A public inquiry is to be held into the death of Sheku Bayoh, the Scottish Government has announced.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said that it was ‘imperative’ that the circumstances leading up to the 31-year-old’s death in police custody were examined in full.
It follows yesterday’s confirmation that no police officer would be prosecuted in relation to the incident.
Mr Yousaf said: “It is imperative that the circumstances leading up to Mr Bayoh’s death and the events that followed, including whether race played a part, are examined in full and in public.”
Mr Bayoh’s family and their lawyer Aamer Anwar were at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday to discuss the case with Mr Yousaf and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
They welcomed the announcement, describing it as a “critical moment for Scottish justice”.
Mr Anwar said: “It follows that the inquiry must identify each and every individual and organisation who must bear responsibility and accountability for this tragedy and the mishandling of the aftermath.
“We also believe that the inquiry must focus on whether institutional racism, discrimination, inequality and cultural attitudes were responsible for what occurred – to what extent did the life of Sheku Bayoh not count, or could have counted more?
“These concerns are inescapable as far as many of the core participants are concerned.
“The family are deeply grateful to the Scottish Government for their announcement of a public inquiry.
“This is an important first step in holding power to account and establishing the truth, because without truth there can be no justice.”
Full statement issued by @AamerAnwar on behalf of the family of #ShekuBayoh following meeting with @NicolaSturgeon & @HumzaYousaf announcement of Independent Public Inquiry into Sheku’s Death In Police Custody, along with statement by @DebatINQUEST https://t.co/clSHHFLFY3
— Aamer Anwar🎗✊🏽 (@AamerAnwar) November 12, 2019
Rhe First Minister said: “We have taken the decision that we will establish a full public inquiry under the Inquiries Act as an alternative to a fatal accident inquiry.
“Part of the reasoning for that is that a fatal accident inquiry would only be able to look at the circumstances leading up to the death of Sheku Bayoh, whereas a public inquiry will be able to look at what happened after his death as well.”
She added: “My message to his family today, as well as repeating my deep condolences for their loss and what they’ve suffered over these past few years, is that they have a right to the answers to the questions that they have and I hope that a full public inquiry can deliver those answers and also tell us if there are any lessons that require to be learned from what is undoubtedly a tragic case.”
The Bayoh family said on Monday that they had lost confidence in the Lord Advocate to deal with the wider issues raised by the father-of-two’s death via a fatal accident inquiry.
“The FAI system lacks the remit to deal with serious public concerns,” Mr Anwar said.
Father-of-two Sheku Bayoh died after being restrained by up to nine officers in the street near his home in Kirkcaldy in May 2015.
He was taken to Kirkcaldy’s Victoria Hospital but was pronounced dead around two hours after coming into contact with police.
His body was covered from head to toe in injuries, including gashes and scratches all over his face, a broken rib and petechial haemorrhages in his eyes – which is a sign of asphyxiation.
A post mortem examination revealed the presence of drugs in his system may have contributed to his death.
Police said they had been responding to reports of a man behaving erratically while carrying a knife and have denied any wrongdoing.
Opposition parties at Holyrood welcomed the announcement of the public inquiry but asked Mr Yousaf about the decision by the Lord Advocate not to press charges against the police officers involved.
Labour’s James Kelly said: “It is shocking in modern Scotland the circumstances in which Mr Bayoh has lost his life and it is unacceptable nobody has been held legally responsible.”
He stressed while he “strongly supported” the public inquiry, there was concern in this case and other cases about the lack of transparency around the Lord Advocate’s decisions on non-prosecution and the granting of immunity for police officers and prison officers.
Mr Kelly demanded to know if the public inquiry would look at “recent cases and review the protocol the Lord Advocate follows when reaching a decision for non-prosecution or granting immunity”.
Green MSP John Finnie asked if the inquiry would have the power to compel witnesses to attend, “particularly perhaps former police officers, including ex-chief constable Stephen House”.
Mr Yousaf said he understood witnesses would be able to be compelled to come to the inquiry but he also stressed any decision about immunity from prosecution was a question for the Lord Advocate.
“It would absolutely unacceptable for the Justice Secretary to make a decision on who should receive immunity from prosecution,” he said.
He added while the inquiry would be focusing on what happened to Mr Bayoh there may be some issues “which may well be relevant to other cases that have gone by previously”.