Socialist Worker

Mikey Powell inquest: Pathologist says 'critical event' took place in police van

Issue No. 2180

Mikey Powell died in police custody because of the way he was restrained, a medical expert told the ongoing inquest into the Birmingham man’s death.

Evidence is continuing to be heard at an inquest at Sutton Coldfield town hall into the death of Mikey Powell.

He died six years ago in a prison cell at Thornhill Road police station after being arrested outside his family home in Lozells, Birmingham.

Officers used CS gas and physical force to control Mikey after he smashed windows at his mother’s home in September 2003.

He was handcuffed, bundled into a van and taken to Thornhill Road police station in Handsworth where he died after suffering a cardiac arrest. It is not known if Mikey was forced to lie face down or on his side in the police van.

Jack Crane, a forensic pathologist, said a “critical” event had happened in the van, which caused Mikey to die of positional asphyxia—a condition that occurs when someone’s position prevents them from breathing adequately.

Dr Crane, a former Northern Ireland state pathologist, said, “Laying on your front with one’s hands handcuffed behind one’s back with an individual exhausted is one of the most dangerous positions an individual can be put in.

“We have a person fully conscious when put in the van. A short time later he’s effectively dead and suffers a cardiac arrest.

“It seems to me that some critical event occurred when Michael Powell was in the police vehicle.

“Laying face down there’s a very real risk of positional asphyxia, on his side there’s still a risk of positional asphyxia for an individual handcuffed and already fatigued.”

Mikey had carried the sickle cell trait (SCT), a genetic blood disorder found in small numbers of people from minority ethnic groups, which research has shown can be fatal following extreme physical exertion.

Pathologists who had previously given evidence at the inquest said SCT, coupled with Mikey’s physical activity at the time of arrest, may have led directly to his death.

But Dr Crane, who attended the second post mortem in September 2003, dismissed the condition as contributing to his death.

He also said that the CS gas used to restrain Mikey in no way caused his death, nor did faint traces of cocaine or Gaviscon found in his blood, urine and public hair.

Dr Crane said he based his verdict of positional asphyxia on the facts that Mikey did not have a high body temperature and had not sweated, had no sickling in his lungs, was not dehydrated and had shown no signs of muscle damage or myoglobin in his urine and kidneys.

The inquest continues

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 1 Dec 2009, 18:34 GMT
Issue No. 2180
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.