Sheku Bayoh

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 12th November 2019.

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Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

As members will be aware, the Lord Advocate met the family of Sheku Bayoh yesterday to inform them of the outcome of the victim’s right to review process in connection with the circumstances of Mr Bayoh’s tragic death in 2015. Mr Bayoh died during an operation by police officers to restrain him, and I know that the thoughts of members from across the chamber will be with his family and friends at this difficult time.

Following a complex and thorough investigation and review, the Lord Advocate has confirmed that, on the basis of the evidence available, there will be no criminal proceedings against Police Scotland or individual police officers in connection with Mr Bayoh’s death. The First Minister and I met the family today to express our deepest condolences and assure them of our commitment to establishing the facts surrounding this tragic incident. They are right to expect a full public examination of the circumstances of Mr Bayoh’s death, and I stated my determination to put in place a process to deliver that.

Today, I can confirm that I will establish a statutory public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the circumstances leading up to and following Mr Bayoh’s death.

A ll deaths in police custody are subject to a mandatory fatal accident inquiry under the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc

(Scotland) Act 2016. The responsibility for establishing the FAI sits with the procurator fiscal, under the direction of the Lord Advocate. FAIs examine the cause of death and consider steps to prevent other deaths in similar circumstances.

In this case, however, the Lord Advocate, as head of the system for the investigation of deaths in Scotland, considers that the remit of an FAI would not allow all the issues that require to be investigated to be addressed. FAIs can examine circumstances and factors leading up to a death but not what follows it. In this case, the Lord Advocate has identified questions that an FAI simply could not examine. Those questions are about the early stages of the post-incident management of the investigation and they raise issues of public interest and importance. That being the case, it is imperative that the circumstances leading up to Mr Bayoh’s death and the events that followed it are examined in full and in public.

I am conscious that public inquiries are significant undertakings and that this is not a decision to be made in haste. As members will be aware, Mr Bayoh’s family have been calling for a public inquiry for a number of years, and the First Minister made it clear that a public inquiry was definitely an option. When I met the family last year, I assured them that this Government shared the family’s commitment to getting answers. On that basis, it is one option that I had been considering in advance of the confirmation yesterday of the Lord Advocate’s decision—not to pre-empt that decision but to be prepared for this outcome. Now that we have confirmation that there will be no criminal proceedings in this case, and having examined all other options, I believe that it is right that, as a Government, we should hold a public inquiry. I have discussed that with Mr Bayoh’s family, honouring my commitment to update them first. They were very clear in their determination to get to the facts surrounding Mr Bayoh’s tragic death, and a public inquiry is now the surest way to do that.

The terms of reference of the public inquiry will determine its scope, direction and parameters, so it will be important to take the time to get them right. The inquiry will cover matters that would be covered by an FAI and a range of other issues, such as the post-incident management of the investigation. The formulation of the terms of reference will require discussion with the person appointed to chair the inquiry. I will also wish to discuss the draft terms of reference with those most directly affected by the inquiry, with a view to shaping a remit that is clearly focused. We must not lose sight of the purpose of the inquiry, which is to establish the circumstances leading to and following the tragic death of Mr Bayoh in order to identify any steps that could prevent deaths in similar circumstances and to improve the post-incident management following such deaths.

Let me be clear. For any independent scrutiny of this case to be rigorous and credible, it must address the question of whether Mr Bayoh’s race played a part in how the incident was approached and dealt with by the police. In saying that, I am not prejudging the answer to that question; that will be for the inquiry, which will be independent of ministers. In order to do that effectively, the inquiry must be equipped with the necessary diversity of expertise and background to scrutinise the extent to which race was a factor in the case.

I will be discussing with the inquiry’s chair how we can build diversity into the structures of the inquiry. The chair will also be instrumental in helping to shape the terms of reference. The formal process directed to appointing a chair will begin shortly, and it will be important to ensure that the chair will command the confidence of those involved and indeed the wider public. That will include ensuring an appropriate level of expertise in taking forward the remit of the inquiry. That, too, will take time, but I will return to the chamber early next year to provide a full statement confirming the inquiry’s terms of reference and the chair.

If systemic issues emerge that were causal or contributory factors in this case, it is right that the inquiry addresses them. While we must be careful not to expand the terms of reference beyond the inquiry’s core purpose, not least to avoid further delaying the process for all involved, it is important that all relevant issues are covered. However, it is not intended that the inquiry will consider the wider framework for investigations into serious incidents involving the police, given that, as members will be aware, Dame Elish Angiolini is currently reviewing law and practice for complaint handling, investigations and misconduct in relation to policing. There might be areas of shared interest between that review and the public inquiry, but Dame Elish Angiolini’s review is not investigating individual cases, whereas the primary purpose of the public inquiry will be to examine the circumstances of this specific case.

I am, of course, aware of other families who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances and are looking for answers. My thoughts—and those of colleagues in the chamber—remain with those families. In a number of cases, complex investigations are still under way, while other cases might be subject to other processes, including the fatal accident inquiry process. Each of those cases will have its own distinct features, and it is important to allow those processes to run their course.

As I set out in my letter to the Justice Committee last week, I recognise that there are questions about the arrangements within the Scottish Prison Service and the national health service for handling deaths in prison custody. That is why I have asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons for Scotland to undertake a review of the handling of deaths in prison custody. I have also asked Professor Nancy Loucks of Families Outside to work alongside HMCIPS and provide external expertise. The review will have a sharp human rights focus and will ensure that the voices of families of those in prison is heard.

Turning back to policing, it is worth noting that, since the establishment of Police Scotland, public scrutiny of policing has never been greater. That is understandably the case. It is essential that public and parliamentary confidence in the police remains strong, and I know that members will share my view that police officers and staff across Scotland work hard to keep us all safe.

In its 2018-19 annual report, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland stated:

“we continue to be impressed by the determination of officers and staff to delivering an effective policing service to the communities they serve.”

We know that a majority of adults also said that the police were doing a good or excellent job in their local area. As a Government, we remain committed to excellence in policing, and our commitment to protect Police Scotland’s revenue budget has resulted in the organisation’s annual budget increasing by more than £80 million since 2016-17.

Of course, policing by consent depends on accountability, and it is vital that the police are held to account when things go wrong. Having spoken to the chief constable regularly, I know that he values such accountability. I am clear that a public inquiry will provide the independent and robust mechanism that is needed to give us that clear understanding. As with all statutory inquiries, it will be inquisitorial rather than adversarial. It will also identify lessons and improvements for the future to help to prevent deaths in similar circumstances and to build trust and confidence in policing.

I want to finish by again expressing my condolences to Mr Bayoh’s family and friends, who have been unwavering in their search for answers. I am confident that a statutory public inquiry under the 2005 act will provide the best means of establishing the circumstances leading to and following Mr Bayoh’s tragic death.