neglect and basic failings repeated: Inquest findings over the year

As ever the year’s inquest findings have been frustratingly repetitive. The recurring themes of those on deaths in prison have been findings of neglect, basic mistakes in training and first aid, and an inability to cope with those suffering serious mental ill health. This was reiterated in the conclusion last week on the death of Craig Royce in HMP Chelmsford.

Responding to yet another damning report on mental health in prisons last week, we highlighted that tackling this means a dramatic reduction in the prison population, and investment in alternatives. Yet the justice minister’s speech on prisons, delivered on Monday, made not one mention of mental health, self-harm or self-inflicted deaths.

We have been disturbed by the rising number deaths being referred to us of those in mental health settings, particularly of young women. Most recently, the inquest into the death of Katie Hamilton on a mental health ward in Leeds had an expert witness questioning the common sense of those tasked with her care and findings of neglect and basic failings are recurrent. 

We’ve seen a series of police misconduct hearings against officers dropped, often in significant contrast with critical inquest findings, begging questions about the level of accountability of police and the effectiveness of sanctions against those who abuse their powers. Examples are listed at the end of our statement on the Angiolini review, a report which raised serious questions about the police misconduct hearing system. 

We are also increasingly concerned about anonymity of police officers, most recently granted for officers at the inquest of Rashan Charles, despite the coroner rejecting the argument that there was a direct threat. And there have still been no murder or manslaughter convictions of police officers involved in a death, with the CPS once again deciding not to bring charges against officers involved in Sean Rigg’s death in 2008.

Overall there is a long way to go, but we have been busy this year, working with families, lawyers, the media, politicians and policy makers to challenge and drive a change in culture and approach. Taking forward the recommendations of various reviews and improving access to justice for families will be our priority in the new year.
New crowdfunder launched to help INQUEST challenge the state’s response to deaths and push for ‘Hillsborough Law’
A new Crowdfunder has been launched to help INQUEST push for the ‘Hillsborough Law’, formally known as The Public Authorities (Accountability) Bill. The Bill aims to make it a legal duty for public authorities and public servants to tell the truth. It requires public authorities and officials to act at all times ‘with transparency, candour and frankness’ and to assist court proceedings, inquiries and
investigations ‘where their acts or omissions are or may be relevant’. It also makes it a criminal offence for public servants to cover up actions. And finally, it imposes parity of funding for bereaved families faced with Inquiries, Inquests etc. so that they are not outgunned by public bodies. The Crowdfunder, set up by lawyers who represented the Hillsborough families, aims to raise money for a member of staff at INQUEST dedicated to campaigning for the ‘Hillsborough Law’. Learn more and donate here.
Staffing Update
In the new year, we will be welcoming our new Head of Policy, Rebecca Roberts. Up to this month, Rebecca was a Senior Policy Associate at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Her interests include social harm, feminism, abolitionism and alternatives to criminal justice. She is also a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University. Rebecca is on the steering group of the Reclaim Justice Network.
In other news…
  • The latest annual report from the Chief Coroner’s office is available here. The new chief,  Mark Lucraft QC, joined the plethora of voices calling for non means tested funding for families at inquest’s where the state is represented. 
     
  • Last month Deborah Coles spoke at a UN meeting as part of the International Decade for People of African Descent. She told the delegates from Europe, Central Asia and North America about the overrepresentation of black people in the UK criminal justice system, and discussed the disproportionate number of restraint related deaths. You can read more about the event here and watch the panel discussion here.
     
  • We also spoke to managers of Independent Custody Visiting schemes, who monitor police cells all year round to help uphold detainees' rights, about our work and how we can better learn lessons from deaths in custody. You can watch the discussion here.

Support INQUEST


This year we have got ever closer to achieving longstanding goals which would help families access justice, and ensure the system truly learns from deaths and works to prevent them. INQUEST helps hundreds of families bereaved by state related deaths daily, but we are independent of government and entirely reliant on grants donations. Any amount you give will help us meet the high and growing demand for our help, advice and expertise. Please consider giving what you can, if you can.

DONATE HERE
Copyright © 2017 INQUEST, All rights reserved.


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