A public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sheku Bayoh after being restrained by police in Fife must be a “watershed moment” for institutional racism in Scotland, campaigners have said.
The 31-year-old suffered more than 20 separate injuries and was targeted with two kinds of incapacitating spray before he died while he was taken into custody by nine officers in Kirkcaldy in May 2015.
None of those involved were ever prosecuted over the death following a Crown Office decision in 2020, despite failing to give accounts of the incident in the aftermath, however Mr Bayoh’s family have fought to clear his name.
They have asked supporters to gather in Edinburgh for a peaceful vigil of remembrance ahead of the inquiry chaired by retired judge Lord Bracadale beginning on Tuesday – over seven years after his death.
It will seek to establish exactly how Mr Bayoh, a father-of-two, died, the subsequent investigation and whether police actions were motivated by race.
Lawyer Aamer Anwar said the family had been “failed by those who have a duty to protect the public and uphold the law”.
He added: “Tomorrow morning the public inquiry will finally commence seven years and seven days after Sheku Bayoh died in police custody, and two years since the former Lord Advocate advised the Bayoh family that not one police officer would face charges for his death.
“The Bayoh family have described Sheku as Scotland’s George Floyd, the only difference they believe is that despite seven years of struggle the Bayoh’s have never seen justice and are yet to hear the whole truth.
“This inquiry owes its existence to the struggle fought by Sheku’s loved ones, and they believe no police officer or institution should be allowed to evade scrutiny.
“Sheku’s loved ones have waited a very long time to hear the truth and that is the very least they are entitled to.”
Mr Bayoh, originally from Sierra Leone, was training to be a gas engineer at the time of his death.
Officers were called to reports of a man carrying a knife in the street on May 3, 2015 having previously been at a friend’s house watching a boxing match.
No weapon was ever found at the scene, but Mr Bayoh was targeted with both CS spray and pava spray before being struck by batons and having his ankles and wrists shackled.
He lost consciousness and was rushed to hospital but died a short time afterwards despite efforts to revive him.
A post-mortem report found the presence of MDMA and another drug known as Flakka in his system and revealed a total of 23 injuries to his body.
The nine officers involved initially did not give their statements on the incident to the police independent review commission (PIRC) however did so 32 days after Mr Bayoh’s death.
In 2020, the Lord Advocate opted not to prosecute any of the officers involved, but the then justice secretary Humza Yousaf announced an inquiry would take place in November 2019.
Deborah Coles, director of the INQUEST charity which has worked with Mr Bayoh’s family, added: “The disproportionate use of force against black people by police, in the UK and internationally, is well documented. Sheku’s family have faced lies, denial, delays and obfuscation since his death.
“Like too many bereaved families after deaths in custody their struggle for truth, justice and accountability has been unnecessarily long and hard.
“This Inquiry must be a watershed moment for Scotland in examining issues around institutional racism, police restraint practices and the flawed systems for responding to deaths. This is both in the family and public interest and in the hope that future deaths are prevented.”