After a six-year wait, next week the inquest into the death of Mikey Powell in police custody in Birmingham will finally begin at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall.
Mikey Powell was a fit and healthy 38 year old black man and a father of three young children. He had suffered several short episodes of mental illness in the past from which he had recovered. One of these episodes occurred on 7 September 2003. Police had previously dealt appropriately with Mikey and were called again on this occasion by concerned family members. During the incident in which Mikey was detained outside his mother’s house in the Lozells area of Birmingham, officers drove a police car at Mikey, hitting him, then used CS spray and a baton while restraining him. Even though Mikey was injured, rather than taking him to a hospital the officers drove him instead to Thornhill Road Police Station where he died at some point during his detention.
In 2006, there was a three-month Crown Court trial of ten West Midlands Police officers, eight of whom faced charges of misconduct in public office and two of charges of dangerous driving. All were subsequently acquitted. The verdict was met with dismay by the family and their supporters.
After arguing successfully for a jury inquest into Mikey’s death, the inquest was further adjourned from March 2009 because of the family’s legal challenge of the failure of the coroner and the investigating force (Northamptonshire Police) to provide the family with access to 4,000 documents relating to the police investigation into Mikey’s death. The High Court ordered that the family be granted access to these and the new inquest date was set.
Mikey was a cousin of the poet and writer, Benjamin Zephaniah, who is a patron of two organisations I am involved with - Newham Monitoring Project and INQUEST. Another cousin, Tippa Napthali, is a former colleague at the charity I work for in Forest Gate. Tippa said in a press release from INQUEST (PDF):
Such deaths in custody like Mikey’s frequently fade from public interest while the grief and anguish of affected families can continue for many years. We have only ever wanted answers to the many questions as yet unanswered, and hope that this inquest will mark an important stage in our continued quest for truth and accountability for Mikey’s death.Deborah Coles co-director of INQUEST said:
The truly shocking circumstances of this death will finally be subjected to proper public scrutiny. It is profoundly disturbing that a black man in need of medical treatment and care died following contact with the police and the issues his death raises about the use of force and the care of vulnerable detainees in police stations are as pertinent today as they were six years ago.The Powell family will be represented at the inquest by an old friend and former Newham Monitoring Project worker Rajiv Menon, now a barrister at Garden Court Chambers.
The family campaign has set up a blog for the inquest at http://mikeypowellinquest.wordpress.com/
The inquest starts at 10am on Wednesday 4 November and takes place at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, Upper Clifton Road, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, B73 6AB (close to Sutton Coldfield railway station). Please come and show your support for the family.