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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November 2004, 13:20 GMT
Unlawful killing verdict quashed
Roger Sylvester
Roger Sylvester fell into a coma after he stopped breathing
A High Court judge has formally quashed an inquest verdict that a mentally ill man was unlawfully killed by police.

Roger Sylvester, 30, from Tottenham, north London, died in January 1999 after being restrained by officers in a padded room at a psychiatric hospital.

Eight Metropolitan Police officers had challenged the "irrational" ruling, made last October, and welcomed its replacement with an open verdict.

Mr Sylvester's family said they would now "opt out" of the legal process.

On Friday, Mr Justice Collins said the way the coroner had summed up the case "confused" the jury.

The judge said he would not order another inquest, and said no jury in any criminal case would be likely to convict any officer of manslaughter.

We have had obstacles, delays, anguish, smoke and mirrors and 'just-ice' - where is the justice?
Roger Sylvester's brother

There were emotional scenes outside the court after Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Glen Smyth made a statement saying the officers involved had been subjected to "wholly unfair public vilification".

He also called for "fundamental reform" of the inquest system and accused pressure groups and MPs of attaching themselves to campaigns such as this to "promote their own interests".

Mr Sylvester's 70-year-old mother Sheila said: "Did Roger kill anybody?"

God would be "the ultimate judge", she added, while campaigners said the black community was angered by the ruling.

Mr Sylvester's brother Bernard Renwick said the family was withdrawing from the legal process "with a bitter taste in our mouth".

'Justice is impartial'

He said: "From day one we were told to expect openness, accountability and transparency.

"We merely wanted truth and where necessary justice. Instead we have had obstacles, delays, anguish, smoke and mirrors and 'just-ice'. Where is the justice?"

He said the Crown Prosecution Service was now to reconsider the case.

Lawyers for the officers had argued that the inquest was wrongly allowed to be turned into a surrogate criminal trial in which the police involved stood convicted of manslaughter.

There was no evidence to support the decision Mr Sylvester was killed unlawfully, they maintained.

Mr Sylvester collapsed after being restrained in a padded room at a psychiatric hospital.

The time has now come for the dedicated campaign against [the officers] to end
Solicitor Colin Reynolds

He had suffered from mental health and drug problems, and was detained naked and banging on his own front door.

Mr Smyth said while police should be accountable, the current inquest system did not provide reliable verdicts following deaths in custody.

"Inquests in controversial cases involving the police are invariably preceded by campaigns that seek to prosecute police officers regardless of the evidence," he said.

"As the judge observed as to the campaign in this case, 'justice is impartial. Of course there must be justice for Roger, but there must also be justice for police officers'."

He said there was no right at the inquest for the officers' lawyers to make either an opening or closing speech, and said coroners did not receive the training of even the most junior criminal judges.

Rupert and Sheila Sylvester
Roger Sylvester's parents became emotional outside the court

Mr Smyth also said improvements were needed to the provision of emergency mental health care, because police officers were too often required to take on tasks "more appropriate to psychiatric medical staff".

Speaking for the officers, solicitor Colin Reynolds said they and their families welcomed the terms of the judgment.

"It is hoped (it) will bring to an end nearly six years of sustained and wholly ill-informed criticism of their conduct," he said.

"The claimants were eight straightforward and hardworking police officers that did their best to assist Mr Sylvester whilst he was suffering an overwhelming psychiatric condition.

"Each has repeatedly extended sympathy to the Sylvester family. The time has now come for the dedicated campaign against them to end."

Why the verdict was quashed

Sylvester inquest sparks review
03 Oct 03 |  England

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