Brixton’s long history of police harassment and violence against its black residents has included several deaths in custody, or police murders if you prefer. Amidst the constant litany of beatings, fit-ups, hospitalisations from the 1960s onwards, at any time you can focus on one individual… however it remains systematic.
On December 5th 1995, Wayne Douglas, 25, died in Brixton police station, after being picked up for suspected burglary.
Douglas, a resident of a homeless hostel, was found unconscious in his cell at Brixton police station at about 3:30 a.m. He was dead on arrival at the hospital. The Metropolitan police claimed he died of a heart attack.
But witnesses described a different story. One eyewitness told the Caribbean Times how Douglas threw down a knife he was carrying when confronted by the cops. “As soon as he did it, they all jumped on him,” said the unnamed bystander. “They dragged him to the park and beat the shit out of him. They murdered him. I could hear the guy screaming…. They were jumping on him, kicking him, hitting him with their batons.”
Another said that “you could hear the sound of their batons on his bones.” Two witnesses gave statements to a local lawyer detailing the police assault.
In November 1996, the inquest into the death of Wayne Douglas was told by eye-witnesses that a police officer knelt on his head while he was handcuffed and held face down on the ground by at least four other officers. The jury found that his death was “accidentally” caused by stress, exhaustion and positional asphyxia. (Doesn’t this last mean that he couldn’t breathe due to the position he was in – ie being sat on? Who put him in that position?)
This was only few months after Brian Douglas (no relation) had died after being stopped searched and beaten up in Clapham by Kennington cops; protests had filled the summer months.
In response to Wayne Douglas’ death a demo was called for the following week at Brixton Copshop… This demo became a riot, smaller than many previous one in Brixton’s history, but no less angry. As well as attacking the police, rioters attacked the increasing symbols of gentrification that had begun to transform the area from the working class, mainly black neighbourhood, into the trendy playground for white poshos that large parts of it has become. So the Dogstar, recently opened by white trendies (backed by he police and the council) to replace the much harassed and raided black pub, the Atlantic, was trashed; among other targets.
In July 1997 Wayne’s family sought to quash the verdict of accidental death given after an inquest in December 1996. The jury found that Wayne had died of `left ventricular failure due to stress and exhaustion and positional asphyxia….following a chase and a series of restraints, in prone position, face down, as used in current police methods’.
On four occasions, Wayne had been held face down with his hands cuffed behind his back by officers. Despite the jury accepting his death was caused by police restraint, they found that the heart failure was an accident.
The lawyers acting for the family argued that the coroner made errors in summing up to the jury when instructing what they needed to find before coming to a verdict of unlawful killing reflecting gross negligence or manslaughter.
In July 1998, Wayne’s family were told that another inquest would not be held. The Court of Appeal upheld the initial ruling of accidental death as it was unlikely that the new inquest would reach any other verdict.
Lord Woolf, while accepting that there may have been ‘just enough sufficient evidence’ for unlawful manslaughter to be a possible verdict, he commented that the first inquest that was carried out in an exemplary manner. Woolf also said ‘…little more could be achieved by subjecting all concerned to the considerable expense and stress of a further inquest.’ He however denied the possibility of gross negligence.
The family said they had been ‘denied justice’. In particular Lisa Douglas Williams, Wayne’s Sister, said her family were particularly upset by Woolf’s comments on the expense of holding another inquest. She said, “A proper verdict on my brother’s death is far more important than money.”
No-one ever faced any charges for Wayne’s death. Because that’s the way it generally goes with the police, they can kill you and get away with it. And even if an outcry does force the powers that be to bring someone to court, the cop inevitably gets off, witness the acquittal of the shooter of Cherry Grice in Brixton in 1985. In 2008 Sean Rigg dies in Brixton police station in very similar circumstances to Wayne Douglass – held down in a prone position by several cops for eight minutes. In September this year the Crown Prosecution Service, after years of inaction, ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute any officer over his death. There’s always ‘insufficient evidence’. You’d really think they’d think up some new fucking excuses.
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online