A former police inspector has said she believes there was no adverse reaction in the days following Sheku Bayoh’s death because the community “trusted the police”.
Jane Combe, 52, who retired from the force three years ago, told an inquiry into the 31-year-old’s death that there was no perception in the community of “a big cover up” by Police Scotland.
Mr Bayoh died in handcuffs and sustained multiple injuries after officers responded to calls from the public about a man brandishing a knife and behaving erratically on a Sunday morning in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in May 2015.
His family believe race played a part in his death.
When senior counsel to the inquiry Angela Grahame QC asked Ms Combe why she believed this at the time, she replied: “It’s based on the fact that there were no demonstrations or protests bar one that I am aware of.”
When asked to give more detail on the one event she remembers in response to Mr Bayoh’s death, she described the moment his family came to Kirkcaldy police station.
“That was for me a very peaceful, dignified one, more like a vigil opposed to a demonstration,” she told the inquiry.
“There was no hostility, it wouldn’t be what I would class as a demonstration.”
Ms Grahame, addressing the witness, said: “So when we’re thinking about reaction from the community or in particular from the family, it wasn’t any noisy, difficult demonstration?”
Ms Combe shook her head in response.
Ms Grahame then asked: “You’ve said the local community trusted police… was that the local black community?”
The witness replied: “All community.”
Claire Mitchell QC, acting on behalf of the Bayoh family, made a submission to the inquiry to question the witness further on her answers.
She asked Ms Combe to give more detail on the one event in Fife which she could remember in the wake of Mr Bayoh’s death.
The inquiry heard it was a large-scale march that stopped outside Kirkcaldy police station.
Ms Mitchell said demonstrations and protests can be peaceful and legal, adding: “The inquiry will come to hear that there will be evidence that the Bayoh family in fact stood with a banner that said ‘We Want Answers’ and ‘Without Truth There Can Be No Justice’.”
Earlier, the inquiry saw a statement from Ms Combe in which she said: “Following the tragic incident (Mr Bayoh’s death), there were concerns that there would be a negative and adverse reaction from the ethnic minority in Fife and a breakdown in our engagement with these communities which could manifest in demonstration and protest, however due to the continued positive community engagement and dialogue, this was avoided.”
Ms Mitchell asked the witness if she was aware about a breakdown in relations between the police, the family liaison officers and the Bayoh family in the days following Mr Bayoh’s death.
Ms Combe said she had not been.
Ms Mitchell then asked Ms Combe if it was one of her concerns that because Mr Bayoh was black there might be an adverse reaction to his death.
The witness said “potentially, yes”, adding: “If I am being perfectly honest, it’s after anything, whether it’s worldwide or the country, if it’s ethnic minority the media will come on the back of that.”
Ms Combe told the inquiry she never saw officers under her command in Fife being racist, but admitted it would be “naive” to say it did not exist in the force.
Detective Inspector Samantha Davidson, 38, also giving evidence on Friday, was one of the officers at the scene when Mr Bayoh fell unconscious.
She told the inquiry she had no concerns about the level of CPR that was given at the time and that the handcuffs applied were not causing any issue, adding: “It was effective, it was ongoing.”
She said she did not think she needed to intervene at any point.
But Ms Davidson said the moment Mr Bayoh was becoming unresponsive and in cardiac arrest, the situation changed to a more serious incident and something her unit, the Criminal Investigations Unit (CDI), would lead on.
Ms Grahame asked Ms Davidson if any police training is given in relation to race, discrimination, bias.
The detective replied: “It’s about integrity, fairness and respect for all cultures within your community.
“It doesn’t go specific, it’s about the overarching values, and how you should have those values on or off duty.”
Asked if any of it involved awareness of unconscious bias, Ms Davidson replied: “I don’t believe it was labelled unconscious bias, I don’t recall.”
When asked if she had been given any tools or skills to guard against bias, prejudice or discrimination, the witness replied: “No tools, it’s inevitable to be open minded, considerate, and if you’re open minded you will make accurate and informed decisions… open mindedness is the main factor for me.”
Ms Grahame asked Ms Davidson if at the time of Mr Bayoh’s death she was aware of any high-profile deaths of people, particularly black men dying, after police restraint.
She replied: “Honestly, uninfluenced, I have no recollection.”
Asked if that was something officers were taught about, she replied: “Possibly, but I can’t recall.”
The inquiry, before Lord Bracadale, continues.