Thousands take to the streets to protest over deaths in police custody

Thousands of people rallied around bereaved families whose loved ones have died in custody as they marched to Downing Street demanding an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister.

The relatives of Chris Kaba, Oladeji Omishore, Matthew Leahy, Jack Susianta and Leon Patterson signed a letter addressed to Rishi Sunak which was delivered to Number 10 on Saturday.

Alongside Marcia Rigg, an organiser at the United Families and Friends Campaign (UFFC) whose brother Sean Rigg died in police custody in 2008, they are calling for changes to the judicial process following state-related deaths.

Protesters joining them on the march chanted “police are the murderers” and held signs reading “End Taser deaths now” and “Failed by the state” as they gathered on Parliament Street in central London.

UFFC 24th Annual Remembrance Procession
The protesters march behind a banner in central London (Aaron Chown/PA)

In an emotional speech outside Downing Street, Helen Nkama, the mother of 24-year-old Mr Kaba, who was shot by a Metropolitan Police officer in September, asked police: “What (were his) last words? Did he ask for me?”

“I want them to ask me, to tell me, how was Chris the last day?

“How did Chris feel? What was the last words of Chris? Did he ask for me? Did he call for me? What did Chris say?

“I wish this painful death must be the last – it must be the last.”

UFFC 24th Annual Remembrance Procession
The protesters show a poster of Chris Kaba during the march (Aaron Chown/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency after handing in the letter, Mr Kaba’s cousin, Jefferson Bosela, said there had been “no chase, no lights, no sirens” in the lead-up to Mr Kaba’s death, in contrast to reports of the incident.

Mr Bosela said the family had stepped back from campaigning after viewing footage of the night in question because of how traumatic the experience had been.

“They said there was a chase, they said there was a pursuit – there was no pursuit, there was no chase, there were no lights, there were no sirens,” he said.

“Viewing the footage and the body in one week – as you can imagine for anyone, that is traumatic, so we didn’t want the added pressure of the media trying to find out what was in the footage.”

UFFC 24th Annual Remembrance Procession
The protesters lay their placards down at the end of the march (Aaron Chown/PA)

He added he did not have faith Mr Sunak would respond to the letter, but urged the Prime Minister: “Just acknowledge we exist. If he’s unable to even acknowledge us, I don’t believe the British Government is for its people.”

Aisha Omishore, the younger sister of 41-year-old Mr Omishore, who died after jumping off a bridge having been tasered, said her brother’s memory had been “tarnished” by inaccurate reports of the incident.

Mr Omishore was initially reported to have been in possession of a screwdriver when police officers were called to Chelsea Bridge in west London on June 4.

The IOPC later said he had been holding a plastic and metal firelighter.

Ms Omishore said: “As a family, we find it unacceptable that the police were allowed to release a press statement containing facts they would have known to be incorrect at the time of release, and when they’d already referred themselves to the IOPC (Independent Office for Police Conduct).

“It tarnished my brother’s memory, it caused us unimaginable distress and pain, and just weeks of us having to try and defend our brother.”

The family say they have not yet had a chance to grieve properly because of the protracted process of seeking justice and accountability over Mr Omishore’s death.

His father, Alfred Omishore, paid tribute to his “caring, compassionate and artistically talented” son who he said had been vulnerable and suffering a mental health crisis when police fired a Taser at him.

“Only one police officer has been jailed for eight years, in the case of Dalian Atkinson,” Mr Omishore said outside Downing Street.

“Many people have died, many families are bereaved. This has to change.”

Melanie Leahy, whose 20-year-old son Matthew Leahy died while in the care of Essex mental health services in 2012, said fighting for a statutory public inquiry into state-related deaths was the only way to achieve justice for bereaved families.

“The whole country needs to unite,” she said.

Family members appeared tearful as they stood for pictures outside Number 10’s black door after delivering the letter, which calls for a meeting with Mr Sunak, the Home Secretary and the mayor of London.

Relatives hope to use the opportunity to discuss their concerns about “recurring issues in state-related deaths” and demand changes to the way such deaths are handled.

Number 10 did not immediately respond to the request for a meeting when asked for comment, but a Government spokesperson said: “Every death in police custody is unacceptable and we recognise the devastating impact on loved ones.

“We must maintain a zero-tolerance attitude towards these rare, but devastating incidents, and where there are failings, appropriate action must be taken swiftly to address them.

“Every case which involves a death in police custody is automatically investigated by the Independent Office of Police Conduct.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor’s thoughts are with the families and friends who took part in the march today and who have lost loved ones.

“Every death in custody and every life lost following police use of force is a tragedy and each must be fully investigated, and findings acted upon.”