After the verdict that Mark Duggan's killing was lawful, Kezia Kinder looks at Duggan's death in the context of a legacy of police impunity in part due to the failings of the IPCC
Today we heard that Mark Duggan was “lawfully killed” by armed police, despite huge inconsistencies in collective stories of the MET police force.
To understand the injustice of this, you have to immediately place it in its proper historical context – the consistent legacy of racism and injustice by the UK criminal justice system.
In April 1998, 37-year-old Christopher Alder died on the floor of a police station in Hull, face down, handcuffed and with his trousers round his ankles. As he lay dying, police officers stood around him chatting; this was after he had been dragged, unconscious, from the back of a police van having been brought in from a local hospital, and thrown on the floor. It took over ten minutes for police to realise he had stopped breathing, by then it was too late.
In 2008, forty-year-old Sean Rigg was left unconscious on the floor of a Brixton police station for over half an hour before any attempt at resuscitation was made. He was later pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
The two cases above may be shocking, but they are not isolated incidents. Within the period of 1990-2012, over 1400 people, including Mark Duggan, have died in custody or otherwise following contact with police. No police officers have been convicted in relation to any of these deaths.
While investigations have followed these deaths, they have often seemed little more than a formality to exonerate the police from any responsibility, and have never sought to have any officers disciplined or taken off the police force for good.
All deaths in police custody are required to be investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), however the lack of criminal convictions for those officers involved shows just how biased the IPCC is towards those they are supposed to police. In the case of Sean Rigg, officers from the IPCC did not arrive at the scene until three hours after his death, where they chose to write up a press release with police officers rather than examine the scene where Rigg had died. The initial statement issued to the media confirmed the police version of events before any investigations had even started. It was a further four hours until the scene of Rigg's death was even examined. Most importantly, the IPCC would not release the information which held the most incriminating evidence until issued with a coroner’s order and even then only after heavy lobbying by Rigg’s family.
In Christopher Alder’s case, the five officers present at the custody desk at the time of his death were all acquitted of related charges, and continued with their work in the police with no repercussions, despite having gone to trial and before an internal inquiry led by Humberside police. By the time the IPCC published their findings in 2006 – eight years after Alder’s death – four of the five officers had retired. The report stated that the officers had been guilty of the “most serious neglect of duty” but this was disputed by Humberside Police Federation and no further action was brought against those involved.
A similar pattern can be seen in the IPCC’s investigation into the shooting of Mark Duggan. As in the case of Sean Rigg, one of the first responses of the IPCC was to release a statement to the media which reproduced the police lie that the shooting of Duggan was a direct result of him having shot at the police officers first. The IPCC also authorised the removal of the car in which Duggan had been travelling – which contained vital evidence of the shooting – from the crime scene; this happened before anyone from the IPCC had even reached the scene.
Moreover, none of the eleven officers at the scene of Duggan’s shooting answered questions in IPCC interviews, but rather submitted written answers. No officer was indicted to give evidence under caution, while the officer who fired the fatal shots answered oral questions in written form two days later. With no oral interviews of those officers at the scene complete, in August last year the IPCC declared that all their evidence indicated that Duggan had been lawfully killed, despite Duggan’s fingerprints not being found on either the gun he was alleged to have been carrying nor the sock it was being carried in.
Furthermore, the Guardian reported that the Duggan family had received no report, complete or incomplete, from the IPCC, with their solicitor stating that they “would say the IPCC have been tried, tested and found very wanting.” And that the family “do not have a draft report or final report and don’t know when we are getting either from the IPCC”.
Following this afternoon’s verdict, Tottenham MP David Lammy stated that:
“It remains to be seen whether the IPCC will be well-placed to answer these questions. It has become clear, in the two years since the Duggan shooting, that Britain does not currently have the strong, efficient and independent regulatory body that is necessary for the public to have full confidence in the police.”
This is putting it very lightly, but it is a sign of the times when a Labour MP question the credibility of police regulation at all.
Righteous anger was seen outside the court today after the verdict, the same sort of anger that sparked the Tottenham riots in August 2011 after the killing of Mark Duggan. Where there’s no justice, there’s no peace.
Kezia Kinder is a member of the International Socialist Group at Glasgow University, and co-editor with the ISG.
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