Leaders: Custody death inquiry needs to be swift

Sheku Bayoh's mother Aminata Bayoh at the press conference. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
Sheku Bayoh's mother Aminata Bayoh at the press conference. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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WHAT were the exact circumstances surrounding the death of a Fife man, Sheku Bayoh, in police custody?

Why, five weeks after his death, has his body only just been released with the cause of death still not determined?

And why has an investigation by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner resulted in repeated failure in obtaining statements from the officers ­involved?

These are among the searching questions being asked at his funeral in Kirkcaldy yesterday. It was attended by hundreds of mourners and passed peacefully and with dignity. But that exemplary behaviour should not be taken as acquiescence in a police response to this tragedy – one which requires a full and thorough explanation.

Details are scant, with no explanation provided to the family of Sheku Bayoh as to what happened and why.

He was held following an incident in the town’s Hayfield Road area on Sunday 3 May but died in police custody later that day.

The family claims to have been given no less than five versions of what happened. The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said officers had been responding to a call of a man brandishing a knife.

An investigation by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) is still under way.

Pirc says it has made several so far unsuccessful attempts to get statements from the officers concerned. It now says the officers have now agreed to provide statements. These, together with information already gathered throughout the course of the investigation to date, will now be considered.

Of course every care should be taken to avoid a rushed inquiry. This is particularly the case with a fatality and when a female police officer has sustained significant injuries and remains off work. But the pace of this inquiry seems positively glacial.

Earlier this week a Scottish Police Federation lawyer said Mr Bayoh’s family had promoted a “completely inaccurate and misleading account” of the initial incident and what followed.

But even if true this should not stand in the way of a more expeditious police inquiry and explanation as to what actually happened. Mr Bayoh, who had two young sons, had no previous history of violence.

The family lawyer says Pirc has confirmed that nine police officers had refused to speak to them or even provide statements. Little wonder the Bayoh family are deeply upset and angry that they have been accused of being liars.

The family – and the wider public – are now surely entitled to full and robust answers at the earliest opportunity as to the events within the police station and the cause of Mr Bayoh’s death.

Gluten scare hits the most careful

IF YOU are unable to eat gluten, it’s hardly reassuring to be warned that the bakery items you have just bought may in fact… contain gluten.

The Edinburgh-based company called Genius, one of the UK market leaders in gluten-free products, has now acted to recall three items – its Genius brand crumpets and Livwell crumpets as well as its Livwell garlic naan.

Consumers suffering from a gluten allergy can’t be too careful. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, can have serious consequences for people with coeliac disease. It can also cause unpleasant digestive problems for those with a less serious intolerance. Even a small amount can cause symptoms in the estimated one in 100 people across the UK who are coeliac sufferers.

Separately, yesterday the Food Standards Agency issued an alert over a further 17 own-brand gluten-free supermarket products from Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. The items have also been removed from sale as a precautionary measure due to possible gluten contamination. It is not known whether the two alerts are linked.

Even the most tightly regulated production processes can be struck by unforeseen error. Genius stressed yesterday that the products affected contain a very low level of gluten and are considered to be of very low risk. However, in such an eventuality, the public has to be alerted and prompt action taken to withdraw affected products. It’s a food scare that consumers who take special care to avoid food items containing specific ingredients can certainly do without.