Monday 9 November 2009

Birmingham man who died in police custody was roughly treated, inquest told

From the Birmingham Post:

The sister of a Birmingham man who died in police custody has spoken about her brother’s health and the behaviour of police officers the night he was arrested.

Sharon Powell said her 38-year-old brother Michael was a “loving, family man” and despite a history of mental illness he was “fit, well and healthy”.

Michael Powell died in a prison cell at Thornhill Road Police Station in Handsworth after being arrested for smashing windows and damaging his mother’s home in Wilton Road, Lozells, in September 2003.

His family have maintained that the police’s heavy handed behaviour during the arrest was racially motivated and he would have been treated differently had he been white.

During the inquest held at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall into Mr Powell’s death, it emerged that the father-of-three had a history of mental episodes which included being found on a roof and being treated by a mental health team at his home in September, 1999.

It was also revealed that Mr Powell’s family had paid for mental health treatment at the private Woodbourne Priory Hospital in Edgbaston in 1994.

Ms Powell told coroner Stephen Campbell she received a call from her sister Judith at 12.30am on September 7, 2003, while she was talking to another friend on a different phone, informing her that the police had been called to her mother’s house.

When she arrived at the house, the road was blocked off by people and police. She said: “There was about six to eight police officers, I saw my brother on the floor, these police officers on top of him.”

“I couldn’t see any part of his body apart from his shoes.”

Ms Powell said after the van drove off, she took details from a number of witnesses present and asked a police officer why hadn’t he gone in an ambulance to hospital instead, asking if it was because he was black.

Hugh Davies, who represents 10 officers from West Midlands Police, put it to Ms Powell that her version of events had been affected by a dream a friend had about her brother, a van and people dressed in black.

Mr Davies said: “You remember previously that a friend had described a dream she had.

Ms Powell said: “My friend had a dream that all the people were in black and there was white van and a white van hit my brother.

Mr Davies said: “In each statement, you’ve described each and every police officer as wearing black as in the dream. In fact several of them were wearing fluorescent jackets.”

Mr Davies also said there were three to four officers restraining Mr Powell and they were not on top of him as she had previously said.

The inquest continues.

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