Socialist Worker

Mikey Powell inquest: Police give evidence

Issue No. 2181

Police officers have been giving evidence to the inquest into the death of Mikey Powell who died in police custody in 2003.

Sergeant Russell Tringham, who was a police constable stationed at Walsall Road Police Station at the time, told the inquest that he had been attending to another call when he received an emergency radio message to go to Wilton Road.

When he arrived, he saw Mikey on his back, handcuffed with his arms above him, resisting arrest by three police officers.

Sergeant Tringham did not assist with the restraint and went looking for missing police equipment for a couple of minutes.

When he returned, six officers helped to reposition the handcuffs behind Mikey and a large van had been called to the scene.

Sergeant Tringham said he stood outside the van while officers moved Mikey, who was now calm and not struggling, head first into the van and placed him on his left side with his face facing the side door.

Sergeant Tringham said he was then distracted by the prisoner’s distressed sister as she tried to get past police and to her brother.

He said: “I positioned myself between the officers and her to block her path. At the same time the inspector came over to try to calm her down and reassure her as I was protecting the officers.”

Sergeant Tringham then followed the police van in his own car to the station in case there was another struggle and he was needed.

On arrival, he helped carry Mikey, who was face down and not resisting or saying anything, by holding the spare fabric of his jeans around the middle of his body.

When they placed him on the cell mattress, he noticed that he wasn’t breathing.

The handcuffs were removed and together with another constable, Sergeant Tringham started resuscitating Mr Powell using medical equipment.

He said: “We stopped to check his pulse. I could see his chest rising and continued for 10 to 15 minutes until the paramedics arrived. His condition didn’t improve.”

Mikey’s family have thanked Sergeant Tringham’s for his efforts.

A another police officer who witnessed the death of Mikey said he “was still alive and conscious” on arrival at a police station.

PC Luke Gill, was 20 years-old when Mikey died and had been patrolling the streets for less than one year.

He told the court his first impressions of the area was that there were “a lot of gun crime”.

PC Gill said when he arrived in Wilton Road on, he saw the 38-year-old factory worker being restrained by three police officers.

He said another officer, PC Tim Lewis, had told him he thought Mikey “had a gun and had smashed one of the windows of a police vehicle.”

He described Mikey as “lying on his back with his hands cuffed above his head”.

He later said Mikey had been repositioned on to his front so officers could replace handcuffs on his wrists and carry him to a waiting police van in that position.

PC Gill was one of three officers who sat in the back of the van – one held onto Mikey’s legs, while PC Gill said he held on to his right shoulder. He said Mikey had been placed into the vehicle “head first” and placed on to the floor on his “left hand side”.

“He was in the same position at all times. I am positive he was not on his front.”

“We tried to speak to him, he was not responding verbally but was looking around and on a few occasions was struggling. He would kick his legs out in a stamping motion.”

Rajiv Menon counsel for the Powell family, re-read a statement by forensic pathologist Jack Crane who had earlier told the jury that if Mr Powell had been placed on his front in the van “he was sure he would have died from positional asphyxia”.

“Even if he was on his side, I am still of the opinion he died of positional asphyxia,” Crane had said.

In other evidence the police inspector on duty when Mikey died in custody defended his decision to send the father-of-three to a police station instead of a hospital.

Anthony Guest, who has since retired, told the inquest that he believed Mikey’s behaviour had been “violent” in the moments before he was put into a police van.

Mikey was also said to have run towards a police patrol car with an unknown weapon before smashing a rear window. Guest said he arrived at the scene and saw Mikey being restrained by three police officers. “Michael Powell was struggling quite violently, his whole body was moving. He was struggling to break free.”

Guest said repeated attempts to calm Mikey down had failed, which led the former inspector to believe he “may have been having a mental health episode.”

Following a physical assessment Guest said he noticed there was some blood on Mikey’s T-shirt and a deep cut on his wrist.

“It was a nasty cut but not a severe cut. It was not bleeding. It did not give me any concern it needed treating as an emergency.”

The court heard evidence from another attending officer, Sergeant Christopher Wilson. He had said that if the decision was his to make, Mikey would have been sent to hospital and not into police cells. Sgt Wilson said he was concerned by the wrist injury and the fact that a family friend had expressed fears Mikey may have had his drink spiked. As the superior officer, Guest said his decision had been “dictated by the behaviour of the subject.”

Guest admitted he had “made a mistake” when giving details of his team’s conduct in September 2003.

He had told the court he saw Mikey lying on his back before being lifted by the restraining officers and placed in the patrol van feet first – while still lying on his back.

His original transcript interview, taken by Northamptonshire Police, was read out by counsel for the family. When asked about how Mikey was taken to the police van, he had said he was carried face down, placed in the van head first before being turned face down by officers. Guest said he had been speaking to Mikey ‘s sister Sharon at the time and witnessed the event in his “peripheral vision”.

The inquest continues


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News
Wed 9 Dec 2009, 14:59 GMT
Issue No. 2181
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