The ninth annual United Friends and Families Campaign remembrance march in London for those who have died in custody saw angry speeches by bereaved relatives outside Downing Street. Sadly, as with every year, there were new faces on the march.
One such family was that of Jason McPherson, a young black man. On 18 January he was traveling in London by car, with two friends. Jason was on his way to borrow some money from his father for an IT course that he was due to start the following Monday.
The police pulled them over and took them to Notting Hill police station. Jason who was asthmatic and overweight had some kind of fit. Despite the swift arrival of an ambulance he died shortly after.
His family has commissioned an independent post mortem.
Also attending the demonstration was Pauline Campbell who has just won a victory for women prisoners everywhere. On 2 January she was arrested for the 14th time at a prison protest following the death in custody of Caroline Powell. This was the 14th protest since the death of her own daughter Sarah in Styal prison, Cheshire, during January 2003.
She was acquitted, despite the best efforts of the police, who had brought a camera team to her protest. The district judge said: “You are in the vanguard of public opinion, seeking to bring about change.” Pauline also had the support of the deceased prisoner's family.
She said, “Caroline Powell's grieving parents were shocked that I was facing a criminal trial for protesting against the death of their daughter but, when I spoke to them by telephone after the hearing, they were pleased the case had been dismissed.'
Those attending the march represented just a tiny fraction of the families who have lost loved ones due to the violence or neglect of the state. With nearly 600 deaths in custody during 2006 – the highest ever – the situation for detainees and their families is clearly getting worse.