The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) ruled today that The Telegraph "significantly misled" its readers about the outcome of the inquest into the death of Mikey Powell. The Telegraph admitted it was representing the police version of events.
Mikey Powell was handcuffed by police and put on the floor of a police van which drove to Thornhill Road Police Station in Birmingham in September 2003. The jury found in December 2009 that Mikey Powell died of positional asphyxia in the back of a police van and that he was lying on his front on arrival at the police station, contrary to the van officers’ evidence at the inquest. The jury also found that he was made more vulnerable to death by positional asphyxia from one or more of these events: contact with a moving vehicle ( a police car); being sprayed with CS; being struck by a Casco baton; and/or being restrained on the ground in Wilton St whilst suffering a psychosis and extreme exertion
The PCC’s adjudication upheld two complaints by Mikey's mother Claris Powell about how The Telegraph columnist Alisdair Palmer characterised the findings of the inquest jury about Mikey Powell’s death. Firstly, the Telegraph website claimed the jury had rejected the allegations that the way officers restrained him had caused his death. The PCC’s adjudication states that “readers would have been significantly misled as to the full position.”
Secondly, the jury made no findings at all about the role of race in police conduct. The coroner did not ask them to. Unsurprisingly therefore the PCC also found that the article’s assertion that the jury had decided that he did not die because the police treated him in a way they would not have treated a white man breached Clause 1 of its Code, i.e. not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.
The PCC have accepted that The Telegraph’s publication of a clarification was sufficient remedy, and that publication of a version of a letter from Claris Powell was sufficient to answer her other points of complaint.
Sieta Lambrias, Mikey’s sister, said:
Deborah Coles, Co-Director of INQUEST, said:
Mum and the family are pleased with the outcome and to have won. Shame on The Telegraph for reporting the police’s views as if they were the jury’s findings. I am amazed and saddened that despite the inquest verdict and the evidence that the jury took into account on reaching that verdict, the West Midlands Police and Telegraph both chose to report the Mikey’s death in a misleading manner. This confirms my opinion that the police seem to continue to feel the need to disguise the true events so they are seen to have acted appropriately and in a good light.
The PCC adjudication is available online here.
Misinformation has been a feature of many contentious deaths in custody and we see once again attempts by the media and police to deflect attention away from police wrongdoing. The lack of accountability of individual police officers and senior management is exposed by the failure to respond effectively to the findings of this inquest.