CWU Young Workers showed solidarity with the Bayoh family’s campaign for justice (Picture: @SUTR Scotland)

The inquiry into the death of Sheku Bayoh has heard further testimony that raises questions about how police deal with the incident itself and the aftermath.

Six police officers restrained Bayoh in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in 2015. He died handcuffed in hospital. His body had more than 24 lacerations, cuts and bruises. Bayoh’s family believes he died from positional asphyxia because of the tactics used by police, who they allege overreacted and were motivated by racial bias.

The Crown Office later decided no police officers would face charges over Bayoh’s death.

But the outcry was so great that the Scottish government set up this inquiry in 2019. It is investigating the circumstances of Bayoh’s death and whether race was a factor.

Phase four of the Inquiry began this week in Edinburgh. On the first morning, about 60 people from Stand Up to Racism and trade unions came to show solidarity with the search for justice.

There were speeches from unions including UCU, NASUWT, FBU, Unite, Unison Black Workers’ Committee, and a statement from the Scottish TUC union federation.

Kadi Johnson, Bayoh’s sister, said to the crowd that they gave her strength to keep fighting, and that she is here because of the continued support of the anti-racist movement.

Later in the week retired Chief Superintendent Garry McEwan in evidence to the inquiry denied that he had shrugged when Collette Bell, Bayoh’s partner, asked if the police had battered Bayoh to death

He also said that within two minutes of hearing that Bayoh had died, he took the step of declaring a critical incident for the first time in his 25-year police career.

He feared Bayoh’s death could cause public disorder similar to the riots that took place in England in 2011, after a black man, Mark Duggan, was shot dead by police.

In the hours that followed, prosecutors appointed the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC) to take over the investigation into Bayoh’s death.

McEwan told the inquiry that from the moment they arrived in Fife, it was obvious that PIRC did not have enough people to do the job. “At no time did they have the capacity to do it,” he said.

“When an independent investigation team arrive for an incident of this scale and there’s five or six members of staff, you can see clearly that they’re not going to have the capacity to push this forward.”

McEwan also spoke about how police informed Bayoh’s loved ones of his death.

The first was given to his partner Collette Bell at Kirkcaldy Police Station. Senior officers had decided not to tell her that he had been in contact with the police.

Asked about that decision, McEwan said it had “not been the right thing to do”.

In the middle of the afternoon, detectives met Bayoh’s sister Kadi Johnson and her husband Adi Johnson. Again, no mention was made of police contact.

McEwan said he took it upon himself to visit the family to tell them as much as he could, despite PIRC asking him not to do so.

What followed was a fraught and angry meeting with people “absolutely distraught” over what they had been told by the police, McEwan said.

he Scottish Police Federation had advised the officers not to give statements about what happened until their status as witnesses or suspects was made clear.

On Monday the inquiry heard about a search carried out at the home of the Saeed family, close friends of Sheku Bayoh, on the afternoon of his death. Police constable Rhuaridh Fraser told the inquiry he could not remember whether consent was given to him when entering the house.

Saadia Rashid had previously told the inquiry of her “traumatic nightmare experience” when the officers asked her and her family to vacate their home.

She said the officers told her they did not need a warrant and that she was left feeling she had no choice but to leave.

She also said she was not aware of anything that would connect Bayoh to the house.

She said, “What did Shek’s death have to do with our house, why were we being thrown out of our house, what were they looking for in our house, what were they searching for that could possibly have to do with Shek’s death?”

Fraser said he felt unwelcome at the property, partly because of what he saw as a language barrier, and also because he felt he was causing “anxiety” to the residents.

He said, “There was no English forthcoming from the room, so it was my assumption after the first person I tried to directly communicate with and there was no English with that person.

“So my assumption thereafter was that nobody had a good grasp on English or felt confident to speak.”

He was later questioned by the Bayoh family lawyer, Claire Mitchell KC, on “unconscious bias” and on his understanding of racism. Rashid had said she felt the family may have been “treated differently” due to their race and religion.

The officer said this was not the case, and that he does not have any overt or unconscious biases.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Bracadale, continues.

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