Richard O’Brien died on 4 April 1994, after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly and taken to Walworth police station, South London. He had 31 separate areas of injury to his body including cuts and bruising to his face and fractured ribs.
Richard, a market trader, was 37 and weighed 19 stone. He was placed face down on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind his back and his legs folded behind him, while cops pushed and racially abused him, then held him there with his face to the pavement while one of them, Constable Richard Ilett, knelt on his back.
The police said that he was drunk and disorderly outside the English Martyrs Club in Walworth Road. His family said he was waiting for a taxi.
Richard called out, “I can’t breathe, you win, you win”, One officer replied: “We always win.” Richard’s wife Alison was also nicked, as was their 14-year-old son, also called Richard, who was slapped and arrested by another officer after pleading with them to check on his father; and another of their children.
(A Crown Prosecution Service lawyer later argued in court that Richard Junior may have caused some of his fathers injuries. Seriously.)
Richard O’Brien had 31 sites of injury on his body, including cuts and bruising to his face, a dislodged tooth and fractured ribs. He had pinpoint bleeding suggestive of haemorrhaging after blood vessels on his face burst. The cause of death was given as “postural asphyxia following a struggle against restraint.”
After being held on the ground, Mr O’Brien was carried to a police van by six officers. He was then said to have been half-pushed and half-dragged into the vehicle.
His wife, Alison, who was already seated in the van with their son Richard, recalled an officer shouting: “We can’t get the big fat Paddy in,” before another grabbed him by the hair or head.
Police officers claimed they tried in vain to resuscitate Mr O’Brien after he was taken out of the van at Walworth police station.
At an Inquest in November 1995, PC Ilett insisted that Mr O’Brien had been drunk and struggled violently on arrest. He said that he had not seen any of the 31 injuries Mr O’Brien sustained and said he had shown nothing but concern for him. Patrick O’Connor, counsel representing the family, held up a photograph of Mr O’Brien showing his bloodstained and battered face and asked the officer: “Does this show your concern?”
The inquest jury brought in a verdict of unlawful killing. Sir Montague Levine, the Southwark coroner, said the case had shown an “appalling lack of instruction” in the training of police officers in restraint techniques. He went on to recommend the regular retraining of officers and improved education in methods of monitoring individuals involved in restraint.
Alison O’Brien, said after the verdict: “I’m delighted. The truth has finally got out now and after 18 months someone actually believes our story.”
The then Police Complaints Authority announced that two police officers concerned in the death would face disciplinary charges for neglect of duty, which enraged his family.
The Director of Public Prosecutions later admitted that decisions in the cases had been ‘fundamentally flawed’.
Alison later, in conjunction with Olamide Jones, partner of Shiji Lapite, also killed by the police, went to the High Court to appeal to have the DPP’s decision not to prosecute any officers overturned. This was successful, forcing the CPS to prosecute.
Three officers — Richard Ilett, Gary Lockwood, and James Barber — were eventually charged with manslaughter, but they were acquitted in 1999, when the defence argued successfully that O’Brien had had a heart attack when he tried to remove himself from custody.
In 2002, the O’Brien family won a £324,000 payout from Scotland Yard, partly for the arrests of Alison and the 2 children, but they received no apology.
The cops say they always win. They often do. Will that ever end?
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