Hundreds of people whose loved ones who killed by the police or died in custody held a procession through central London last Saturday.
The annual United Friends and Families Campaign (UFFC) event has been taking place annually for seven years now. This year the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead by police in London in July, joined with other families to march to Downing Street.
Alex Pereira, Jean’s cousin, spoke to Socialist Worker. “It’s time to make them pay for their crime,” he said. “If you kill someone you should go to jail. We have to fight for justice. If we don’t, they will just carry on. We intend to fight for the rest of our lives.”
He added that he wanted to see an end to the shoot to kill policy, and the resignation of Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair, who has been accused of covering up the events surrounding the shooting of Jean in an anti-terrorist operation.
Irene Stanley also attended the march. She is the widow of Harry Stanley. Harry was killed in 1999 by armed police in east London who mistook the chair leg he was carrying for a shotgun.
She said that she stood in solidarity with the de Menezes family. Irene has fought for six years for justice. But the Crown Prosecution Service recently decided that the police who shot Harry would not face charges.
The case has highlighted the difficulties faced by the families whose loved ones are killed by police. Not a single officer has been successfully prosecuted for any of the 30 fatal shootings by armed police in the past 12 years.
Irene told Socialist Worker, “I’ve met lots of new people on this year’s march—that means that things are getting worse. We’re all fighting for justice, but we’re not getting it.
“It’s a long, hard fight. But I believe we can change this policy and I hope there will be a big campaign over shoot to kill.”
Helen Shaw is co-director of the Inquest campaign group, which works with many of the families represented on the march.
“I share the frustration felt by many of the families,” she said. “We’ve had some major setbacks and the small gains are not delivering justice. Despite that, the families get support and solidarity through coming together for events like this.”
Helen said the decision not to prosecute the officers involved in the shooting of Harry Stanley was “of concern, because it felt like there was a political motivation”. It also boded badly for the de Menezes family, she added.
The dignified march along Whitehall ended at Downing Street where some of the families delivered statements, including a letter opposing shoot to kill, to the prime minister.
Outside Downing Street there was an angry rally. Janet Alder, whose brother Christopher Alder died in custody in Hull in April 1998, told protesters, “We will come here year after year until we get the justice we deserve.
“We have a culture in this country where the police look after their own. Where is the accountability? But I believe we have to fight for our rights. We will never be defeated.”
Many of those who attended the UFFC march lost loved ones held in the “care” of the authorities. Some of them told Socialist Worker about their cases:
Patricia Coker’s son Paul died at Plumstead police station, south east London, in August. “He was a wonderful, intelligent young man, with lots of charm,” she said. “To have him taken away by the state in this way is terrifying.
“I’ve only now realised just how incompetent this government is in relation to the police. The people at the top are simply not doing what needs to be done.
“A disproportionate number of those who die in these circumstances are African Caribbean, like my son. Is this because they treat all people of colour as criminals?
“It is bad enough to lose a child, but to have someone tell you he died in custody is a double blow. I intend to fight for justice for the rest of my life.”
Pauline Campbell’s daughter Sarah died at Styal Prison in 2003. An inquest jury found there had been a failure in the prison’s duty of care to her.
“I’ve held 15 demonstrations and been arrested nine times,” she said. “But unless the home office apologises and makes an offer of compensation, I would like to sue them.”
Gwen Calvert attended the UFFC event for first time this year. Her son, Paul Calvert, was taken into Pentonville prison for breach of bail conditions. Two days later he hanged himself.
“They should have put him in a hospital, not alone in a cell,” said Gwen. “Paul was 40 and left two children. I feel that the number of prison deaths is a scandal.”
The jury in the trial of two police officers charged with the manslaughter of Robin Goodenough was due retire to consider its verdict this week. Robin died after being stopped by police in September 2003.