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Deaths in custody point to ‘structural racism’ in Britain, says UN panel

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Issue 2602
Families and friends demand justice for loved ones who died after contact with police
Families and friends demand justice for loved ones who died after contact with police (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The scale of deaths of black people after contact with the police is so high that even United Nations agencies have felt the need to speak out.

The findings underline that the Tories’ persecution of the Windrush Generation is not an aberration the result of personal failings of home secretary Amber Rudd and Theresa May. Instead it is part of a broader pattern of systematic state racism.

A panel of UN human rights experts has said Metropolitan Police data shows a disproportionate number of minority ethnic people dying due to excessive use of force by state security forces.

People of African descent and of ethnic minority background, in particular young African and Caribbean men are twice as likely to die after the use of force by police officers. That’s according to figures released in August 2017.

“The deaths reinforce the experiences of structural racism, over-policing and criminalisation of people of African descent and other minorities in the UK,” said the panel.

Noting that there had never been a successful prosecution of a police officer for a death in police custody, the panel said, “This points to the lack of accountability and the impunity with which law enforcement and state agencies operate.”

E Tendayi Achiume, the UN special rapporteur on racism, is set to begin a 12-day visit to Britain on Monday.


At least five black men died in Britain after restraint by police last year. They included Edson Da Costa, Darren Cumberbatch, Rashan Charles, Shane Bryant and Nuno Cardoso.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said, “The UN warning comes as no surprise. The Angiolini Review ordered by Theresa May and published in 2017 stated that racial stereotyping may be a ‘significant contributory factor’ in deaths in custody.

“Far too many have died. And it is a disgrace that the Home Secretary has taken too few meaningful steps to address racial disparities in our justice system.”

Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, which supports the families of people who die in police custody, and which gave evidence to the UN panel, said, “The racial stereotype of the black man as ‘big, black and dangerous’, ‘violent’ and ‘volatile’, when woven into police culture and practise, can lead to the disproportionate and fatal use of force.

“There is a double-discrimination experienced by black people with mental ill health, with the stereotype of ‘mad, bad and dangerous’ too often informing treatment.”

Meanwhile the Tories are rallying round Rudd. Environment secretary Michael Gove has preposterously claimed that agitation over the Windrush scandal is intended to distract “from the difficulties that the Labour Party faces with handling prejudice in its own ranks.”

“Labour are attempting to weaponise this. I think that is quite wrong.”

His comments are disgusting. But they show the way that those who peddle false allegations of antisemitism in Labour are chiming precisely with a Tory agenda

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