A former high-ranking detective has told an inquiry that telling police officers the results of Sheku Bayoh’s post-mortem before they gave statements “could influence their version of events”.
Retired detective chief inspector Keith Hardie, 60, told the inquiry looking into the circumstances surrounding the father-of-two’s death that he would “absolutely” have concerns about telling the officers involved in Mr Bayoh’s detention moments before he died about the post-mortem before they gave statements.
The inquiry has previously been told that officers involved with Mr Bayoh before his death were given the results of the post-mortem despite refusing to give statements or complete notebooks beforehand.
Officers involved had been advised by their legal representative to make no comment until results had been known, the inquiry heard.
Mr Hardie told the inquiry on Wednesday: “If they haven’t provided their version of events, then the cause of death could influence their version of events, would be my concern, albeit it might be a wee bit extreme to consider that.
“I would certainly have reservations about providing that information to officers who were at the scene and hadn’t provided a statement, prior to them providing a statement.”
Mr Bayoh, 31, had been seen with a knife in Kirkcaldy, Fife, on May 3 2015 before he was restrained by as many as six police officers in the town’s Hayfield Road.
He slipped into unconsciousness and was pronounced dead at nearby Victoria Hospital a short time later.
Mr Hardie, who worked for the police service for 31 years, said his concern over officers not providing statements was also of its perception, and that while they had been given that legal advice it did not “take away from the suspicion that that might cause in the general community”.
He told Angela Grahame KC, the inquiry’s senior counsel: “Any suspicion towards an investigative team has to have a detrimental effect on the future relationship between the police and the family, but also the community.
“You know, ‘How can we believe what you’re telling us when you’re saying that the most important witnesses to this have not yet provided a statement?’”
Mr Hardie said the family should always be the first to know of the results of post-mortems, to help build trust and make sure they do not hear it from third parties.
“All the information they get from the investigation should come from us, and if it doesn’t then that trust is perhaps breaking down,” he said.
Mr Hardie told the inquiry on Wednesday his involvement with the investigation was to provide a handover of Police Scotland’s involvement in the incident to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc), which he said “came out and took primacy in the inquiry”.
He told the inquiry the organisation was “in its infancy” at the time, and that the representatives of Pirc were “stand-offish”.
Mr Hardie said his main focus when he attended Kirkcaldy police office was to get statements from the officers who had attended the scene.
“My understanding when I got there is I asked the question, ‘have we got statements from the officers?’,” he said.
“I do recall getting told that they were preparing their own operational statements.”
Ms Grahame put it to the witness: “Have you been faced in your experience in a situation where officers weren’t prepared to provide operational statements?”
He replied: “Other than this investigation, no.
“I do recall I attempted to take statements off the officers concerned, and made it perfectly clear it was a witness statement we were looking from them and that they weren’t suspects.”
The inquiry before Lord Bracadale in Edinburgh is investigating the circumstances of Mr Bayoh’s death and whether race was a factor.
It continues on Thursday.