Chris Marshall: Too few answers for Sheku Bayoh family

Hundreds of people, including Sheku Bayoh's family, pictured, attended a funeral procession in Kirkcaldy. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Hundreds of people, including Sheku Bayoh's family, pictured, attended a funeral procession in Kirkcaldy. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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MORE than a month on from the death of Sheku Bayoh in police custody, his family have a number of questions, but as yet no answers about what happened to him.

The 31-year-old father-of-two, who was originally from Sierra Leone, died in Kirkcaldy during a police incident in which a female officer was also injured.

In the weeks that have followed, a series of troubling allegations have been made by his family’s legal team, namely that the police initially offered a number of different accounts of what happened and that an unconscious Mr Bayoh was taken to hospital still wearing handcuffs and leg restraints.

But perhaps most troubling of all have been the revelations about police accountability and the ability of the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) to properly investigate Police Scotland.

Unlike its English equivalent, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), the Pirc has no statutory powers to compel police officers to give witness evidence.

In this current case – undoubtedly the most high-profile the Pirc has dealt with – the nine officers involved waited more than a month to give evidence to the investigation.

The officers’ lawyer has said his clients were merely waiting to have their status confirmed as witnesses rather than suspects, and consented to being interviewed within hours of being told they were the former.

But whatever the reason, it means eyewitness evidence from some of the last people to see Mr Bayoh alive was not taken until more than 30 days after his death.

Are we to believe the police would accept a similar situation should a key witness to an unexplained death refuse to speak to them for over a month?

There are also concerns over the use of operational statements, the reports police officers can be required to provide to their superiors accounting for their activities.

Answering a topical question on Mr Bayoh’s case in the Scottish Parliament last week, justice secretary Michael Matheson confirmed an agreement made earlier this year between the Crown Office and Police Scotland that allows officers to withhold operational statements if they could later incriminate themselves in cases where there is a criminal complaint.

While the Lord Advocate’s guidance was well known within Police Scotland, it’s not clear if anyone bothered to tell the Pirc.

Regardless of the Pirc’s eventual findings, there will undoubtedly be questions raised as a result of this tragic case. The ability of the Pirc to effectively carry out the job it was set up to do may yet be among them.