The family of a man who died in police custody have said he is “Scotland’s George Floyd” as the inquiry into his death gets underway on Tuesday.
The family of Sheku Bayoh are holding a rally outside the building where Lord Bracadale will chair the public investigation into whether race played a part in his death while being restrained by police in Fife.
The 31-year-old father-of-two died after nine officers used two types of incapacitating spray, batons and handcuffed his ankles and wrists after receiving reports he was carrying a knife on the street in Kirkcaldy.
No weapon was found at the scene and none of those involved were ever prosecuted over the incident in May 2015 but Mr Bayoh’s family have desperately fought to clear his name.
A public probe into the circumstances surrounding his death, the subsequent investigation and whether the police response was racially motivated was announced in 2019 – despite the Lord Advocate’s decision to take no criminal action a year later.
Supporters gathered outside Capital House on Lothian Road in Edinburgh’s festival square as a show of solidarity before the hearing officially got underway on Tuesday morning.
In a statement released on behalf of Mr Bayoh, lawyer Aamer Anwar said that his loved ones have waited a “very long time” to hear the truth.
Mr Anwar said: “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 the death of Sheku Bayoh.
“Sheku’s family believe they were failed by those who have a duty to protect the public and uphold the law.”
Mr Anwar claimed that there were “repeated attempts to criminalise, stereotype and smear” Mr Bayoh. It has been maintained that Mr Bayoh was empty-handed at the time of his arrest.
Mr Anwar added: “The first officers on the scene subjected Sheku to CS spray, Pava spray and the use of batons.
“He was face down on the ground in less than 50 seconds, he was restrained by up to seven officers.
“He was handcuffed and had ankle and legs restraints applied to him. Within minutes he had stopped breathing and then died. His body was covered with over 24 separate lacerations, cuts, bruises, and a broken rib.
“The Bayoh family have described Sheku as Scotland’s George Floyd, the only difference they believe is that despite seven years of struggle, the Bayohs 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 lost consciousness when officers attended the scene in reaction to reports of a man ‘behaving erratically’ in the street.
He 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 justice charity Inquest, who has been working with the family, said that the inquiry was a “watershed moment” in Scotland for examining issues around institutional racism.
She said: “Those entrusted with the role of policing must be subject to accountability before the law. 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.”