Police officers granted anonymity at Rashan Charles inquest

Diane Taylor

A coroner has ruled that two police officers involved with the restraint and arrest of Rashan Charles shortly before he died have the right to remain anonymous at his inquest.

Charles, 20, from north London, who had a baby daughter, was chased into a Hackney shop by a police officer in July 2017 before being restrained and handcuffed. Within 70 minutes of his arrest he was dead.

At a hearing on Friday afternoon, Mary Hassell, senior coroner for inner north London, ruled that both the two police officers involved and two witnesses should be granted anonymity.

Hassell’s decision provoked anger and disappointment from Charles’s family. John Noblemunn, his great-uncle, speaking on behalf of the family, described it as “outrageous”.

“These police officers are public officials carrying out public duties and the public should be allowed to see them. Public servants should be open to public scrutiny. The coroner’s decision to grant the officers anonymity is not fair and it doesn’t represent natural justice for Rashan. The whole family will be very upset about this ruling.”

At a hearing at the coroner’s court in Poplar, east London, earlier this week, lawyers acting for Charles’s family argued that it was important for the police officers involved in the case to be named to ensure that proceedings were transparent and accountable. The Guardian also made a submission to the coroner requesting that the two police officers be named in the interests of open justice.

Guardian lawyers argued that there was significant public interest in the case and that any order preventing the identification of the police officers could “hamper the media’s ability to fully report the inquest proceedings”.

But the barrister Neil Saunders asked the coroner to make the anonymity order for the two police officers, arguing that while the inquest proceedings must be “open and transparent”, the officers involved in the arrest had received threats on social media and feared for their safety.

Hassell said: “There’s clearly a great deal of public interest in Mr Charles’s death, and public anger.”

On Friday she made reference to the death threats on social media, and said: “I’m of the view that the screening of the two police officers at this inquest is necessary in the interests of justice.”

Hassell added: “My starting point is open justice. I regret deeply any departure from that. The publication of witness names I regard as most important in its capacity to inspire public confidence and I am acutely aware that there already exists a lack of confidence by some in certain institutions, for example, the police.

“However, on this occasion I am of the view that the screening of the two police officers at inquest and the use of ciphers in place of their names is necessary in the interests of justice.”

A spokesperson for the family said: “Although this is disappointing it was not unexpected. Our focus remains on the quality of the IPCC [Independent Police Complaints Commission] investigation of Rashan’s death and on ensuring that proper consideration is given to criminal charges. These officers will not be able to hide behind anonymity in the criminal courts.”

Charles’s father, Esa Charles, said the loss of his son and the circumstances of his death “has torn my heart”. “We are all victims of this tragedy,” he said.

The Met has refused to suspend the officer who restrained Charles, against the advice of the IPCC. One of the officers involved in the incident is on restricted duties. Charles’s family have criticised the Met for refusing to suspend the officer who restrained him.

Charles’s death sparked protests and violent clashes with police, with protesters throwing fireworks and bottles. The family, alongside the local MP Diane Abbott, appealed for calm and peaceful protest.

With the cause of death still unknown despite two postmortems and toxicology tests, the Met police confirmed on Friday that the officer remained on restricted duties.

Video of the incident, which followed an attempted vehicle stop, appears to show Charles swallowing a package, leading to speculation that it contained illegal drugs. It was later found to have been a mixture of caffeine and paracetamol. He died in the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel soon afterwards.

In a statement released after Charles’s death his family said: “The family are continuing to press the IPCC in respect of their investigation. We expect the IPCC to conduct a robust and rigorous investigation. Our concern is to establish whether unlawful force was used on Rashan and whether there is any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, including of gross negligence in the circumstances surrounding his death.”

Charles was the second young black man to die in London following police contact in the space of a month. Edson Da Costa, 25, died in June after being restrained by police following a traffic stop in east London. His cause of death has also not been released.

The inquest will take place on 4 June 2018 and the coroner will sit with a jury. The venue has not yet been confirmed.

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