Seni Lewis case raises “profound and frightening” issues

The death after police intervention of a 23-year-old IT graduate from South Norwood, Seni Lewis, was raised in the House of Commons yesterday by Croydon MP Steve Reed, who told parliament, “The questions that this case raises are profound and frightening.”

Seni Lewis: died at age 23 after being taken to hospital for treatment

Seni Lewis: died in 2010, but CPS and the Met are blocking an investigation

Reed said: “Two years and eight months after their son’s death, the Lewis family still do not know how or why he died. The public hearings scheduled for July 2012 and then March 2013 were both delayed without explanation.

“Seni Lewis deserves justice. The Lewis family deserve justice and they must not be kept waiting any longer.”

Reed addressed parliament after repeated approaches to government ministers on behalf of Lewis’s family had failed to produce any action, and with the Crown Prosecution Service and Metropolitan Police apparently unwilling to consider compelling new evidence or to allow officers to be interviewed as part of an investigation which the Independent Police Complaints Commission wants to conduct.

Reed’s speech came the day before another case – also involving the death of a black south Londoner with mental health issues, Sean Rigg – became front-page news because the IPCC had been harshly criticised for its mishandling of that investigation. Rigg died in 2008, while in custody at Brixton Police Station.

Lewis’s death happened in September 2010 after he was taken to a specialist Beckenham hospital by his family.

When visiting hours ended, Lewis’s family were asked to leave. As Reed explained to his fellow MPs yesterday, “Seni became agitated in his family’s absence, and even more so after he was told that he could not leave the hospital even though he understood he was there voluntarily.

“It appears he was sectioned in order to detain him against his will, and was then restrained and held face down on the floor by several members of staff and by police officers who had been called after he kicked a door, although there is no evidence that he was violent towards anyone.”

Reports suggest that at least seven, as possibly as many as 11 police officers attended the incident, from the Territorial Support Group – a “re-branded” version of the once notorious SPG, or Special Patrol Group.

Lewis was restrained for 40 minutes in a way, Reed said, “that appears to contravene international conventions on human rights and torture”. When his airways were blocked, Lewis collapsed and fell into a coma from which he never recovered. He died four days later.

The IPCC investigation that followed Lewis’s death is now accepted by the Commission to be flawed. Its report was completed before it received a pathologist’s report, in July 2012, which raised fresh concerns about the extent of restraint used against Lewis.

The CPS refused to accept the new evidence because it was not included in the IPCC’s original report – even though it was the IPCC which wanted to amend the report. The Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, has refused to allow officers to be questioned.

Steve Reed MP: called on ministers to act in Seni Lewis case

Steve Reed MP: called on ministers to act in Seni Lewis case

In his speech yesterday, Reed said, “The organisation Inquest points out that it is an unacceptable anomaly that there is no independent body charged with investigating deaths in the mental health service, as there is for deaths in police custody. As a result of that anomaly, reviews are conducted internally, they may not involve the family affected, and there is no collation or joining up of learning across the service nationally. After this case and other cases like it, the community deserves the reassurance of an independent inquiry into the treatment of black people in the mental health service.”

Research conducted by Black Mental Health UK has indicated that black people are 44 per cent more likely to be subject to detention in a mental health setting than white patients; 29 per cent more likely to be subject to restraint and 49 per cent more likely to be placed in seclusion.

“If black people are being treated differently from other people in a way that threatens their well-being then the community needs reassurance that the mental health service is not institutionally racist,” Reed said.

Reed called on ministers to quash the IPCC’s original decision, “so that a criminal investigation into the Seni Lewis case can go ahead, followed by a full public inquest”.

He said: “Instead of apparently washing their hands of the concerns that this matter raises, Ministers should acknowledge the need for a national strategy on policing within mental health settings.”

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